Like the man who receives a reprieve as he mounts the gallows, Andrew Strauss has discovered a new freedom since his return to the England Test side. Dropped last autumn for the tour of Sri Lanka, Strauss yesterday scored his second hundred in three Tests to seal not only England's victory, against outrageous odds in the second Test against New Zealand here, but also his own restoration.
Strauss's 106, his 12th Test hundred, proved the cornerstone of a successful chase of 294, which puts Michael Vaughan's team 1-0 up in the three-match series.
England began the fourth day on 76 for 1 and Strauss saw them to within 59 runs of victory, which was achieved from the final ball of the afternoon session.
It was England's fifth-highest score to win a Test and shattered the previous best of 231 in Manchester.
"Looking back the key is to take the pressure off yourself and go out there and enjoy each match you play for England," Strauss said. "I'd had a long period when I'd played in every Test, and probably forgot how enjoyable it is. If ever I needed reminding of that, this match is a great example. Wins like this are so special. When you're sitting by a fireside when you're retired, these are the days you really remember."
Strauss admitted that he had become "frustrated and mentally tired" by the end of last summer. "There were a couple of technical things I worked on, trying not to hit through the off side too much early in the innings. But there is no magic formula. It's about playing each ball as it comes and being disciplined enough, mentally, to do that. I feel very comfortable at the wicket, very calm. It's hard to explain. It's that mystery thing: form."
Though the England middle order remains barren, Strauss is confident that it can match his own renewal. "I'm very lucky to have had the chance to come back and show that I wasn't a spent force. The guys who are struggling a little bit at the moment, they will come through it, there's no doubt about that."
Vaughan, the England captain, also dismissed concerns about those batting at four, five and six. "You'll start asking about one, two, three if we have two games without scoring runs," he said. "For me, we don't panic. I know a lot of people talk about scoring rates, but we've won three of the last five games and that's not a bad return. We've shown under pressure that this batting unit can be successful. [For] Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, hitting the winning runs should give them a massive confidence boost. They were under a lot pressure, they know that, and they came through it."
Vaughan admitted that his team was "dead and buried" the previous afternoon, and suspected that the use of the heavy roller had helped to sedate the pitch. "We felt very comfortable we could get those runs. In the first innings the ball was skidding on, in the second it seemed to stop on the wicket a bit more and allowed you time to adjust."
Vaughan said that he had never doubted Strauss would return. "He's a class act. At this level you need character and mental strength, and the players that last longest are the players who have those – and he has those attributes in abundance."