Brendon McCullum led a New Zealand fightback against England with a run-a-ball 97 to help his side to 208-6 when bad light ended the first day’s play of the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday.
McCullum, who had seen New Zealand’s top order fail again as they slumped to 109-5 at tea on a day where rain meant there was no play before lunch, put on 99 for the sixth wicket with Jacob Oram.
But three runs short of what would have been the wicket-keeper’s third Test hundred, McCullum was bowled between bat and pad by a quicker delivery from left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.
Once more he’d fallen just short of a century at Lord’s, having scored 96 in the corresponding Test here four years ago.
In all he hit two sixes and 13 fours, after coming in when New Zealand were in dire straits at 41-3.
At stumps, Oram was 23 not out and New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori unbeaten on five.
Earlier, pace bowler James Anderson, after England captain Michael Vaughan had won the toss and decided to field first in overcast, seamer-friendly conditions, took three wickets for 27 runs in his first 10 overs.
”It’s bitter-sweet,” said McCullum. ”I’m obviously disappointed not to have made a hundred and still be at the wicket at the moment.
”Last time I got quite nervous in the nineties, this time I felt quite calm. In the end, I just missed a straight one.”
Assessing the state of the match, he added: ”Credit to the bowling team. But for us it’s not a bad day either. With the overhead conditions the way they were, there was a chance we might have been rolled over.
”If we had been out for 150, there was only one team that could have won the game. To be 208-6 and, arguably, with our two best batsmen at the crease, is not a bad position.
”If we can get to 300 that would be a fantastic effort after losing the toss on that wicket,” said McCullum, whose side were playing their first Test since the retirement of former New Zealand captain and number three batsman Stephen Fleming.
McCullum (26) is renowned as a dynamic one-day batsman. But New Zealand’s plight meant they needed him to stay in as much as score briskly.
”I felt like I had been here before,” joked McCullum as he recalled his feelings on walking out to bat. ”I worked out after the first over that batting conditions were tough.
”It meant you could be happy playing an ‘ugly innings’ for a period of time so long as you got runs on the board.”
The vice-captain, 36 not out at tea, completed a 65-ball fifty, his ninth in 33 Tests, with eight fours.
He then brought up a fifty stand in 70 balls with Oram by confidently driving left-arm quick Ryan Sidebottom, who took 24 wickets during England’s 2-1 series win in New Zealand in March, down the ground.
McCullum, whose two Test hundreds were scored against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, later lofted Panesar straight back over the bowler’s head for the first six of the innings.
New Zealand fans, not for the first time, could have been forgiven for thinking their batting order was the wrong way round.
Anderson, who saw off competition for his place from Matthew Hoggard in a team unchanged from the side that won the third Test in New Zealand, removed debutant Aaron Redmond for a duck and fellow opener Jamie How for seven.
He then bowled Daniel Flynn, the other debutant in New Zealand’s team, round the left-hander’s legs for nine shortly before tea.
”Taking a wicket in my first over settled my nerves,” said Anderson. ”Maybe we bowled a little bit too short at times. The wicket didn’t do as much as we thought it might do. To have them six down is a pretty good effort.”
Turning to McCullum, Anderson added: ”He played magnificently well. When he gets into that sort of mode, it’s quite hard to tie him down.
”We’ve got plans for him, but when he starts moving around his crease it is a little bit off-putting. He’s quick on his feet and got a good eye.”
Finding a reliable first-wicket partnership has proved a major problem for New Zealand.
Hopes were high that the 28-year-old Redmond, whose father, Rodney, made a century and a fifty in his only Test against Pakistan in 1973 before eye problems cut short his career, might fill the void after scores of 146 and 64 against the England Lions last week.
But he edged his fifth ball, which cut away slightly, to Alastair Cook at third slip. — AFP