International cricket has lost too many of its superstars in the last 18 months but in Brendon McCullum New Zealand appear to have unearthed a new one. Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Inzamam-ul-Haq have all recently waved goodbye leaving the stage open for bright new talent to come through, and McCullum has the potential to light up Test, one-day and Twenty20 arenas for many years to come.
It was just what he did yesterday, smashing a magnificent 97 on a rather truncated and miserable opening day of the first Test. McCullum's natural instinct is to attack and he did, before falling tantalisingly close to a third Test century. He will be disappointed to have lost his wicket playing a rather weak forward prod at an innocuous Monty Panesar delivery that deflected off his front pad and struck his off stump.
McCullum deserved a hundred at the home of cricket for the way he fearlessly went after England's attack in bowler-friendly conditions. His and New Zealand's frustrations were compounded when, two overs after his dismissal, bad light brought a premature end to proceedings. The wicket ensured that England walked off the happier of the two teams even though the Black Caps had reached the respectable position of 208 for 6.
It is the second time he has been dismissed in the nineties at this venue – he struck 96 here in 2004 – and by getting out three runs short of his century McCullum became the first non-hundred maker at Lord's to fall twice within 10 runs of the landmark.
McCullum's innings means that his batting has lit up three continents in three months. On England's tour of New Zealand his powerful and unbelievably destructive strokeplay sparkled during both the Test and one-day series. The 26-year-old then moved to India where he gave the Twenty20 Indian Premier League the perfect start by smashing an astonishing unbeaten 158.
It is hard to believe that yesterday's wonderful display would not have been his greatest had he added three more runs to his total. The money earned in India will be spent but the scorer of a Test century at Lord's will always be present on an honours board in the visitors' dressing room. New Zealand were in strife on 41 for 3 when McCullum walked out to bat on an overcast afternoon. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were thriving in conditions that offered them swing and seam movement. Ross Taylor had just lost his wicket to a wild heave at Broad and batting was not a pleasurable experience. Taylor, like McCullum, arrived late in England following a short stint in the IPL and his innings of 19 resembled those currently being played on the subcontinent.
Yet there was reason behind Taylor's apparent madness. In difficult conditions batsmen need to put their opponents under pressure and to do this they must carry a threat. Sitting and waiting to be dismissed by a good ball may help avoid media criticism but the attitude of players who bat like this is often more culpable than those who have a rash hack.
The challenge is picking the right ball to hit. Taylor failed to but McCullum did it magnificently. Yes, there was the occasional wild swish that made contact with nothing but fresh air but his approach knocked England's bowlers out of their rhythm. The steady, disciplined method that brought early wickets was replaced by dread, the fear of bowling short, wide or full. And when that happens the delivery is more likely to be short, wide or full.
Anderson was the pick of England's attack, claiming 3 for 42 in 12 overs. Anderson's first over often acts as a barometer of what is to come and on this occasion, as in Wellington two months ago when he took 5 for 73 in New Zealand's first innings, he struck with his fifth ball of the day. Aaron Redmond has been the Black Caps' star batsman in the warm-up matches but he was undone by a lifter that found the edge of his bat and lobbed low to Alastair Cook at third slip.
A marginal no-ball call deprived Anderson of his second wicket but the setback failed to wreck his rhythm and he soon dismissed Jamie How with another good ball. Taylor gave Broad his first Test wicket in England and his second came when James Marshall edged a beauty to Andrew Strauss at first slip.
Anderson returned to bowl Daniel Flynn behind his legs and it appeared England would run through New Zealand's modest batting line-up. But McCullum and Jacob Oram thought differently. McCullum survived a couple of close lbw shouts off Panesar before slamming the spinner back over his head for four and six.
Ryan Sidebottom had a day to forget. No matter how hard he tried England's player of the year could not get his line right. Strangely, he bowled all but one of his overs from the Nursery End – most left-arm seamers bowl from the Pavilion End here, using the slope to their advantage. Like all good bowlers he will return.
Scoreboard from Lord's
England won toss
New Zealand – First innings
J M How c Ambrose b Anderson 7
34 min, 18 balls
A J Redmond c Cook b Anderson 0
6 min, 5 balls
J A H Marshall c Strauss b Broad 24
104 min, 71 balls, 4 fours
L R P L Taylor c Collingwood b Broad 19
24 min, 20 balls, 3 fours
+B B McCullum b Panesar 97
174 min, 97 balls, 13 fours, 2 sixes
D R Flynn b Anderson 9
37 min, 32 balls, 2 fours
J D P Oram not out 23
94 min, 62 balls, 3 fours
*D L Vettori not out 5
9 min, 11 balls, 1 four
Extras (b12, lb8, w1, nb3) 24
Total (6 wkts, 244 min, 52.1 overs) 208
Fall: 1-2 (Redmond), 2-18 (How), 3-41 (Taylor), 4-76 (Marshall), 5-104 (Flynn), 6-203 (McCullum).
To bat: K D Mills, T G Southee, C S Martin.
Bowling: Sidebottom 18.1-5-50-0 (5-1-14-0, 1-0-3-0, 6-2-14-0, 6-2-19-0, 0.1-0-0-0); Anderson 12-3-42-3 (nb1, w1) (7-1-23-2, 5-2-19-1); Broad 15-3-70-2 (nb2) (4-0-13-1, 5-2-21-1, 5-1-32-0, 1-0-4-0); Collingwood 3-1-11-0 (1-1-0-0, 1-0-6-0, 1-0-5-0); Panesar 4-1-15-1 (1-1-0-0, 3-0-15-1).
Progress: Rain delayed start until 1.20pm. 50 in 75 min, 15.3 overs. 100 in 145 min, 30.3 overs. Tea 109-5 (McCullum 36, Oram 0) 34 overs. 150 in 198 mins, 42.1 overs. 200 in 230 mins, 49.2 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.43pm.
McCullum 50: 127 min, 65 balls, 8 fours.
England: A J Strauss, A N Cook, *M P Vaughan, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, +T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong
Match referee: R S Madugalle.
Shot of the day
Brendon McCullum does not lack confidence and he went after England's attack in bowler-friendly conditions. His best shot was a driven six off Stuart Broad. It flew over mid-off and landed in the Warner Stand. No ground is too big for him.
Ball of the day
Nothing creates more problems for a batsman than a bowler who moves the ball up the Lord's slope, as Stuart Broad did from the Pavilion End to dismiss James Marshall. It was a superb delivery and Andrew Strauss took a good catch.
Fears that England might look a ragbag outfit wearing coloured trousers with their whites disappeared. Trousergate is still to be settled, with the players' spon-sors and England's kit suppliers adidas arguing over who should advertise on the flannels, but at least they looked a team.
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