Strauss century lights up England’s day of attrition
England 258-2 West Indies
Saturday 07 March 2009
Another day, same old story. The pitch was flat, the England captain scored a hundred, the proceedings were dull. Such matters have become more predictable than falling interest rates as this series has worn on. Soon there will be nowhere left to go.
This suited West Indies. All they crave is to finish early next week with a 1-0 lead to win their first series for five years, their first of any note for six. They will use any legitimate means at their disposal. If it is 2-0 so be it, but that is not their objective.
Thus, all the talk of a pitch breathing life if not fire was so much flim-flam. It was, like the last one and the one before that in this series, soulless. On to this sibling specimen of offensive turf for the third time in succession walked Andrew Strauss and for the third time in succession he made a century.
He was still there at the close with Paul Collingwood. England were 258 for 2, stately progress which was rarely imperilled by the bowling. One wicket fell to the new ball, one improbably to a part-time spinner and Owais Shah was forced to retire hurt with cramp in a hand.
Strauss's unbeaten 139 from 261 balls was as well-crafted as the two which preceded it and on this occasion he did not offer a chance before he reached it. He might have been run out when he was 31 and survived a referral of an lbw verdict when he was 95 but that apart it was chanceless and fluent.
Or as fluent as the slow surface would allow, which meant he was less inclined than usual (which tends not to be much inclined at all) to hit down the ground. It served his side's purpose for England will fancy that the only way they can win this match is to put at least 400 on the board and hope that attritional cricket will force the home side into mistakes. They will consider that it cannot be an accident that there has not been a Test draw at Queen's Park Oval in 11 matches going back 12 years and that there may be some turn.
But Strauss may well eventually need each of the five bowlers England decided to pick. It meant that in the absence of a legitimate all-rounder they had only five specialist batsmen with Matt Prior, the wicketkeeper returning after paternity leave, at number six. If it was a gamble on paper, it was a gamble worth taking on the field.
Strauss lost his opening partner Alastair Cook to the new ball – one that moved across him off the seam from Daren Powell – which made his continued presence more important. He is the first England player to score hundreds in three successive matches since Ian Bell in 2006 and the only other captain to do so was Graham Gooch 19 years ago. The latter statistic alone says something about what leadership does for his individual performance. He has now scored five hundreds as captain in 17 innings.
The captain and Owais Shah then put on 107 for the second wicket at military medium pace, which was precisely the bowling being offered by Brendan Nash, which was faintly ridiculous in the first hour of a Test match. Shah took 20 balls to score a run, partly to do with the state of the pitch, partly with the state of his mind, and when he called anxiously for a single into the covers, he might have spelled the end for his captain had the underarm throw from Ryan Hinds been accurate.
Shah settled thereafter but was not at his most compelling or innovative. When he was 29 he began suffering from cramp in his left hand, the condition which had forced him to retire hurt in his maiden Test in Mumbai three years ago. Treatment from the physio was ineffective: Shah's fingers were bent in the shape of a fist and not for unbending.
Kevin Pietersen survived an lbw shout to his third ball but only because he was able to ask for a review of Russell Tiffin's decision to give him out. Replays showed that the ball had pitched well outside leg stump, immediately negating the verdict, and the eventual correct decision was not so much a vindication of the reviews system as a criticism of Tiffin's strange umpiring: a left-arm bowler was coming over the wicket to a right-hand batsman so the leg stump is usually a good place to start looking for the ball pitching.
Pietersen did not survive for long and was undone by an arm ball from Hinds which he expected to turn. Another wicket at that point and England might have been in some strife. But Collingwood has had almost as prolific a series as Strauss and was soon away again.
The selection of the teams reflected exactly the state of the series. England, needing to win, were audacious bordering on reckless. They had to be. West Indies, anxious to hold on to what they had, were conservative approaching inertia. They had to be.
The tourists included two spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, and Amjad Khan, making his debut ahead of the original squad members Stephen Harmison and Ryan Sidebottom. West Indies picked seven batsmen, bringing in Lendl Simmons for his debut, with only three genuine bowlers. It was a risk by both parties and this pitch will need all the risks it can get.
Ball of the day
*Daren Powell has been much criticised but he has a habit of producing wicket-taking deliveries and the ball which dismissed Alastair Cook was not only bang on the button but seamed away just enough to take the edge.
Shot of the day
*A lovely straight drive by Owais Shah, which seemed to dispel his nerves after 20 balls without scoring. Sadly it was not a precursor of what was to follow on a disgracefully slow pitch.
Moment of the day
*Sadly for England Shah had once more to leave the field because of severe cramp in his hand. Attention from the physio could not alleviate his obvious agony. It is the second time in Tests that Shah has retired hurt with the complaint and if he is to have a regular run it may presumably become a habitual sight.
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