Bank holiday Monday. People’s Day at Lord’s, Dad and his lad for 20 quid. Ninety minutes before play and the queue for tickets already stretched three or four deep around two sides of the ground and up the Wellington Road to St John’s Wood tube station.
By noon 20,000 were in the stands, waving their freebie fours-and-sixes cards at the boundaries and roaring their approval at the wickets.
When Ben Stokes, a new hero for the next generation, took the wickets of the first-innings centurion, Kane Williamson, and the talismanic New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum, with successive deliveries, the stands erupted with joy every bit as much as the England players who engulfed the bowler.
Up in Yorkshire, where the second Test begins in Leeds on Friday, the inhabitants of what was once known, with some notoriety, as the Western Terrace, who are not known for their reticence in dressing up, will already be sourcing their ginger wigs, although, as Victor Marks of this parish shrewdly points out, they probably think Tim Bresnan should still be playing. And as the game played out its final stages, they oohed and aahed at each near miss and every time a bit of last-ditch defiance deprived England of a wicket.
In the end what has been a spectacular Test match, one of the finest in recent years and surely as good as any ever seen on this ground, was given a finish in keeping. There were nine and a half overs of the match remaining and the lights were on. England were attacking hard, trying to remove the stubborn last pair. Stuart Broad was steaming in from the Nursery end, thrashing the ball into the pitch in the absence of swing now and getting little response.
In the previous over Jimmy Anderson, seeking to finish things with his 400th Test wicket, saw edges fall frustratingly into the few areas where he had no close fielders. With runs no option now, Cook might, with justification, have opted to place all his fielders round the bat. Instead Moeen Ali trotted from fine-leg, round in front of the pavilion and took up station at third man, 10 yards in from the boundary in front of the Allen Stand. Broad, from round the wicket, banged the ball in once more, Trent Boult uppercut it, hit it cleanly and Moeen, away to his left and backpedalling, took a brilliant tumbling catch. Seconds later he, too, was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of team-mates.
England had won by 124 runs, a result that after the first hour’s play on Thursday, when the scoreboard told that they were 30 for four, would have seemed as likely as Labour gaining a clean sweep in Scotland a few weeks ago. It was no more likely when New Zealand reached 403 for three in reply to England’s 389, and still in doubt when England, facing a deficit of 134, lost their third second-innings wicket for 70 in the first over of the penultimate day.
But this was a match that at times defied conventional thought and the pessimism that flows through the veins of England supporters. Somehow Paul Farbrace – who must be kept with England at all costs –and Alastair Cook have managed to free the side of any shackles it may have had. They played without fear, from Joe Root through to Stokes, a phenomenal presence in this match, and underpinned by the remarkable, unflagging skill and diligence of Cook, particularly against both new balls in the second innings.
A game in which they conceded such a first-innings deficit had been won by a distance. On the way Lord’s had seen 1,610 runs scored, more than any Test here previously; England had twice scored 350 runs in a day, something not achieved by them anywhere for 80 years; and Stokes had followed up his 92, that helped transform the first innings, with the most rapid century of them all here and the second fastest England hundred of all time, the second time around.
New Zealand have never made so many runs themselves and lost. In a match full of worthy contenders – Root, Cook, Williamson, whose first-innings hundred was a masterpiece of construction, Trent Boult with five wickets including four for nine to finish the second England innings – there was only ever going to be one winner of the man-of-the-match award.
England had been bowled out in the morning for 478, removing the need for a declaration and leaving New Zealand 77 overs to make 345 to win. Even allowing for the potential pyrotechnics of McCullum, Martin Guptill and Corey Anderson, it was a big challenge, although one McCullum would surely have taken up, had Anderson and Broad not removed Guptill and Tom Latham for ducks in their respective first overs, and Ross Taylor by the time the score had reached 12.
Thereafter the game was England’s alone to win and New Zealand’s to save. It was Stokes, from the Nursery end, who holed the tourists’ ship mortally. For the second time in the match, Williamson was settling in. But Stokes has the capacity to produce speed from nowhere, a function of timing rather than effort, something which may be why catches seem to be missed from him more than others.
Here he worked Williamson over before producing something from just short of a length which the batsman fended off to gully, where Root was waiting. Next ball, fast again, dipped in to McCullum, who could only deflect it down on to his stumps. Thereafter England were held up only by a sixth-wicket stand of 107 between a robust Corey Anderson, who made 67, and a defiant 59 from BJ Watling.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010