Strauss must find his feet if series is to be salvaged

 

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The Independent Online

Forget the latest wizard spinner. Saeed Ajmal might be, for now, the stuff of nightmares for England but the predicament facing these tourists is enshrined in precedent.

There have been 230 Test series of three matches going back to 1884. Of those, 125 have been won by the team which prevailed in the first match and only 10 by the side which lost it. On that basis England would seem to be a 22-1 chance to pull off a series win.

They can take succour from the fact that they have done it three times previously, and provided the teams which are first and last on the list. In 1888, W G Grace came charging to the rescue as captain after defeat to Australia in the opening tie, and administered two innings defeats.

In New Zealand four years ago, having been embarrassed in the opener in Hamilton they won the next two.It was in the final match in New Zealand that Andrew Strauss, in urgent need of runs, saved his immediate career with a stoic innings of 177, lasting eight hours. He is not quite in the desperate straits he was then but when he and his vice-captain, Alastair Cook, open the batting this week for the 100th time in a Test match he could do with staying around for at least half the time he managed then.

He has scored one hundred in his last 42 innings, compared to seven in his first 42.

But Cook believes their partnership is vital. "He's a world-class player and I hope it gives the other guys confidence when we do walk out that we have got some experience at the top of the order," he said.

If they can restore England's batting fortunes, it is at least possible to think of them becoming the most durable of all Test opening partnerships. Only three pairs have done it more often (see table, right) and the next most enduring for England is Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, who walked out together 54 times.

The nearest equivalent to the position in which they find themselves – subcontinental pitches with a mystery spinner operating – came in Sri Lanka 11 years ago. England came from 1-0 behind, having been spooked by Muttiah Muralitharan's seven wickets in the first Test, and beat Sri Lanka.

But they were able to use their pads to repel Murali. Do that against Ajmal and they risk leg before, with the Decision Review System lying in wait.

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