A magnificent 101 from Jacob Oram helped New Zealand stave off a spirited England bowling performance as the first Test at Lord's petered to a draw. Oram's fifth Test hundred rescued New Zealand from a tricky 120 for 4, but with excellent support from Daniel Flynn, whose immaculate composure earned him a dogged 29 from 118 balls, New Zealand take the honours while England enjoyed the best of the conditions.
In an interview prior to this Test Oram spoke fondly of Lord's and his burning desire to have his name etched on the honours board. "If you had a five-wicket haul or a hundred and had to retire the next day," he said, "you'd probably still be fairly happy." Judging by the pride with which he celebrated, there isn't a cat in hell's chance of him retiring - and, with the return to form he showed today, New Zealand need his cultured strokes at No. 7 for the next two Tests. With Brendon McCullum casting a daunting figure at No. 5, New Zealand's middle and lower-order contains the spunky verve that their top-order traditionally lacks. England, beware.
Oram's knock will have been especially enjoyed by McCullum, not least because he himself failed by three runs to reach a century in the first innings. But moreover, it was McCullum's earlier injury - a brutal blow to his bare forearm, hit by a vicious bouncer from Stuart Broad - which underlined the value of Oram's rescue-act. Broad, in the middle of a very lively spell from the Pavilion End, had tested McCullum's resolve with several bumpers, the best of which he couldn't avoid. For reasons known only to McCullum, he doesn't often wear an arm guard but the purple sprouting bruise that appeared might force him to change his mind. With the four early wickets England had taken earlier, New Zealand were effectively 78 for 5.
Enter Oram. He scratched and poked unconvincingly for his first thirty runs, in particular struggling against Ryan Sidebottom, his nemesis in the winter. But eventually he broke the shackles off Monty Panesar, clumping him over midwicket for a four and a six to raise his - and New Zealand's - confidence. Flynn, meanwhile, scored statically but showed excellent composure - never troubled by his motionless scoring-rate but happy to nudge singles when possible. His contrasting anchor role to Oram's increasingly free-flowing innings was stark, but necessary and highly impressive.
Oram really opened up after tea, and began to resemble the batsman of two years ago. A thumping pull off Broad over midwicket was followed by the deftest of dabs to third man; another huge swipe into the pavilion off Kevin Pietersen took him into the 80s, while he swept for more runs down to fine-leg. The runs were now flowing and England's initial hopes of forging an unlikely victory appeared lost. The new ball, their last hope, was dispatched with fury by Oram, smacking Sidebottom square with a flowery flourish and bringing up his hundred in imperious style with consecutive drives for four. His fifth Test hundred came from 120 balls, and the satisfaction with which he celebrated epitomised the deep respect Lord's holds for touring teams.
England thought they had a chance earlier in the day, however. Aaron Redmond fell cheaply and, once the ball was changed in the ninth over of the day, it suddenly began to swing. James Marshall - whose duck lasted nine, torturous balls - was trapped by a booming inswinger to leave New Zealand on 52 for 2, before Jamie How produced the first of the day's rescue missions. Unlike his top-order team-mates his footwork was in excellent order, cover-driving Anderson with ease and hooking the same bowler over square leg.
The contrast in technique between How's solidity and Ross Taylor's glitz could not have been greater. Taylor's wasteful pull in the first innings smacked of a batsman still hungover from his Indian Premier League partying, and here in his second innings, he was in a panicky hurry to assert himself. It was not a tactic New Zealand's balcony will have enjoyed. Trying to leave another Anderson outswinger, the ball clipped the toe of his bat and flew between second and third slips. Taylor responded two balls later with a free-flowing cover-drive for four: perfectly timed and executed, but impetuously played. His luck ran out on 20, lbw to Panesar.
It would be tempting to say New Zealand have escaped with a draw here, but it would be plain wrong. McCullum dug them out of their hole in the first innings as Oram did today, and although their top-order lacks any sort of solidity, their bottom six are as sticky and resilient as ever. England have a fight on their hands, and thank goodness for that.