|Andrew Strauss and|
the man who would be king.
The central attraction of the day was the batting of Andrew Strauss. In English cricket, failure always has an individual focus for its blame. The public service, so brilliantly exemplified by John Mortimer's character Sir Humphrey Appleby, may be able to diffuse blame so thinly that no one is bent over and caned but in English sport there is no hiding place. Strauss, the South African who led England to world supremacy, has always had his doubters. After all, none of the Lords have ever forgotten what happened the last time a South African was given the keys to English cricket. Tony Greig took the Bentley for a spin and crashed it, with Kerry Packer joy riding in the passenger seat.
Fleet Street has treated Strauss as one of their own: embracing him with flowery prose and effusive compliment in order to stand on his blind side. Positioned perfectly, the Pakistan debacle was the only justification needed to start placing well used knives in his back, many of which still drip with Pietersen's blood. His previous answers have been well justified, stacking up wins against the Australians at home and away, beating India into submission and standing up to the countrymen of his birth. Winners are grinners and don't the Fleet Street press love to grin like your old school chums.
Their point about a lack of runs is the only place Strauss hurts, because it has justification. Too many starts without finishes, despite the consistency of opening stands with Alastair Cook which have given England their best starts since the late 1930's. However, in personal runs, Strauss has become impoverished. In centuries alone in almost three years since July 2009, he has scored just one three figure score and that - his second innings 110 against Australia at Brisbane - was back in November 2010. He has averaged 34 in that time as his Test average has retreated to 41. Before the last twenty years, low to middle thirties was considered acceptable for an opener but even twenty metres away his new ball partner has outshone such expectations.
After watching Swann clean out the tail - something he does very effectively - runs for Strauss today were of prime importance. He'll talk up the importance of a good start, of batting for the team but lack of scores is weighing heavily on him as he has started to accept the burden newspapers back home are placing on his shoulders. As if his days at the office weren't complicated enough. Stop and consider the degree of difficulty of managing the personalities of Pietersen, Swann and Broad in the same dressing room for a start. Chasing enough of a target to be uncomfortable at a time when the team has struggled, he began with a third ball guide past second slip for four which was more controlled than convincing. A few overs later, he straight drove Prasad, always the shot of confidence. The spinners were on inside ten overs and he was soon edging at catchable, height but well wide of first slip, for a third four. Thereafter, it was nudges and pushes for ones and twos, defying the three pronged spin attack of Herath, Randiv and Dilshan and scoring half of the opening stand of 122 with Cook, despite seeing much less of the strike. In the end, the age old problem defeated him again. Having bounced a ball from Dilshan into Mahela Jayawardene's hands at first slip only two balls earlier, he went back to punish a ball outside off stump he should have respected and was caught behind.
Trott and Cook played with comfort until stumps, leaving England well placed. Trott was again superb off his legs but the danger exists that like Ponting, he'll work the ball too often, too confidently through the leg side and take the ball increasingly from off stump, exposing leg and leaving him prone to lbw. Cook just did what he does best ... batting with that grinding efficiency which tests a bowler's patience more than his skill. He builds an innings like Tolstoy wrote books.
|Swanny: I've got your back Skipper|
He deserves that last glorious waltz.