Hussain fired up by criticism as Strauss dreams of debut

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss and Nasser Hussain will arrive at Lord's tomorrow morning with completely different outlooks on Test cricket.

For Strauss the novelty of playing cricket at Lord's will not have worn off but as Middlesex's captain he is used to driving through the Grace Gates and making his way to the home dressing room in the famous old Pavilion. But never before will the 27-year-old have made this pilgrimage with such hope and ambition. Should Michael Vaughan fail to prove his fitness the left-handed opener looks set to make his Test debut against New Zealand.

After 95 Test matches - 10 of which have been played at Lord's - Hussain's journey will be far less emotional but there will still be a few butterflies floating around as he makes his way to the Nursery Ground for a final practice session.

The former England captain needs five more caps to become the eighth Test player to represent England on 100 occasions, but his preparations have not been helped by several calls for his international career to be brought to an end. Hussain survived selection for the first Test but knows that the pressure will increase should he fail during the next week.

"I am a bit disappointed but I am used to people questioning my place in the side," said Hussain on the eve of the first Test against New Zealand. "It has been happening now for about 15 years. It is the sort of cricketer I am. Because I don't average 45 and play like Sachin Tendulkar every week, I will always be questioned. If I was young and naïve it would upset me but you just get on with it."

Ian Botham, who fears England could lose three middle-order batsmen in quick succession over the next couple of years, did not make his comments to motivate Hussain but this is just the stimulant the 36-year-old needs at this stage of his career. In recent innings Hussain has scored useful runs but they have been chiselled rather than painted. Perversely, it is something he seems to thrive on and it is this insatiable desire for success which has kept him at the crease for so long.

"These comments spur you on but they also put extra pressure on you," he said. "It means that I turn up on Thursday feeling I am on trial. The aim is to be mentally strong enough to cope and use it to prove people wrong. If you are not it will affect your performance. I don't have any problem in that, it is part of being 36 years old and being an England cricketer."

"I do not mind people questioning my age and suggesting that things should move on but comments about my form are incorrect. They should sit down and write on a piece of paper my scores over the past 12 months. My form has been pretty good apart from a couple of Test matches in Sri Lanka. When I play cricket I play the conditions, the opposition and the game. I do not try and play the most attractive shot of the day [he would be waiting a long time if he did]. I try and play the innings that counts."

Hussain also voiced concern about England adopting a policy of "youthanasia".

"It is a concern that people in this country focus on age," he added. "Batsmen here only reach their peak between the ages of 27 and 30 and if you then write them off at 35-36 it does not give you a very long shelf-life. The main thing that bothers me are the inconsistencies. These people put Mark Butcher, myself and Graham Thorpe in the same category but Butcher is 31. If you think it pisses me off you should speak to him because I am sure he feels he has seven or eight years ahead of him."

Strauss's career, and the way in which he bats has not yet been put under the microscope but it will should he play for England for any period of time. Only time will show whether he can handle such pressure but he has made an encouraging start to his international career. Strauss gained recognition through scoring thousands of runs for his county and showed his true potential when he posted two composed half-centuries during England's recent one-day series in the Caribbean.

"I do feel ready for Test cricket," said Strauss after joining up with the squad. "It has helped being involved in the one-day set-up and I feel comfortable there now having got a couple of scores under my belt.

"Coming back to England and posting a couple of scores helped. If someone asked 'what is your ideal situation to make your debut?' this would be it. This does not guarantee I am going to score runs but it is nice to have a feeling of confidence when and if I walk out there.

"Playing one-day cricket has been fantastic but any player will tell you that making your Test debut is one of the highlights of your career. It would feel more important to me."

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