First poor run reminds Strauss that game can always bite back

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The Independent Online

From the improbable start, Andrew Strauss scored big Test runs as routinely as strapping on his pads. He was spending so much time being grilled by reporters that their questions were drying up quicker than he was running short of answers.

But his measured tone never deserted him and he invariably provided a couple of caveats in the interminable round of press calls. To wit, that he could not quite believe what was happening, and he knew that one day, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, a run of poor form awaited.

It was a view that was mature, rounded and right. The run appears to have arrived. Not with any great force, yet, but sufficiently to be noticed and notable.

Strauss has now gone eight innings without scoring a 50 in a Test match, his leanest patch since his consummate debut at Lord's two years ago. His average was always destined to diminish since it stood at 112 after his first innings and 97.5 after his second, the stuff that dreams are made of.

When Strauss chased a wide one in the second Test against India yesterday, it fell to 45.17, still very respectable, but the lowest level of his career. It was an inauspicious shot and it followed something of similar hue in the first match at Nagpur.

The flashing cut is one of his great strengths. He can stay on the back foot and wait before carving it between point and third man, but it has gone awry for the moment. In Nagpur he slashed carelessly to second slip having made a fluent start. Yesterday he leaned back and, though he moved his feet fractionally, he would have needed a ride in a toot-toot to get as far across as he needed. If he wants to see the shot again it would probably be to view his scything technique in case his lawn has grown when he returns home.

The upshot was a thick edge to the wicketkeeper, Mahendra Dhoni. It was a mystery why he stayed around for the umpire to raise his finger. Darrell Hair had time to check if the residents of Chandigarh 20 minutes away had heard the nick.

A promising start wasted. England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, will not be remonstrating. Like the batsman himself, he knew this would come. He said as much. There are probably explanations for it.

In Pakistan, where he had a top score of 23 in four innings, Strauss' wife Ruth was expecting their first child. The imminent birth (and safe arrival) forced him to miss the third Test. He claimed that his attention was not diverted but Test batting is a game of such fine margins that any lapse is punished.

The birth behind him, he came to India and lost his opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, to personal problems. Suddenly, Strauss was the senior man, and although his new partner, 21-year-old Alastair Cook, has not looked exactly in need of much shepherding, it has been an added responsibility.

There are little things. For the first time Strauss is taking first ball. There are bigger things. He is trying to assert himself, aware that Cook is young and learning. The temptation to attack, especially when the ball is in places suiting his favoured strokes, is strong.

Strauss will be back, perhaps as soon as the second innings, but the game has re-informed us that it will always try to have the last word over the individuals playing it.

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