Graham Gooch offers up a staunch defence of the batsmen

Batting coach insists players are still 'best in England' and that Strauss has full backing

Galle

As England spent yesterday contemplating yet again what might have been they also took the opportunity to circle the wagons. This reaction is perfectly normal for sides who sense the winds of change are gathering strength and in its way is both logical and understandable.

It has the two-fold effect of bringing everybody closer together inside the camp (or preventing anybody else seeing that they are at each other's throats) while keeping at bay those who would seek to disrupt and undermine it from outside. The undoubted intention is to be left alone to get on with it because everything will come right in the end. There is a hint of desperation about it, the last days of empire.

The points that Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, made yesterday were that the captain, Andrew Strauss, still has the unwavering support and devotion of his team and that the players remain the best available.

The first of those assertions seems to have solid evidence, the second is much more debatable.

England have lost four Tests this winter because of their frailties against spin bowling on slow, turning pitches. The latest and perhaps most disappointing defeat was by 75 runs in the first Test against Sri Lanka on Thursday.

The tourists' wretched first-innings total of 193 followed efforts against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates of 192, 327 and 141. Only once, then, have they been adequate in the first innings all winter and in that match, in Abu Dhabi, they were bowled out for 72 in the second.

Gooch, whose first tour this is as England's permanent batting coach, offered a touching and pertinent defence of 35-year-old Strauss. He understands the stresses of being opening batsman and captain. Twenty years ago his tenure started to unravel on the sub-continent in a sequence when England lost seven consecutive Tests, three in India, one in Sri Lanka. By the following summer he resigned.

"I firmly believe that Andrew Strauss is one of the best two openers in England, along with Alastair Cook," said Gooch. "He has been a vast contributor to winning Tests, not just with his captaincy but with the bat for England.

"He is having a lean patch in Test cricket. I don't think he is out of form, he scored a good hundred in the practice match last week. I don't see a guy who is near retirement, a guy who wants to give it away, I see a guy with fierce determination and discipline to be successful in Test cricket. Every player goes through a bad patch, you've got to hold your nerve and keep your self-belief."

Strauss has scored only one hundred for England in his last 48 innings and, though he frequently passes 20, as he twice did in the Galle defeat, his batting average has plummeted. Still above 42 in his career, it is 32 since his wonderful 161 in the defeat of Australia at Lord's in 2009.

He has appeared in 44 Test wins, more than any other England player. As captain, he has led the team to 21 victories, a number bettered only by Michael Vaughan, who orchestrated 26 wins. Strauss's winning ratio remains a healthy 48.84 per cent, greater than all but five captains who have led England in at least 10 matches, and behind only Vaughan and Mike Brearley in the last 78 years.

But the juxtaposition of poor results and lack of runs has created an inevitable debate. Suddenly, Strauss's unspoken desire to go after the 2013-14 Ashes in Australia seems a long, long time away. But Gooch was unequivocal in his support and his reasoning that Strauss continues to have the team's backing. There was no suggestion that his position was other than secure.

"Absolutely, not a thought about it," said Gooch. "All those guys firmly believe in him and are right behind him and we as management are as well. Andrew Strauss has been a great leader and a great anchor for the England side and I hope he remains like that.

"This is the last phase of his career; when you get to his age you can't say you've got 15 years ahead of you. He wants to be successful, to be in that England side contributing on merit as a batsman and when you're an opening batsman you dictate terms. You are up front there. You can set the tone. I will restate: I see in his eyes every day a guy who wants that success for the England side. I don't see a guy contemplating retirement."

Strauss still has reserves of credit, though the present run is eating into them, like the millionaire who starts lighting his cigars with £50 notes. But if Strauss is secure for the moment, it makes it much more difficult to leave out any of the other batsmen.

The received opinion has come to be that if this bunch of batsmen are still in the team when England go to India for a four-Test series later this year, the upshot will be just as catastrophic. Gooch sees things rather differently, perhaps not least because, like many others, he is not certain about the readiness of the next generation.

"I don't think it's a blip because we've not been equal to the task put in front of us about scoring enough runs against that type of bowling," he said. "All I can say about the players we've got is they've served us very well and I've got confidence they have the ability to score runs against all kinds of bowling. Yes, they have to improve because that's the area we've been deficient in the last four matches. If you're saying, come India, the whole team is going out and a new team is coming in, that's not the way forward in my opinion."

What seems astonishing is that England did not realise they had such weaknesses. It seems only now that they understand them and are addressing them. Only last month was Gooch made full-time.

"It takes time; some people pick it up quicker than others," Gooch added. "It is mindset as much as anything else. It has to be developed and what I see is players working furiously hard to improve that in a short space of time."

The question arises that if they do not do so by the time of the second Test, which starts in Colombo on Tuesday, what then?

Bresnan back in frame as injured broad goes home

Injury caught up with Stuart Broad again yesterday as his tour of Sri Lanka came to an end. Although he had overcome a sprained ankle to play in the first Test, a right calf strain means he will miss the second, which begins in Colombo on Tuesday.

Broad flew home yesterday for assessment, and his chances of taking part in the Indian Premier League must be slim. He has a $400,000 (£250,000) deal with King's XI Punjab and had been due to go to India for the tournament after the second Test ended.

With a long programme of international cricket ahead, England will be anxious that Broad does nothing to aggravate the damage. In the last 18 months he has had a sequence of injuries, which have forced him to miss matches.

A torn abdomen forced him out of last winter's Ashes series after two matches and this was followed by elbow and shoulder injuries, which marred the start to his tenure as captain of England's Twenty20 side.

England will not summon a replacement for Broad, whose place in the Test side is likely to be taken by Tim Bresnan. The other option will be to include Steve Finn, but Bresnan's batting enhances his claims.

Stephen Brenkley

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution