Owais hints wait may be paying off
Third Test. Middlesex colleagues are poles apart but their different strokes forge a potent partnership
Sunday 19 March 2006
Middlesex supporters have had to wait a quarter of a century to watch two of their batsmen bat together in a Test for England, but yesterday they glowed in satisfaction as a 106-run partnership between Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah dominated the opening day of the Third Test. Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash used to eke out runs with the likes of John Emburey, Paul Downton, Phil Edmonds, Philip Tufnell and myself, but it was as long ago as August 1981 that Gatting and Mike Brearley put on 41 against Australia.
With their Middlesex team-mates cheering in the crowd - the county are here on a pre-season tour - Strauss completed his eighth Test hundred and Shah an immaculate 50 before being forced to retire at tea with severe cramps in his hands.
Strauss and Shah have played a huge amount of cricket together yet their journeys to the Wankhede Stadium could not have been more diverse. Strauss's started in Johannesburg, Shah's in Karachi and their differing childhoods naturally influenced their character.
A career in cricket was not what Mr and Mrs Strauss had in mind while their son attended Caldicott preparatory school, Radley College and Durham University. Cricket was initially viewed as a bit of fun before a career in the City.
Shah went to Lampton Comprehensive in west London. His father had a fierce passion for the game and was desperate for his son to become a cricketer. At times his desire was overbearing, and Owais has struggled to deal with it, but when he raised his bat yesterday the difficult days would have been forgotten.
Middlesex's finest young batsmen have always been labelled early. Gatting was the next Denis Compton, Ramprakash the next Gatting, and Shah the next Ramprakash. Strauss, as a late developer, never had to live up to expectations, one reason why he found it as easy as Compton to settle into Test cricket.
Shah has always been a class act and the quality of his strokeplay stood out yesterday. But being able to hit the same ball to three different parts of the ground brings its own problems. Strauss worked out his limitations at a younger age, which prevented his career fluctuating like his partner's. Strauss is a hard working and intelligent cricketer, and is seen by many as Michael Vaughan's long-term successor. Shah led England Under-19s to success in the 1997-98 Youth World Cup but was relieved of the Middlesex captaincy in 2005.
He may not be a natural leader but he is often misunderstood. There is a touch of arrogance about his batting, and his strokeplay can be dismissive. But Shah is not lazy or ambivalent about the game. He is a shy young man who cares deeply about his cricket. The problem, as with Ramprakash, is that there at times his desire to succeed has had a negative effect on his batting.
There is one characteristic neither player lacks - confidence. Strauss has shown it throughout his Test career and Shah showed it at the start of his. The first ball he faced, bowled by Sreesanth, was left alone assuredly and the second pushed to mid-on. Shah then surprised everyone by dancing down the wicket and driving Harbhajan Singh to mid-off. Though slightly risky, the ploy worked. Harbhajan dropped the second ball fractionally short, and was cut for four. That prompted Strauss to come down the pitch and have a word, probably to tell Shah to stop showing him up by making it appear so easy. And it would not have surprised me if Shah's reply was: "Not now, Andrew."
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, will find working with each of them a completely different experience. Most of England's batsmen think the world of Fletcher and listen intently to every word he says. Shah will listen and assess the advice given to him, but he may not follow it. He has his own way of doing things and for a couple of years, much to the annoyance of Middlesex's coaching staff, he sought advice from Wayne Andrews, a coach he discovered in Western Australia.
He is forever tinkering with his game too, and in February 2005 he worked in India with Mohammad Azharrudin, mod-ifying his technique and developing different stances for spin and seam. Against the quicker bowlers he contorts himself into what appears an uncomfortable position. Middlesex and England fans will not care what either Strauss or Shah look like when they play as they did yesterday.
THE TEST SERIES IN NUMBERS
TURNING POINT: As Anil Kumble grabbed his 500th Test victim in Mohali, he took three wickets in four balls and England's tail capitulated. The hosts gained a crucial first-innings lead and then let loose the spinners once more.
STANDS NOT DELIVERING: One third of England's 36 partnerships so far in the Test series in India reached 20 but fell short of 50, an indication that players were getting in, then getting out.
INJURED PARTY: Casualty list of players missing from England's team in Bombay who took part in the final Test of the Ashes: Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Steve Harmison (pictured).
BARREN RUNS: The number of innings since Andrew Strauss last scored a fifty - his century against Australia at The Oval. In eight out of his 13 Test half-centuries, he has gone on to reach a hundred.
INSERTING COST: Average score batting first at the Wankhede. Four times in the last seven years it was under 300. Dravid beware.
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