There was not much time at Lord's yesterday. But an hour was quite long enough for Andrew Strauss to fail. The England captain was out for 13, extending a run of paltry form which has seen him go 23 Test innings without a hundred. As he went, his face a picture of perplexity, the alarm bells rang a little louder.
With the ball moving around prodigiously in conditions extremely helpful for fast bowling, Strauss was bowled by a marvellous delivery from Mohammad Asif in the 12th over of England's first innings of the fourth Test against Pakistan. It moved in late and then slanted in a little more off the pitch to tear through Strauss's forward prod and clip his off stump. Another eight balls and the sides were off for the day.
It is always the way. The unplayable ball – and if this was not that, it was pretty close to it – invariably has the out-of-form batsman's name on it. The interruption in play which can help batsmen to regroup for a time when it might not be so darned hard out there inevitably comes too late.
Strauss has one innings left in this match to rediscover his lost touch. Otherwise, he will embark for Australia in October to defend the Ashes and walk into a torrent of mockery about being an England captain who is not worth his place in the side.
It will not be true but since when did truth have anything to do with propaganda anywhere, let alone in sport? Strauss's last hundred was that beautifully upholstered 161 he made against Australia on a sun-kissed day at Lord's last year. It may have crossed his mind as he walked back through weather that was considerably gloomier and about to become worse.
England finished the shortened day on 39 for 1 after 12.3 overs. Depending on which way you look at it, the day's proceedings cost or saved the England and Wales Cricket Board millions of pounds. As fewer than 25 overs were bowled they must reimburse a full house 50 per cent of their ticket price (minus administration costs, naturally) but had it been fewer than 10, spectators would have been entitled to a full refund.
It would have been worth the cash to save Strauss this. He was never settled and no batsman (not even Don Bradman, to whom he referred the previous day when talking about trots of form) would have been. The skies were heavy, the day was not cold. Strauss would have bowled on winning the toss. He lost it.
Perhaps it will not matter by the time England pitch up at Brisbane on 25 November. The poor form of late August can have nothing to do with the mindset three months later. But it is reasonable to suppose that Strauss will be much more at ease were he to eke out runs here. He has not looked especially out of form this year – sometimes he has looked bang in it. But the demons are in him now.
It may be of consolation that his Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting, has been no great shakes. Strauss has averaged 35.3 since his last hundred, Ponting has averaged 38.16 in his last 25 innings, during which he reached three figures only once. So two captains not worth their place? Should be fun.
Strauss and Cook, his opening partner, have now gone 14 innings without putting on a hundred for the first wicket. Cook might have gone first yesterday. He was badly dropped on one, when he edged Mohammad Aamer to Umar Akmal at third slip and then rightly reprieved by decision review after being given out caught behind. Replays showed that he was nowhere near the ball. Nor, unfortunately, was Strauss five minutes later.
Fourth Test (First day of five): England have scored 39 runs for one wicket; Pakistan won toss
England: First Innings
*A Strauss b Asif 13, 37 balls
A Cook not out 10, 34 balls 1 four
J Trott not out 8, 7 balls
Extras (w 5, nb 3) 8
Total (1 wkt, 12.3 overs) 39
Fall 1-31 (Strauss).
To bat K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, E J G Morgan, †M J Prior, G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling M Aamer 5.3-2-18-0 (w1, nb1) (one spell), M Asif 6-1-17-1 (nb1) (one spell), W Riaz 1-0-4-0 (nb1) (one spell).
Pakistan Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat, *Salman Butt, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Yousuf, Umar Amin, †Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Aamer, Saeed Ajmal, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Asif.
Umpires B F Bowden (NZ) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee R T Robinson.