Southpaws pile on suffering for Strauss
Sunday 19 June 2011
When Alec Bedser served as chairman of selectors, a query about the retention of one struggling top order batsman was supposedly met with a question, rather than an answer: "Who else is there, then?" If all else fails, and Andrew Strauss keeps coming a cropper against left-arm quicks, England can always fall back on the Bedser defence.
We are a long way from reaching that state of affairs but, for the record, there is no obvious alternative to Strauss as a Test opener. Captain, maybe, with Alastair Cook apparently in pole position to take over the reins when the time comes, but no one on the county circuit is pushing to separate the current first wicket pair.
That is a bit of a worry, come to think of it – for reasons of injury, rather than form. Batsmen are always only one delivery away from a broken finger and, should bad luck befall either Strauss or Cook, it is far from clear who would step up.
Jonathan Trott was mentioned as a possible opener last summer when Cook did not know where his next run might come from. The selectors would be reluctant to shift Trott from No 3 these days because of all the success he has had in that position.
Outside of the current team, most of the openers who have been touted as Test candidates are battling hard times, or worse in the case of Hampshire's Michael Carberry. He deputised for Strauss in Bangladesh the winter before last but has not played for anyone this season after having two blood clots removed from his lungs a few months ago. Compared to Carberry's problems, Strauss's blip in form is small beer. True, he has made only one century in his last 35 Test innings (a somewhat handy knock of 110 in Brisbane when the Ashes series might have started badly for England) but there have been 10 other scores above 50 during that period.
It is the captain's fallibility against left-arm pace that has attracted attention, mainly because one of the best of that particular breed, India's Zaheer Khan, will be shortly heading this way.
Still, never mind Zaheer. Strauss is finding the less well known ChanakaWelegedara more than a handful just now. Welegedara did not appear in the first Test of the current series, because of a shoulder problem, but he has played since, and – with yesterday's success – dismissed Strauss three times in as many innings for a total of seven runs. The problem, it seems, is that England's left-handed captain does not know what to play and what to leave alone against this left-arm-over line of attack with his latest early exit being a classic case.
TV replays showed that Strauss could have kept his blade out of harm's way. Instead, he pushed tentatively at the ball, and the almost inevitable edge flew straight to first slip. Much more positive was the punch which England's skipper landed on the middle of his bat as he left the crease. No wonder Strauss felt frustrated. He will have worked hard in the nets on batting against left-armers but only in the middle can the problem be solved to everyone's satisfaction.
In 85 Tests, Strauss has been dismissed by southpaw swing and seam bowlers on 23 occasions. And, perhaps more to the point with a top-of- the-Test table clash coming this summer, Zaheer did for him four times during the 2007 series.
Strauss needs an improvement in the weather to get another chance against Welegedara. Otherwise, as he no longer plays limited-overs internationals, he will hope he runs into a left-armer or two while turning out for Middlesex before the India series begins next month.
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