Strauss continues Caribbean theme

Lancashire 236 Middlesex 257-5

It has been some week for Andrew Strauss. After weeks of dodging rain showers in the Caribbean, he finally managed to demonstrate to the uninitiated, maybe - dare one say it - the selectors, the value of proper batting in the one-day game. His two half-centuries, both well crafted, sensible innings, may have helped him more than just secure a berth in future pyjama parties, though, because his unfussy style and composure suggested he could play Test cricket. No, they did more than that, they gave him the opp-ortunity to come home, compile some big scores and then assume Nasser Hussain's middle-order position when the former captain finally shuffles off, stage left, to well deserved applause and thanks for his unstinting efforts and achievements.

It has been some week for Andrew Strauss. After weeks of dodging rain showers in the Caribbean, he finally managed to demonstrate to the uninitiated, maybe - dare one say it - the selectors, the value of proper batting in the one-day game. His two half-centuries, both well crafted, sensible innings, may have helped him more than just secure a berth in future pyjama parties, though, because his unfussy style and composure suggested he could play Test cricket. No, they did more than that, they gave him the opp-ortunity to come home, compile some big scores and then assume Nasser Hussain's middle-order position when the former captain finally shuffles off, stage left, to well deserved applause and thanks for his unstinting efforts and achievements.

Well, Strauss started to deliver his part of the bargain yesterday with an impressive and undefeated 92, only bad light preventing him from completing his 12th first-class century as he ensured Middlesex a first-innings lead, one that could become decisive today. Poor Lancashire must detest him. He scored two centuries against them last season and, with the stubborn Paul Weekes, made the favourites for the Championship pennant look like underdogs in this match.

The long flight home that landed early on Friday morning had little effect on his play as after one good night's rest he continued in similar vein to his knocks in St Lucia and Barbados. Width was punished and punished well; in fact his strongest area is behind square on the off side, not because he opens the face of the bat and offers hope to the slip and gully fielders, but because he sets his feet firmly, retains balance and powerfully strikes the ball with a cross-bat. Straighter balls were defended cautiously, he covered his off stump when electing to leave, and the only blight was his predilection for the pull shot. He does not play it convincingly, and should either eschew it until well set, or ignore it altogether.

To pull and hook well has long been a sign of machismo among batters, but for most it is a display of vanity and a risky shot. Viv Richards was supreme at it, and from the current superstars Ricky Ponting is superb, but if Strauss is to prove himself an international cricketer then he will have to accept a more pragmatic approach. He struggled yesterday when Dominic Cork - never slow in issuing a challenge to another man's masculinity - bounced him with two men back on the boundary. It was shrewd bowling and, for all Cork's posturing and preening, that is what he is, a very shrewd operator. But he should not unsettle high-order batsmen for pace. The message is: if you cannot pull Cork you will not pull Glenn McGrath or the speedsters, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee.

Test cricket is markedly less forgiving than the county game, as Rob Key discovered, and Strauss would do well to learn from his competitor for an England place by recognising that runs keep a player in the side, not talent.

Another who clearly has been blessed is Ed Joyce. The Irishman qualifies for England next year, and despite edging a lazy drive, showed enough authority at the crease and some aesthetic shots to suggest he should, at the very least, prove a high-quality county player. One cover drive brought to mind the great, elegant left-handers of previous eras. Middlesex invested wisely in these young players, and after a few years of mediocrity are proving a disciplined, well-coached side, something which Lancashire have been for a while.

Lancashire knew that early wickets would render their 236 a competitive score, and when Owais Shah was bowled at the end of the first over, albeit one that due to inclement weather took 106 minutes to complete, they were bristling with energy and purpose, as champions-elect should do. They were thwarted, though, by one equally ambitious. Higher honours beckon for Strauss, although he may find that the learning curve steepens.

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