Nasser Hussain uppishly drove Chris Martin down the ground for four to take him to 98. This was followed by an elegant, vintage Hussain cover drive for another boundary to bring up his hundred and level the scores © Getty Images
Nasser Hussain uppishly drove Chris Martin down the ground for four to take him to 98. This was followed by an elegant, vintage Hussain cover drive for another boundary to bring up his hundred and level the scores © Getty Images

On May 24, 2004, former England captain Nasser Hussain scored a match-winning unbeaten century at Lord’s in the first Test against New Zealand. Three days later, Hussain was to shock the world. Jaideep Vaidya has more on the dramatic events that unfolded.

On a bright Monday morning, a huge crowd turned out at the Lord’s cricket ground to watch the last day’s play of the first Test between England and New Zealand. The Kiwis had set the hosts 282 to win the match, which was a challenging if not daunting ask. England’s openers Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss were unbeaten overnight with the score on eight for no loss. Clear skies provided a perfect setting for what promised to be an intriguing day of cricket, which was well worth skipping work for. However, not a soul around the park knew that they were about to be a part of a little piece of history.

England were off to a disastrous start on Day Five, losing Trescothick and Mark Butcher early. This brought their former captain, Nasser Hussain, out to the middle to partner the man who was tipped to replace him in the side. Strauss, making is debut, had scored a century in the first innings and was looking good for another long innings. Hussain, however, had been dismissed for 34 amidst increasing rumblings calling for his head.

“At 10 for 2, I’ve done it for you,” Hussain had recently said, when confronted with his poor form. Today, it was 35 for 2 when he had walked in to face a sprightly Kiwi attack baying for more blood, with a debutant at the other end for company.

Hussain started out tentatively, letting Strauss, who was without doubt the more confident of the two, do the bulk of the scoring. Hussain was scratchy, unable to middle the ball, but hung around clutching at the straws. Strauss, meanwhile, brought up his half-century as the duo slowly steadied the wobble. Soon, the pair’s century stand came up as England looked well on their way to a memorable win. However, at 143 for 2, a moment of madness transpired.

Hussain, who later revealed that he had been asked to up the scoring, tapped the ball towards point and set off for a quick single. Halfway down the pitch, he realised Strauss wasn’t sure. Three distinct shouts of “Run! Run! Run!” were clearly audible from the stump mics as Hussain forced his younger partner to take the single. Strauss finally took off, but it was too late as he was caught miles out of his crease after Chris Cairns swooped in and threw the ball to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum who flicked the bail off. Strauss was gone for 83, a touching distance from a historic second century on debut, as Hussain tried to reflect on what had just happened.

Thankfully for Hussain, it was his old buddy Graham Thorpe who walked in next. The duo had started their careers almost at the same time and it was a long association spanning more than 15 years. They were the two most experienced players in the England side which was filled with the PlayStation generation, and the sight of Thorpe striding out must have had a calming influence on Hussain after the chaos.

The old guard of the England team stood strong against the attacking Kiwis and slowly built on their partnership. Hussain brought up a scratchy fifty just as England crossed 200. As the hosts neared their target, New Zealand took the new ball as a last throw of the dice. Unfortunately for them, this was when Hussain actually started middling the ball. The last half an hour of the match saw crisp strokes from the blades of both batsmen. Finally, with nine runs needed to win, Hussain was batting on 94 while Thorpe had just bought up his fifty.

This moment had been long coming. After four successful years at the helm, Hussain had stepped down as captain of England during the summer of 2003, citing he had “grown tired” of the role. The runs off his bat had dried up even as he continued to play for England and was part of the side that helped England win their first series in the Caribbean in 36 years. But critics and pundits were increasingly calling for his axing, with younger, more promising players available.

Hussain uppishly drove Chris Martin down the ground for four to take him to 98. This was followed by an elegant, vintage Hussain cover drive for another boundary to bring up his hundred and level the scores. Hussain then ended it all with an action replay shot, only this time there was an extra-cover fielder to pick it up as the batsmen scampered across for the winning run. It was a right slap in the face of his detractors and showed that he still had it in him. Three days later, Hussain announced his retirement from all forms of the game and took up a job in the Sky Sports commentary team.

After all the initial shock and disbelief over the sudden decision had subsided, one realised that this was typical Nasser Hussain. This was the guy who, after scoring a century in the 2002 NatWest series final against India, had shoved three fingers up the faces of his critics in the Lord’s media box, after they had wondered aloud what he was doing batting at No. 3. So, it wasn’t really surprising that he had chosen to bow out on a high after a splendid century, rather than being unceremoniously dumped eventually.Come to think of it, he was always going to go out this way. Asked during an interview with the Daily Mail later whether he was disappointed on missing out on a 100 Test caps (he retired with 96), Hussain said, “Not as disappointed as some people in the media make out…Most important thing is not out staying your welcome, not just plodding along, taking the money but also not leaving too early. And I don’t think I did either.”

Coach Duncan Fletcher, who had masterminded the transformation of the team alongside Hussain, probably understood him best: “In taking this decision I hope people realise that he has tried to do what is best for the England team rather than the individual. His desire and will to win are an object lesson to any cricketer out there who aspires to play for England and I know that we will all miss him in the changing rooms.” Hussain’s successor to England captaincy, Michael Vaughan, added, “His focus, preparation and the passion he showed in wearing an England shirt are qualities that I really admire.”

Hussain will always be remembered as the man who changed the England team. What he and Fletcher started in the late nineties is bearing fruit now with England rising to No. 1 (currently No. 2) in the world. Hussain was the man who instilled belief in the men at the helm of England today. It is, thus, not so coincidental that the man who would take England to No. 1 in the world, Strauss, made his debut in Hussain’s last Test match.

Brief scores:
New Zealand 386 (Mark Richardson 93, Chris Cairns 82; Steve Harmison 4 for 126, Simon Jones 3 for 82) and 336 (Mark Richardson 101, Brendon McCullum 96; Steve Harmison 4 for 76, Ashley Giles 3 for 87) lost to England 441 (Andrew Strauss 111, Marcus Trescothick 86; Chris Martin 3 for 94) and 282 for 3 (Nasser Hussain 103*, Andrew Strauss 83) by 7 wickets.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber)