Alarm bells ring for Strauss on worst day at office

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The Independent Online

There are times when captaining the England cricket team must be like joy on earth for Andrew Strauss. And then there was Friday 7 August, when just about the only thing that went right for him until well after tea was not getting lost while driving to Headingley. Although come to think of it...

Apart from being forced from hotel bed to pavement by a false fire alarm shortly before 5am, worrying whether his wicketkeeper would clamber off the treatment table after a warm-up induced back spasm, fretting over who should replace irreplaceable all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, failing to see off the new ball on winning the toss, watching his team being rolled over for 102 and then searching long and hard for a bowling hero, yesterday was plain sailing for Strauss. "Tough day at the office, dear?" "I've had better, Mrs S."

Look out on to any ground an hour or so before start of play on the first morning of a Test match and you will do well to spot an unpopulated square yard of grass, Players from both sides are present, of course, going through their warm-up routines and, at least in England's case, they are joined by a whole squad of back-up staff. Throw in the groundsman and his team, match officials, sponsors' representatives and umpteen former cricketers turned TV and radio commentators and there are almost as many folk on centre stage as in the stands.

Yet, when it really matters and something nasty hits the fan, the captain is pretty much a man alone. And yesterday, despite coach Andy Flower giving all the help he could, England's leader had too much on his plate.

With real doubts over whether Matt Prior would be able to play, Australia were asked to delay the toss by 10 minutes. They agreed, giving Strauss and Flower time to decide on an alternative keeper before being told there was no need to scrap Plan A after all.

But that still left Strauss with less than 20 minutes to prepare himself to open the batting – during which time he had to give three interviews to television and radio stations straight after the toss. "There has been a bit of running around," he told Sky TV with the hint of a rueful smile on his face.

No one said being captain of England would be a bed of roses, of course. But there were a few too many thorns for most people's comfort yesterday and if Strauss's mind was scrambled when he faced his first ball from Ben Hilfenhaus then little wonder.

Thanks to umpire Billy Bowden giving him the benefit of what small amount of doubt existed, Strauss survived Hilfenhaus's leg before appeal. He was out soon enough, though, and then had plenty of time to wonder whether he might have inadvertently walked under a ladder last night.

Still, at least the captain's cheap dismissal and England's uninspiring batting effort kept home supporters quieter than any restriction on booze or words of warning from officialdom. Some will be pleased about that, no doubt – though probably not Strauss.