Queen fails to slow Key strokes

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss and Robert Key made an interesting contrast. Both are exciting natural strokemakers; Strauss is left-handed, Key right-handed; Strauss has taken to Test and international cricket as to the manner born while Key has struggled badly since he came into the side in 2002.

Andrew Strauss and Robert Key made an interesting contrast. Both are exciting natural strokemakers; Strauss is left-handed, Key right-handed; Strauss has taken to Test and international cricket as to the manner born while Key has struggled badly since he came into the side in 2002.

In eight Test matches before this one Key had made 244 runs with a highest score of 52. He failed, too, in the recent one-day triangular series.

He was, therefore, under great personal pressure when he strode out during the day's sixth over to take the place of Marcus Trescothick who had wasted his chance on this extremely easy paced pitch. Key made the hesitant start one would have expected, although a drive and a nice shot off his legs will have made him feel better.

He is a big man who, when he is not timing the ball, looks slightly awkward. He also had some difficulty in maintaining his concentration early on and two or three times he aimed wild drives without moving his feet at balls well wide of the off stump. He was lucky not to touch any of them. Strauss, the veteran of three Test matches, was always on hand to offer advice and maybe to add a word of caution. Even so, when on 16 Key slashed at Tino Best and was dropped high up by Chris Gayle at second slip.

Strauss's example clearly helped Key and gradually he found his fluency. Those defensive pushes began to find the middle of the bat and bisected the field for ones and twos. Increasingly the bad ball was dispatched to the boundary and his strokes became increasingly effortless and easier upon the eye.

The first psychological barrier was his fifty and once that was safely negotiated one could sense a feeling of relief that manifested itself in a greater degree of relaxation at the crease. Both in defence and attack his footwork was more fluent and took him more often into the right place.

When Brian Lara, whose decision to field first was surely founded on fear of what Steve Harmison and co might have done to his own batting, brought on Omari Banks to bowl his off-breaks the floodgates opened. After a maiden over that Strauss, who may not have seen Banks before, watched carefully, he and Key took 34 runs off his next four overs. The bat was now overwhelmingly in control.

Key's next test of character came when he went into tea on 90. During an extended interval the players met the Queen, but Key did not allow the occasion to unsettle him. Royal visits have been known to take wickets.

He survived an anxious first over and one lbw appeal against Ramnaresh Sarwan's gentle leg-breaks immediately afterwards. Then a pull and a lovely stroke off his legs against Fidel Edwards settled the issue.

After that, Key went on and on using his feet to the spinners, hooking and driving the faster bowlers, and looking every inch a Test cricketer.

This was an innings of great character and when he returned to the dressing room he had no need to tip-toe round the door wondering if he belonged. He should have pushed it open and strode in as of right. He now belongs and that was the measure of his innings.

LORD'S STATISTICS

SECOND-WICKET PARTNERSHIPS

All-time record

382 M Leyland & L Hutton v Australia (The Oval, 1938)

Against West Indies

266 PE Richardson & TW Graveney (Nottingham, 1957)

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