Angry Swann leaps to captain's defence after media 'witch-hunt'


The Andrew Strauss Affair has brought out a touching facet of English cricket fans and possibly fans from much further afield. They have ganged up on those members of the meeja who would dare to question Strauss's right to be in the dual roles of England captain and opener.

Almost to a man and woman, it seems, they have supported his right to continue given his past heroic deeds. The social networking sites have been abuzz with comments in Strauss's favour and there is probably an appreciation society on Facetwit. This is their right.

But Strauss himself will be aware that a lack of runs, which has brought only one hundred in 48 innings, extended yesterday to 49, and 24 since his most recent, allied to a series of defeats, invites scrutiny. His innings yesterday did not see off the scrutineers altogether – only centuries do that – but it was significant in helping England to establish an extremely promising position in the second Test against Sri Lanka.

In this context, it perhaps helped that Alastair Cook also made runs. His unbeaten 77 was also his second Test half-century of England's winter and together the enduring first-wicket pair put on 122.

Had Cook gone early, Strauss's innings might not have looked quite so bonny. As it is, England finished the day trailing by 121 with nine wickets in hand. They have been in winning positions during this winter and lost but that should really not be the case here – though Strauss will presumably have one more innings before his winter is done.

Nobody in the England dressing room supports the captain with as much passion as the off-spinner Graeme Swann, who moved to 17th place in the country's Test wicket-taking list yesterday. It is poor Strauss who has to stand next to Swann at slip most days listening to the stream of genial outpourings. Swann perhaps recognises the debt.

"Everyone was rooting for Straussy who has come under what I consider very unfair criticism," said Swann. "He'll be kicking himself not to have gone on but he gave us a solid start and we're delighted with how it's panned out. What has been said is what I see as a witch-hunt, I think unjustified, but you couldn't tell from the way he carries himself. He has remained very laid-back and phlegmatic. He's the best captain in world cricket and a world-class opening batsman. I'm a strong ally and he'll get nothing but support from me."

That seems to be the consensus, proving that four defeats in Asia in the liabilities column hardly equate with two Ashes victories and six consecutive victories and a No 1 world ranking in the assets column. In many ways, that is a welcome change from the hang 'em and flog 'em brigades which usually form a disorderly queue at junctures like this.

But Swann, who was reading a book about Agincourt during most of Strauss's innings after taking four wickets in Sri Lanka's first innings, recognised that there was an issue to be discussed.

"I can understand scrutiny. When anyone's in a position, when things don't go well, pressure is building up. But he should be afforded leeway for what he has done in the last two to three years. No man is as capable of leading a team in world cricket.

"He's not in horrible nick, he's had good starts and it's just one of those things all players go through. His barren spell is a lot better than other people's has been and he'll be scoring hundreds before you know it." The 25th, or if that is not necessary, the 26th time of asking would do.

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