Strauss aims to build on glorious year

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The Independent Online

The opposition may have been second-rate but Andrew Strauss's imperious innings of 73 against Namibia on Sunday highlighted just how far he has travelled in the past 12 months.

The opposition may have been second-rate but Andrew Strauss's imperious innings of 73 against Namibia on Sunday highlighted just how far he has travelled in the past 12 months.

The Middlesex opener first took guard for England in Dambulla on 18 November, 2003. It was a pretty inauspicious debut. Strauss played only one scoring shot, a drive for three, before he nervously chipped a soft catch back to the bowler. Sri Lanka dismissed England for 88, their second lowest score in one-day cricket, before knocking off the runs in 13.5 overs.

After this forgettable day few would have predicted that Strauss, or indeed England, would become the force they have. The development of Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff has been paramount, but the introduction of Strauss should not be underestimated.

The 27-year-old has played in only seven Test matches and 18 one-dayers but by conducting himself in exemplary manner, both on and off the field he is now seen as one of England's most reliable figures.

The left-hander's one-day career may have started with a whimper but his Test debut was an enormous bang. Strauss scored a hundred at Lord's in his first Test innings and compiled 590 runs at an average of more than 45 during the summer.

This form has given him the confidence to go for his shots in limited-overs cricket, where he now averages more than 41. "Looking back at the last 12 months I have probably done better than I thought I was going to do," Strauss said. "But at the same time I have had some bad days and I realise how much I can still improve, and how much further I have to improve, to continue developing. I now walk to the wicket comfortable within myself that I can do it."

The encouraging thing for England is that Strauss's success will not alter his attitude or diminish his desire to work hard. What has impressed most is his adaptability. The range of strokes at his disposal has increased. Once, when looking for quick runs, he tried to hit the ball hard. Now his game is full of deft cuts and glances, along with sweep shots against medium pacers.

Strauss's form on Sunday will see him rested today, as England face Namibia for the final time before going to Zimbabwe. The hosts are unlikely to be as generous as they were two days ago, when England - with the bargaining tool of a saturated outfield - convinced them to play a 12-a-side game.

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