Century on Test debut gives Strauss his place in history

New Zealand 386 England 246-2
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss was already on one of the honours boards in the home dressing-room at Lord's. As captain of Middlesex, his name sits proudly below the likes of Gubby Allen, Denis Compton, Mike Brearley and Mike Gatting.

But this board will no longer be the first he looks at when he turns up for work. Following yesterday's superb century Strauss's name will now join another list, the one containing many of the greats in English cricket. Boycott, Gooch, Hutton, Hammond, Cowdrey and Hobbs: they are all there.

But before Strauss's arrival only one of these players had posted a hundred on his Test debut. John Hampshire, who scored 107 against the West Indies in 1969, was the only other English batsman to gain the distinction of reaching three figures here in his first Test innings.

But the size of the 27-year-old's achievement does not end there. When Strauss drove Chris Martin through the covers for four he became only the third England opener - after W G Grace, S C Griffith and C A Milton - to score a century on his debut. Strauss was not the only player to enter the record books on an intriguing day. Chris Cairns lit the morning with a sensational 47-ball innings of 82. During his demolition of England's bowlers the all-rounder struck four sixes, the third of which allowed him to overtake Viv Richards and become the leading six hitter in the history of Test cricket. And it was just as well for New Zealand that Cairns was at his brutal best. Without him their lead - 140 - and their chances of winning this Test would be far less.

But enough of the statistics. During his five hours at the crease Strauss played an innings of enormous character. On Monday he was preparing to play for Middlesex at the Oval and it was only through the injury to Michael Vaughan that he gained this unexpected opportunity. Two half-centuries during England's one-day series in the Caribbean had given the selectors a glimpse of his potential, but following yesterday's display it will be hard for them to leave him out at Headingley. With Vaughan almost certain to play in the second Test, Strauss's hundred has put even further pressure on Nasser Hussain when he comes out to bat.

The New Zealand bowling may have been pedestrian, but Strauss never looked in trouble from the moment he took guard. He tucked his second ball through square leg for two and struck his first boundary, via a glorious straight drive, for four. In fact, the only time he showed any nerves was when he reached the nineties.

It is not just the array of attacking shots which have to be looked at when an opener is analysed. Against the new ball and fresh bowlers a solid defence is also required. Strauss possesses both but his biggest asset is the lump which rests on his shoulders. That the left-hander made the most of his chance will not have surprised those that have worked with him. Since joining the Middlesex staff from Durham University there has been something special and deliberate about his manner. He always looked as though he would succeed.

Strauss is not one of the most naturally talented players, but his desire to make the most of what he has, and his commitment to this cause, are second to none. He is an intelligent young man who has worked out his game and this is a day he fully deserves. During his early years as a professional he spent a lot of time working with Justin Langer, the Australian opener, and this can be seen in his batting. Like most lefties, Strauss is particularly strong through the off side, but he has also become a very good collector of runs off his legs.

Many will take credit for yesterday's innings, but Andy Wagner, the master of cricket at Radley College, and Bert Robinson, who coached Ted Dexter in his youth, have done as much as anybody to mould his career. The pair have brought on several outstanding cricketers for Middlesex, and they will take particular pleasure from this performance.

Throughout the majority of his innings Strauss benefited from the calming influence of Marcus Trescothick. On the few occasions when Strauss struggled, the England captain immediately went down the wicket and gave his young apprentice a word of comfort. Trescothick failed to see Strauss home, but he can be equally pleased with his contribution of 86.

Though the batting of this pair allowed England to move into a strong position it was the morning session which gave another healthy crowd the greatest entertainment. Lord's has witnessed many memorable innings, but few can have matched the power of Cairns. In 62 scintillating minutes of cricket the tourists' premier all-rounder smashed England's bowlers to every corner of this famous old arena.

The 33-year-old waited until he had reached his half-century before he began to scatter the crowd, but once he found his range those seated in the first 10 rows of every stand needed to keep their eyes on the game.

The first six was a vicious pull off Simon Jones, but it was the second maximum, a sliced drive off Stephen Harmison over backward point, which allowed Cairns to equal Richards' record of 84 sixes. Andrew Flintoff replaced Jones at the Pavilion End, but this failed to prevent Cairns moving ahead of his childhood hero with an effortless clip over deep midwicket's head. On seeing the ball drop into the Mound Stand, the right-hander's face lit up.

Comments