Finn is quick to get used to life after Strauss

 

England began life yesterday without Andrew Strauss. In the one-day dressing room it probably felt little different from the day before since it is 15 months since he has been around in any short form of the game.

But it was a spiritual shift as much as anything else, the fact that the acknowledged on-field leader of English cricket had departed for good. It will be different in future, it will never be quite the same again, as Steve Finn, who was 14 when he first met Strauss, acknowledged.

"There were some shocked faces in the dressing room when we were told," said Finn. "Obviously, it's a disappointing time when somebody who has been so great and inspirational for us as a team and a sport steps down from their position. Yes, there were some sad and disappointed people.

"The first time I met him I was 14, bowling in the indoor nets just before he was going off to the West Indies for a one-day tour, I think, and I jagged one down to him, he ducked under it and fell over. I remember the coach shouting from the back of the net, 'You just got put on your a**e by a 14-year-old!' It was quite a surreal scenario, a 14-year-old bowling to an England player and eventually being in the same team as him."

But much though Strauss will be missed it is Alastair Cook's team now. Before Cook can start plotting how on earth he can win in India in a four-Test series this autumn the more pressing issue is of the one-day variety and how to overturn a 1-0 deficit against South Africa in the NatWest Series.

The second match is at The Oval today and, although little that happened in the opening match in Southampton on Tuesday suggested that England can draw level quickly, Cook's record as one-day captain is impressive. Come back now and it will only enhance his authenticity in the subcontinent in October.

Finn said: "I think the transition between the two will be smooth, in that Alastair has been used to working with Andy Flower as a one-day captain. Alastair may have his own plans and stuff he wishes to introduce to the Test team but I'd imagine the fundamentals, day in, day out, will be very similar. We won't see a drastic change and I think that's good for us as a team."

With Graeme Swann rested for the remainder of this series, England must change their side. Although Samit Patel was called up at the last possible moment on Tuesday instead of Chris Woakes as a spin option, his determined batting may earn him another bash. Woakes may play ahead of Tim Bresnan and James Tredwell's off-spin has yet to let England down.

Dismissing Hashim Amla early would provide an immediate spring in the step and, as Finn pointed out, South Africa's finest was dropped twice on his way to 150 on Tuesday. "We could have had either him or Graeme Smith quite early," he said.

"We've sat down, had a chat and thought about what we want to do and how we want to win this game. That's not too dissimilar to the way we've won all our ODIs this summer so our plans aren't going to change drastically. Amla's played well and got the better of us so far but there's still three ODIs for us to turn it around."

South Africa will probably be unchanged and must feel extremely chipper at present. Everything is going their way as it does with good teams. It will be the same old story for England: to win they need to take early wickets while bowling and not lose them while batting.

For old time's sake they could do it for Strauss.

 



The Oval: Today's details

England (possible): A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, I J L Trott, R S Bopara, E J G Morgan, C Kieswetter (wkt), S R Patel, C R Woakes, T T Bresnan, J M Anderson, S T Finn.

South Africa (possible): G C Smith, H M Amla, J-P Duminy, D Elgar, A B De Villiers (capt/wkt), F du Plessis, W D Parnell, R McLaren, R J Peterson, M Morkel, L L Tsotsobe.

Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (Sri L) and R A Kettleborough (Eng).

Pitch report It is said The Oval is not as quick as it was but for the recent Test match it was almost too good. There should be runs aplenty.

Weather Warm and sunny all after-noon. Maximum temperature: 18C.

TV Sky Sports 1, 12.30-10pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 12.20-1.15am.

Odds England 6-5 South Africa 4-6.

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