England captain Andrew Strauss plans break before assault on reclaiming top spot

 

Lord's

After one of the most trying weeks of his time as England captain, Andrew Strauss last night claimed he still had plenty of enthusiasm for his job but admitted he craved a period away from international cricket to contemplate the tasks that lie ahead.

Life has not been easy for Strauss in recent days. In the build-up to the third Test with South Africa, Strauss's 100th, he had to manage the maelstrom caused by the exclusion of Kevin Pietersen after he sent inflammatory text messages to members of the touring team.

England were then beaten by 51 runs and by 2-0 in the three-match series, meaning that South Africa hold the title of the world's best Test team. A year after England took the ICC Test mace for climbing to the top of the rankings, they had to relinquish it to a side Strauss acknowledged had been superior during the three Tests.

Asked at the presentation ceremony if he was the man to guide England back to the No 1 spot, Strauss said, with conviction: "I hope I am." Later, he added: "It's been a tiring week but I have great faith in the team set-up and there is a lot of desire there, so I will see how things go. I'm keen to get away for a few days and have a bit of a break, and then we need to sit down, Andy Flower and I, and try to map out the way forward."

The decision to jettison Pietersen must still be discussed. The player's advisers are keen for a meeting with Strauss, who before this match expressed a similar desire. It seems unlikely that it will happen this week, though, as Strauss plans to take a holiday before returning to play for Middlesex against Worcestershire in the County Championship, which starts on 28 August.

While the Pietersen problem might have affected England before this game, their most explosive player was in the team for five of the six defeats they have suffered since rising to the summit last summer.

"Maybe the tag of being No 1 hasn't sat as comfortably as it should have and it's an important lesson to learn," Strauss admitted. "We've not been there before and we need to work out how to get back and how to approach it. Is it because of the change of mindset – being the hunted rather than the hunters – or did we lose a bit of confidence from losing four Tests in the subcontinent earlier this year? I don't know the exact answers and we need to find those.

"Perhaps being the hunters suits us better. It should give us the impetus and the catalyst to play better cricket over the next few months. We have to look at everything we do and ask if we can do it better.

"Regarding Kevin Pietersen, the situation was not something that crossed our minds during a tight, absorbing Test. Nothing will be happening straightaway and there is nothing planned this week from my point of view.

"There are issues to be resolved that will take a while and we will be looking to do that away from the public eye."

Strauss warned South Africa that they, too, might find it difficult to grow accustomed to the different pressures of being at the top, but their captain, Graeme Smith, has no such fears.

Smith had written "We Miss U Bouch" on his shirt, a tribute to former wicketkeeper Mark Boucher who had to retire after sustaining a serious eye injury at the start of this tour. Smith said: "I can't predict what's going to happen but we're pretty humble about this. There won't be too many flashy things happening in our team.

"With the type of people we have in the group, I think that if we lose the No 1 ranking, it will be because someone has played better than us, not because we haven't been comfortable with the position."

 

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Five reasons for England's loss

1. First and foremost, England lost to the superior side, on this showing comfortably the best in the world. They did here precisely what England did in Australia two winters ago, prepared impeccably and peaked at exactly the right time. England do not have to play them again until 2015-16 and at home until 2018. Crazy scheduling but a relief on the playing front.

2. The upper order was a deep disappointment. Perhaps they were simply undone by a superb attack but it is unviable going forward. Andrew Strauss, the captain, made 107 runs in the series at an average of less than 18 and, in truth, has not looked up to the job as opening batsman for a year. Now, however, is not the time to go with two young batsmen already being accommodated. But what a prospect Jonny Bairstow looks.

3. External matters have not helped in this key rubber and the Pietersen affair was a totally unwanted and unnecessary distraction. Largely caused by the player haggling for a special contract, it should never have been allowed to simmer as it did, affecting both the coach, Andy Flower, and eventually the captain. Serious talking is still to be done but it is difficult to see Pietersen in an England dressing room again.

4. For more than a year, England's bowling attack deserved only praise. But they have been neutered by rigorously disciplined batting throughout the series by the tourists. The Test summer ends with a huge question-mark over the form of Stuart Broad, whose lack of pace and zest made the opponents' job much easier. Steve Finn has clearly arrived and will be leading the attack shortly. India will present a huge challenge for the off spin of Graeme Swann.

5. When England won in Australia they caught just about everything that moved. But this aspect of their game has been well below the required standard all year. Nine catches went begging in this series, two of the most crucial kind in South Africa's second innings at Lord's when the match was still there for the taking. They seem unsure of who fields where and are trying to mix 'n' match.

Stephen Brenkley

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