England v New Zealand: England left-handers at opposite ends of spectrum
IT was a tale of two opening batsmen.
Alastair Cook, who during the course of his 203rd Test innings became England’s highest run-scorer, and Adam Lyth, who during the course of his third achieved the milestone of his maiden century.
Two left-handers at opposite ends of the spectrum.
But for four hours at Headingley on Saturday they were side by side as they created their slices of personal history.
Cook, who scored 75 from 187 balls with 12 fours, gained the 32 runs he needed to overtake the 8,900 of his mentor, Graham Gooch.
The moment came at 2.14pm when Cook square-drove Tim Southee past point to the foot of the White Rose Stand, drawing a standing ovation from the 16,000 crowd.
Cook raised his bat in understated manner as a giant red-and-white banner was unfurled in the North East Stand proclaiming his feat.
Gooch had held the record for 7,952 days - since Cook, now 30, was eight years old.
Lyth, who scored 107 from 212 balls with 15 fours, produced a breakthrough performance after scores of seven and 12 on debut at Lord’s.
His moment came at 5.04pm when he slog-swept Mark Craig to the foot of the White Rose Stand, drawing another standing ovation from the partisan crowd.
Lyth celebrated in anything but understated manner as he punched the air and milked the acclaim.
Thus he followed in the footsteps of Joe Root, who scored his maiden Test hundred in the corresponding fixture two years ago, and also Sam Robson, who scored his debut Test century against Sri Lanka at Leeds last summer.
“It was a fantastic moment for me and my family,” said Lyth, who was watched by a number of relatives but not by his parents, Christine and Alistair.
“Unfortunately, my mum was working and my dad fancied a game of golf, but I had other members of my family here.
“Getting a hundred, you know that you can play at this level, and, hopefully, there’s more runs to come and more hundreds to come.
“It was very special to get a hundred here in front of my home crowd.”
Of his own milestone, Cook commented: “It feels a little bit surreal. It was an amazing moment, obviously. I haven’t ever really been that nervous in the 20s before, but I was a little bit nervous today.”
Cook and Lyth’s stand of 177 in 59 overs dominated the second day as England reached 253-5 in reply to New Zealand’s 350.
It was England’s highest opening partnership in a Leeds Test, beating the 168 by Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook against Australia in 1948, and also the 168 by Gooch and Michael Atherton against Pakistan in 1992.
The alliance ended when Cook was adjudged lbw to Craig.
Sundaram Ravi, the umpire, turned down the initial appeal after Cook missed an attempted sweep only for television replays to confirm the dismissal.
It had been a splendid innings by the captain, full of delicate drives and coruscating cuts.
Cook was three-quarters of the way to what would have been a third hundred in successive Tests, an emphatic answer to a century drought that dated back to the New Zealand Test here two summers ago.
When Cook plays like that, it is difficult to equate how he struggled so badly.
Now the talk is not of his right to a place in the team, but whether he could possibly go on to become Test cricket’s all-time record run-scorer.
Lyth, 27, is simply happy to be playing Test cricket, having been kept waiting long enough for a run in the side.
This innings cemented his Ashes place and was a typical display; glorious, caressed cover-drives entwining with deft deflections and pristine placement.
Lyth knew it was his day when, on 90, he got an inside edge to a ball from Southee that hit the stumps but did not dislodge the bails.
Lyth tried in vain to kick the ball away before it touched the timbers - his hack at fresh air unbefitting of someone who had trials as a youngster with Manchester City.
The evening session was well advanced - and the patrons of the White Rose Stand in an advanced state of lubrication - when Lyth was run-out following a mix-up with Yorkshire team-mate Gary Ballance.
Ballance cut to backward-point and called for a single, Trent Boult’s throw beating Lyth as he ran to the striker’s end.
It was a disappointing end to a red-letter day, one that ended with three wickets to the second new ball as Ballance, Root and Ben Stokes departed, but a day that Lyth will never forget.
He stopped briefly on his return to the pavilion, turned and acknowledged all corners of the ground, the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears.