First Test Match

England v New Zealand

Mike Walters


At Lord's, May 20, 21, 22, 23, 24. England won by seven wickets. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: A. J. Strauss.

Rarely has Lord's witnessed a surge of affection for one of English cricket's grandees to match the final flourish of Nasser Hussain's career, which concluded an extraordinary sequence of events. The theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in Casablanca can lead to a hurricane in Cuba found powerful supporting evidence in this compelling match. It was a wonderful setting for anyone's farewell.

The first twist of a spellbinding plot came three days before a ball had been bowled in anger. Vaughan, the England captain, attempted an innocuous sweep at a 19-year-old net bowler, left-arm spinner Zac Taylor, collapsed in a heap and was carted from the Nursery practice ground with a twisted right knee. The repercussions were momentous: Trescothick stood in as captain for the first time in Tests and the Middlesex captain Andrew Strauss, not named in the original 13-man squad, became only the fourth player - after Australian Harry Graham (in 1893), England's John Hampshire (1969) and India's Sourav Ganguly (1996) - to launch his Test career with a century at Headquarters.

But Strauss was not the only adhesive left-handed opener to make an impact. For more than six hours on a stodgy first day, New Zealand's Richardson was a model of obduracy. Prompted by fears of a terrorist attack, Lord's stewards had been ordered to seal hampers and cool boxes left by spectators in the Coronation Garden for their picnic lunches, but for 266 balls of torpor it was Richardson who might have been removed from the premises as a suspect package. With delightful self-deprecation, he described his 93 as "dour, pokey and proddy", but it was undeniably valuable. He was robbed of a century by a poor lbw decision which disregarded an inside edge.

But that helped the innings perk up. There was Astle, with 11 fours in a 77-ball 64, and Oram, with a similarly breezy 67 from 82 balls, and finally there was a performance of awesome power and violence from Cairns. Four times in the space of ten deliveries, Simon Jones, Harmison and Flintoff (twice) disappeared into the back of beyond. In the process, Cairns surpassed Sir Vivian Richards's record of 84 sixes in Tests, and England's relief was palpable when he was last out, trying to hit Flintoff for a third straight six. He had ransacked 82 from 47 balls.

Without their fastest bowler, Bond, New Zealand's attack could hardly raise a gallop, and it was England's openers who made all the running with a fluent stand of 190 in 54 overs. Trescothick, punching 13 fours with the assurance of an immigration officer stamping passports, was finally beaten down the slope by Oram, 14 short of becoming only the third man to score a hundred in his first Test as England captain, after Archie MacLaren (1897-98) and Allan Lamb (1989-90). But Strauss, batting on his home ground and serenaded by the crowd warbling the "Blue Danube" in his honour, was not to be denied.

On 91, he enjoyed a miraculous slither of good fortune when his inside edge off Martin brushed off stump firmly enough to make the timber wobble but somehow failed to dislodge the bails. Another trail of scorched earth through the covers soon confirmed England's first centurion on debut since Graham Thorpe in 1993, and their superiority. But the applause was accompanied by a sense of wonder: Vaughan would have to come back, and Strauss could hardly be dropped. So who would make way? No-one was considering the implications more clearly than a 36-year-old ex-captain already known to be close to retirement. Afterwards, the initiative slipped during a passage of hesitant batting and tighter bowling on the third morning, but Flintoff and Geraint Jones reclaimed it by hitting three sixes and 11 fours in a sparkling seventh-wicket stand of 105 in 19 overs, which led to a useful 55-run advantage.

With Richardson, a man whose batting fills the bars, in occupation again, the pendulum swung back towards New Zealand on the fourth morning. They clawed their way to a 125-run lead with nine wickets in hand. McCullum, promoted to No. 3 because Astle had flu, responded with 14 fours and was within a heartbeat of a maiden Test hundred when he was becalmed and then broken by Simon Jones's reverse swing. After his near miss in the first innings, Richardson was rewarded with a century second time around; it occupied 309 balls and brought his time at the crease to more than 13 and a half hours.

Inexplicably, Trescothick ignored the second new ball and settled for the attrition of Giles, dutifully bowling over the wicket for 35 overs unchanged in a spell of three for 64, to suppress the scoring-rate. He could argue that negativity served its purpose, but it took three wickets in 19 balls from Harmison to end the charade. England eventually needed 282 from 95 overs to win - 64 more than they had ever managed in the fourth innings to win in 105 previous Lord's Tests.

At 35 for two, the chase began to look forlorn until Hussain - who had already decided, unknown to his team-mates, that this would be his final Test innings - marched out to join Strauss for his last hurrah. Strauss was the dominant partner in a 108-run stand and was on course for a century in each innings, a feat achieved on debut only by West Indian Lawrence Rowe and Pakistan's Yasir Hameed. Then he sacrificed himself in a Keystone Kops mix-up with Hussain. While the crestfallen Strauss would soon be mollified by the match award, Hussain was distraught after "doing a Boycott on the local lad" - a reference to Geoff Boycott running out Derek Randall against Australia at Trent Bridge 27 years earlier.

Only leading England to victory from the wreckage of Strauss's heartbreak would atone for Hussain's part in the catastrophe, and they were still 139 away. But few men are blessed with such willpower. Fortified by a succinct pep-talk from fellow warhorse Thorpe - "Stop whingeing and get on with it" - Hussain scrambled to his fifty in 158 deliveries before he was carried to glorious redemption, and the final curtain, on one last rush of adrenalin. His next fifty took only 45 balls; he reached his 14th Test hundred with a lofted on-drive and signature extra-cover drive off successive deliveries to level the scores, and the ovation had not subsided before he collared Martin through the covers again and swayed triumphantly into the sunset. Forgiveness rained down and, less than three days later, he confirmed what everybody had suspected from his nostalgic body language: after 96 Tests spanning 14 years, he was giving up the game in a blaze of glory.

Man of the Match: A. J. Strauss. Attendance: 125,890; receipts £2,086,368.

© John Wisden & Co