I'll take it one series at a time, says besieged Strauss
England return to the comfort of home today. A forgettable winter can be pushed further back in the memory if they also retrieve the assertive form that took them to No 1 in the world.
If that is the bigger picture of the first Test against West Indies at Lord's, there is within the canvas a significant and magnetic detail to dominate the attention. Until Andrew Strauss scores his 20th Test hundred, or at least embarks on a run of form that continually influences the course of matches, his position will be heavily scrutinised and endlessly debated.
There is perhaps something inherently unfair about this considering what Strauss has done for English cricket (two Ashes wins and top of the world looking down when for so long they were getting strained necks looking up) but it is the nature of big-time sport. Understandably, he has plenty of support, which was demonstrated by the opprobrium heaped on anybody who has so far expressed a modicum of constructive criticism, usually in social networking circles.
But Strauss has made one hundred in his last 50 Test-match innings and none in the last 25. He is the captain of the side and that somehow makes it more important for him to get runs, not less, and he knows this.
It would be welcome for all concerned if he were to hit his stride quickly this summer. That he is playing at Lord's, where he made a hundred in his maiden Test innings and made his most recent hundred in England those 51 innings ago, is helpful. That no pitch in this country is helpful to batsmen at present, given the prevailing weather, is not something to dwell on.
Strauss was in chipper mood yesterday, far from contemplating the end that the most extreme doom-mongers have had in mind for him. Indeed, it even seems that it has not occurred to him.
"You know," he said, "I always think it's dangerous to look too far ahead. Things can change so quickly one way or another and if you're too wedded to some ideal moment to go or to step down you can be very surprised by it. So the way I'm looking at it really is kind of one series at a time and if I feel like I'm still contributing and helping the side be a better side, both as a captain and batsman, then I don't see any reason to change things. But we just don't know what's round the corner, we never do."
The dream scenario that many, perhaps most, onlookers have for Strauss takes him as England captain until early 2014, when he will be just shy of his 37th birthday. At that stage, goes the thinking, England are still the No 1 side in the world and he has just retained the Ashes for the third time, having beaten South Africa in the summer of 2012 and Australia twice, at home in 2013 and away in 2013-14.
In front of the pavilion at Sydney Cricket Ground, he announces his international retirement and a grateful nation applauds as he walks into the sunset. But Strauss was right yesterday. That is all too much to envisage. Perhaps it has never occurred to him. Nor, he insisted, had he worried about his recent shortage of hundreds.
"If you let it [worry you], it can. It's not a simple thing to just go out there and knock up a hundred even though sometimes it does seem like that, the way some of our players have been playing recently. The most important thing is that you actually just concentrate on the ball coming down, don't let any of the peripheral stuff influence or affect you too much, and that'sgoing to give you the best chance of scoring runs.
"I think it's always a good way to go. Cricket's as stressful a game as you make it. You can let a lot of things get to you if you want to. I've always been pretty good at just keeping it quite simple, and now is as good a time as any to do that."
With, preferably, or without Strauss making some runs, England should be too powerful for West Indies in all three of the Tests. They will not and should not make the mistake of assuming these tourists are no-hopers, but the fragile early batting and the repeated inability to finish off opponents whom West Indies might have had the better of for two or three days seems likely to play into the hands of a team that, until the winter travails, had become accustomed to winning.
The home bowling attack is fit to stand comparison with any that have gone before it. Indeed, Strauss said yesterday he would be happy to go into the match with any combination of the seamers who are in the squad.
On the one hand it was a tough decision because all could do the job, on the other it was was because it was not crucial to whether England would win the match or not.
"A lot of it boils down to your gut feeling about who you is going to offer the most in these conditions," said Strauss.
Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan may be picked because England win when he plays (11 appearances, 11 victories), but Lord's is Steve Finn's home ground and Graham Onions took 10 wickets in a match for Durham there last month.
West Indies will not roll over to have their tummies tickled and in Darren Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul they have batsmen who could detain England in the field. But sometime by Sunday, England should be in the ascendancy.
England v West Indies: A complete history
1928 England 3-0 West Indies
1933 England 2-0 West Indies (1 draw)
1939 England 1-0 West Indies (2 draws)
1950 England 1-3 West Indies
1957 England 3-0 West Indies (2 draws)
1963 England 1-3 West Indies (1 draw)
1966 England 1-3 West Indies (1 draw)
1969 England 2-0 West Indies (1 draw)
1973 England 0-2 West Indies (1 draw)
1976 England 0-3 West Indies (2 draws)
1980 England 0-1 West Indies (4 draws)
1984 England 0-5 West Indies
1988 England 0-4 West Indies (1 draw)
1991 England 2-2 West Indies (1 draw)
1995 England 2-2 West Indies (2 draws)
2000 England 3-1 West Indies (1 draw)
2004 England 4-0 West Indies
2007 England 3-0 West Indies (1 draw)
2009 England 2-0 West Indies
Overall 19 series (80 Tests): England wins 9; West Indies 8; Draws 2
England (probable): A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J M Bairstow, M J Prior (wkt), T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson.
West Indies (probable): D J G Sammy (capt), A B Barath, K O A Powell, K A Edwards, D M Bravo, S Chanderpaul, M N Samuels, D Ramdin (wkt), K A J Roach, R Rampaul, F H Edwards.
Umpires A Dar (Pak), M Erasmus (SA)
Pitch report Looks astonishingly well prepared by the legendary Mick Hunt – dry without a hint of green, a feat of wonder given recent weather. But it cannot be as flat as some Lord's pitches in the past decade and bowling first must be an option.
TV Sky Sports 1, 10am-7pm. Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm
Today Cloudy and dry; intermittent sun. Maximum temp: 14C
Tomorrow Similar conditions; 16C
Saturday Dry and overcast; 17C
Sunday Chance of rain; 16C
Monday Cool and cloudy; 14C
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