Revved-up Strauss is still a long way from the finish line
England's captain tells Stephen Brenkley he'll be firing on all cylinders against India
Wednesday 13 July 2011
Andrew Strauss eased himself back into work yesterday. He has not been idle this past three weeks but nor has he been England's captain in action.
The bat, not entirely a magic wand of late, was put away for a few days after the third Test against Sri Lanka. Since then he has been practising to rectify a few technical flaws and sitting in preparation meetings to discuss the Test series against India, the business part of the summer.
He has appeared at two of the five one-day internationals played in his absence but the side has been led by Alastair Cook. Strauss has largely been out of sight if not of mind.
It was perhaps typical of modern professional sport that his first public re-engagement as the official captain of England, the Test team that is, was on behalf of sponsors at a car testing track near Warwick. He and three of his squad spent the morning putting Jaguars through their paces.
Next Monday, Strauss will discover if this is still his team. The overwhelming likelihood is that nothing much will have changed, that the man who saved the England side by taking over the captaincy in a time of crisis and has gone on to win two Ashes series, will still be the leader in both name and reality. But only when the squad gathers for the first Test will he be sure. Since Strauss last led an England team, Stuart Broad has been in charge of the Twenty20 team and, more resonantly, Cook took the one-day side to a commendable 3-2 win against Sri Lanka.
"The simple answer is I don't know," he said, still sitting in his driving overalls after the occasionally hair-raising workout. "I have seen a few of the lads over the last couple of weeks and it didn't feel particularly different. But we never know how things are going to work out, you can't be sure, and it would be arrogant for me to assume that it will be exactly as it were. It is not like we are doing radically different things – Alastair, myself and Stuart – we are still operating within a general strategy which we have all had a hand in formulating. So it's not as though the side has completely gone one way. It should be a fairly smooth transition."
The oft-quoted precedent is that from the Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain era. Hussain gave up the one-day captaincy, intending to continue in the Test job, but when he returned to the dressing room in 2003 he sensed a changing of the guard. Things are different, Strauss is different. "I was delighted for Alastair," he said. "He did a fantastic job both as captain and on the field. He was under his own pressure in that one-day series and he responded in just the way I thought he would.
"I don't think there'll be any apprehension. I've been able to spend quite a lot of time preparing for this series having meetings with Andy and others. I'm in a position to come back and let guys know what my plans are and what I expect of them over the course of four Test matches. I've spoken to Alastair. The whole communication aspect between the three captains is important and that's something I'm trying to focus on."
But there is also the small matter of Strauss's batting form. He had one of the least productive series among the batsmen in the Ashes series last winter, although it should be emphasised that 307 runs at 43.85 including one hundred and three fifties did not quite represent a catastrophe.
The recent series against Sri Lanka, however, brought a greater loss of form and threw into harsh perspective a familiar shortcoming. Strauss, whose top score in his four innings was 20, was dismissed three times by the left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara. It brought to 23 the number of occasions on which he has fallen to that variety of bowling.
Back in 2007, when India were last in England, he was accounted for four times by Zaheer Khan – and Zaheer is back. It has happened too often for it to be coincidence. Last summer, Mohammad Amir more or less had him for breakfast.
"I've looked at it but I don't think there is anything massively wrong," said Strauss. "You're just choosing which balls to play and which to leave. I've had a fair amount of success against left-armers. You can put yourself in a corner on these things. As long as you are clear in your mind, that is the right recipe to score runs."
In the past fortnight, Strauss has done abundant work with Graham Gooch, England's batting coach. He will play for Somerset against India at Taunton in a three-day match starting on Friday.
The somewhat incomprehensible structure of the cricket season meant there was only one county championship match for Middlesex following the third Test against Sri Lanka. Strauss could have rolled up at Lord's without an innings for three weeks. He approached Somerset about making a guest appearance in the match and they readily agreed. It is an arrangement that may or may not benefit both sides. If Strauss scores a hundred, he may consider himself back in form. A couple of low scores – and dismissal by Zaheer – and India may presume they have his number. "I'm a firm believer in you don't overhaul your technique ever," Strauss said. "It's a few minor differences – maybe in set-up – and just being clear what to do. You're not going to see anything radically different next week. It's about being clear about playing all kinds of bowling."
Strauss was gimlet eyed on the track yesterday. It was a three-way tie between him, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan after three disciplines of speed, braking and manoeuvres, with Steve Finn last. To the naked eye, Strauss looked a clear winner.
He clearly sees this is as a new beginning and not the beginning of the end. There is the definite feeling that his business with England is still unfinished and that a series against India, number one team in the world may bring out the best in him again.
"I just haven't thought about the end of my career and now is not the time," he said. "I have a huge amount of cricket left in me and there are some massive challenges for the England team over the next few years that really excite me. There will come a time in the future where I will have to think about it but we are not there yet." By the end of next month we will all know much more.
Andrew Strauss and colleagues were at a track day organised by Jaguar, official partners of the England cricket team
Left for dead
If Andrew Strauss's recent form is a cause for concern, then his record against left-armers is seriously worrying, especially with India's Zaheer Khan – who has dismissed him five times – on his way. Strauss has been out to left-armers 23 times in his Test career and 10 times in the last 12 months:
* In the last 18 months, Strauss averages 12.40 against left-armers
* He has a Test average of just under 27 against left-arm pacemen (as compared to 46 against right-armers)
And if that wasn't bad enough...
* Strauss has scored only one century in his last 24 innings against all sides, excluding Bangladesh
* And averages under 29 in the last year
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