'Being on 99 somehow manages to change sane men into idiots'
Monday 17 July 2006
The run-out of Ian Bell will not remain a permanent stain on his England record, although it was not one of the better moments in the burgeoning England career of Andrew Strauss.
England's stand-in captain admitted as much last night: "I was a bit of an idiot," he confessed. "Being on 99 somehow manages to change pretty sane men into idiots at times and I feel very sorry for Bell."
Of course, Strauss has been there himself, on his Test debut two years ago, when he looked set for a unique second hundred in the game only to be run out by his captain, Nasser Hussain.
"He said pretty much what I said, 'Sorry mate, I am an idiot.' I must admit in Belly's position I would not be overly happy and, to be honest, I did not say a lot to Nasser when it happened to me. It is one of those things that happen. It is not nice for either party. The thing is not to dwell on it for too long."
Strauss went a long way to removing that blemish by becoming only the third Englishman to score a hundred in his first match as captain. The fact that he did it on the ground on which he made a hundred on his Test debut marks this man out as someone very special.
The last player to achieve the feat was Allan Lamb, when he led England against the West Indies in Barbados in 1990. Archie MacLaren was the first, against Australia in Sydney in 1897.
The most important thing from the team perspective is that the innings by their captain has helped England into a position where they can now consider a declaration at some point this morning.
"The wicket is still pretty good," Strauss said, "but there are cracks appearing. The decision on when we declare is something we will sleep on. We have to make sure we get far enough on."
The débâcle with Bell was an aberration for the normally cool and calculating Strauss, but the fact that the Middlesex opener could produce so significant an innings, despite being captain suggests that leadership will not be the burden for him that others have found it.
Strauss had entered this match with an overall Test average of 43.93, high enough to indicate that the 29-year-old Strauss is a batsman of real quality by any standard, 40 being the accepted benchmark in the first-class game.
The interesting thing is that this innings is an indicator that he might well be the type of player to emulate Graham Gooch, whose batting average soared once he had been handed the leadership of England. Gooch averaged more than 42 in his overall Test career, but as captain he excelled himself, taking it into the statistical stratosphere of 58.72.
Michael Atherton is another who, while no mug in his overall figures with an average of 37.69, took that up to more than 40 when he was appointed captain.
Given the way that Strauss handled his first match in charge, the responsibility of leadership, even in as demanding a game as this, is clearly not going to hamper him.
There was such sureness of shot, and such conviction, that at no point on the way to the ninth hundred of his Test career - and his 21st in all first-class matches - did Strauss indicate that he would give away his wicket cheaply.
It was Strauss' seventh century in all first-class matches - and third Test hundred - on his home ground, and his average at this venue going in to this game was already a staggering 65.37.
Records as captain
* A Flintoff
As captain: 311 runs @ 38.88; Overall: 3,077 @ 33.08
M P Vaughan
1,961 @ 37.06; 4,595 @ 42.94
2,487 @ 36.04; 5,764 @ 37.18
A J Stewart
1,059 @ 39.22; 8,463 @ 39.54
M A Atherton
3,815 @ 40.59; 7,728 @ 37.69
G A Gooch
3,582 @ 58.72; 8,900 @ 42.58
A J Strauss
158 @ 79; 2,153 @ 43.93
Shot of the day
* Every Kevin Pietersen innings seems to contain at least one memorable shot. The risk attached to hitting a leg-spinner out of the rough is high but he still came down the pitch and drove Danish Kaneria down the ground for four - an exquisite stroke.
Ball of the day
* Kevin Pietersen is a wonderful player of spin, so deceiving him is a tall challenge. Yet Shahid Afridi did just this when a slower leg-break spun past Pietersen's charge down the pitch. Kamran Akmal did the rest when he neatly clipped off the bails.
Moment of the day
* Andrew Strauss's celebrations - a controlled removal of the helmet and a raise of the bat - when he reached three figures yesterday were rather muted after the run-out of Ian Bell, but they will remain a memorable moment for the stand-in captain.
* Today Sunshine. Maximum temperature: 32C.
* Television: Live: Sky Sports 1, 10.30. Highlights: Five, 19.15.
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