On the Front Foot: Last waltz for Strauss? But he's still doing better than Vaughan

 

It is customary to fret and faff about the form of England captains. Andrew Strauss is not the first and, Alastair Cook should perhaps be warned, will not be the last.

Poor Strauss has brought attention on himself by presiding over four consecutive Test losses, all in under five days, while his own form has dipped. As an opening batsman who sets the tone of the innings, he has scored one hundred in 48 innings.

The 12 fifties which have come along in that period as well as the 18 other scores above 20 merely exacerbate the issue. It gets to them all in the end. Perhaps the most spectacular loss of form as England captain was suffered by Ian Botham, who in 21 innings made one fifty and four ducks while averaging 13. He also took 35 wickets at 33 runs apiece, well outside his normal routine.

Nasser Hussain should be generally recognised to have begun the creation of modern England after taking over in 1999. But between that December and March 2001 there were real concerns about his place in the team because in 21 innings he scored only one hundred and one fifty with a next-highest score of 25.

When Hussain eventually shrugged it off with 109 in a fractious match at Kandy, he looked to have been caught at short leg on 53 but was spared. How narrow the margins are. Towards the end of his long tenure (it now seems improbable that his record 54 matches brought only 13 wins) Mike Atherton scored only one hundred in 36 innings. But Atherton, like Strauss still does, had an average of 41 as captain, whereas it may come as a surprise that copper-bottomed Ashes hero Michael Vaughan averaged 36 as captain.

Breaking new ground

Colombo has four Test grounds, more than any city in the world. They are the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium (known as PSS), where Tuesday's match is being played, the Premadasa Stadium, Sinhalese Sports Club and Cricket Club of Colombo. The CCC has not been used since 1987 so is probably defunct unless political chicanery were to take place. The PSS, named after a former board president, has had an intermittent history.

Although it has staged 15 Tests, it has also gone two periods of seven and eight years without staging any. But it will always have a special place in Sri Lanka's cricket history as the venue for the inaugural Test in 1982 which England won by seven wickets, much more squeakily than it sounds. Sri Lanka were 167 for 3 and looking like setting a tricky fourth-innings target above 200 until they lost their last seven wickets for eight runs.

Playing in the right spirit

This month's Fortean Times, the magazine which since 1976 has been devoted "to the world of strange phenomena", has turned its attention to cricket. How cricket fits this particular bill is not certain, or maybe on the other hand it is.

There is a piece on cricketing curiosities, written by no less a personage than the emeritus professor of classics at Calgary, which describes a piece from a 1712 Puritan Tract on the Devil interrupting play. Another article, by OTFF's old friend Martyn P Jackson, deals with cricketing suicides. Nice to know the Forteans have done this to coincide with the start of the Championship, a strange phenomenon indeed.

Dropping a hint pleasantly

In Sri Lanka, it is pleasing to note, players are not simply dropped and sent back whence they came. There have been two changes in the squad for the Second Test: Shaminda Eranga has replaced the injured Chanaka Welegedara and Angelo Mathews, recovered from a groin strain, comes in for Chamara Silva.

A statement announcing the amendments said: "Whilst wishing Angelo and Shaminda the best of luck we wish Chanaka a speedy recovery and thank Chamara for his dedication."

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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