Strauss has to find feet if history is to be made

Captain desperately needs runs as England aim to turn three-match series on its head

Abu Dhabi

Forget the latest wizard spinner for a moment. Saeed Ajmal might be, for now, the stuff of nightmares for England but the predicament facing these tourists is enshrined in precedent.

There have been 230 Test series of three matches going back to 1884. Of those, 125 have been won by the team which prevailed in the first match and only 10 by the side which lost it. On that basis England would seem to be a 22-1 chance to pull off what would now be a considerable triumph.

They can take succour from the fact that they have done it three times previously, and provided the teams which are first and last on the list. In 1888, W G Grace came charging to the rescue as captain after defeat to Australia in the opening tie, and, abetted by the spin of Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs, administered two innings defeats.

If the memory of WG is not sufficient to inspire England 124 years on, they ought to be encouraged by the turnaround in New Zealand four years ago. Having been embarrassed in the opener in Hamilton they won the next two. Six of the players likely to be on duty tomorrow in the second Test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium played in that series. They know what can be done.

It was in the final match in New Zealand that Andrew Strauss, in urgent need of runs, saved his immediate career with a stoic innings of 177, lasting eight hours. He is not quite in the desperate straits he was then but when he and his vice-captain, Alastair Cook, open the batting this week for the 100th time in a Test match he could certainly do with staying around for at least half the time he managed then.

Much has happened in the intervening four years. From being a batsman (he actually batted at three in New Zealand) whose star was on the wane he has become both the saviour of England cricket, taking them to places unimagined not long ago, and one of its most notable captains. But even legends have to contribute and Strauss has not been doing it frequently enough.

He has scored one hundred in his last 42 innings (compared to seven in his first 42) and his average since the start of last summer is down to 23.42. These are figures for the captain not seen since the days of Mike Brearley. Even when Strauss scored a measured 87 at Edgbaston only two Tests ago, it was overshadowed by Cook's 294.

If England are to come back against a blithely self-confident Pakistan, it is imperative they manage solid starts to their innings. Ajmal came on in the first Test in Dubai with early wickets already having fallen and it made his job much more straightforward.

"It has worked well," said Cook of the batsmen's enduring partnership yesterday. "We have got to know each other and our games really well because we are so similar. Against Australia at Brisbane we got 180 odd and at Lord's we got 170 odd. They were highlights which will stand out.

"He has always taken first ball because he was the senior partner and he still is. He's a world-class player and I hope it gives the other guys confidence when we do walk out that we have got some experience at the top of the order."

That experience has rarely been more vital to England. If they can restore England's batting fortunes, it is at least possible to think of them becoming the most durable of all Test opening partnerships. Only three pairs have done it more often (see table, above) and the next most enduring for England is Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, who walked out together 54 times.

Cook, who will be involved in the selection of the team, said: "It is very conceivable that England could go in with the same team but we could change as well. It's all about how we're going to win this game. When this team has lost in the last two years we have always managed to bounce back well. We have got characters in the side who like those kind of challenges."

England have now lost six of the 37 Test matches they have played since Strauss assumed the captaincy three years ago. Never have they been defeated twice in succession and on three of the previous five occasions they have won their next match.

The nearest equivalent to the position in which they find themselves – subcontinental pitches with a mystery spinner operating – came in Sri Lanka 11 years ago. England came from 1-0 behind, having been spooked by Muttiah Muralitharan's seven wickets in the first Test, and beat Sri Lanka. But the game was different and they were able to use their pads to repel Murali in a way they dare not do against Ajmal, or risk leg before with the Decision Review System lurking in wait.

They will simply have to make Ajmal work harder for his wickets. The obverse is that England must take their wickets more quickly. Graeme Swann, probably the key in England's second innings if they can accrue sufficient runs in their first, is likely to be the lone spinner in an unchanged side.

England might prefer two spinners but it is difficult to see how Monty Panesar can be fitted in. Cook said they would have another look at the pitch 24 hours ahead of the game before finalising the XI. Pakistan must be more settled.

Whether Swann can pull something off in the next two matches, he should escape the eventual fate of his forerunner, Bobby Peel. Having seen off Australia with 11 for 68 in the deciding Test and 24 wickets in the series to engineer the first of the great comebacks he was an English hero. Nine years later he urinated on the pitch while the worse for wear during a Championship match for Yorkshire, was helped off the pitch by the county's despotic captain, Lord Hawke, and never played again.

Hundred up: England openers reach milestone

Test first-wicket partnerships

Gordon Greenidge & Desmond Haynes: Matches: 89; Innings: 148; Agg: 6,482; Avg: 47.31; Best: 298

Matthew Hayden & Justin Langer: Matches: 64; Innings: 113; Agg: 5,654; Avg: 51.87; Best: 255

Sanath Jayasuriya & Marvan Atapattu: Matches: 69; Innings: 118; Agg: 4,492; Avg: 40.47; Best: 335

Andrew Strauss & Alastair Cook: Matches: 58; Innings: 99; Agg: 4,163; Avg: 42.92; Best: 229

Second test: probable teams

England

A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson

Pakistan

Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal (wk), Umar Gul, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.

Pitch report

It is unfeasibly cold in Abu Dhabi – the coldest day for five years on Sunday – but that is hardly likely to make the pitch akin to Derby in May. It will be slow, probably take late turn, and patience will be needed by all parties.

Umpires

Steve Davis (Aus) and Bruce Oxenford (Aus)

Match referee

Javagal Srinath (India).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London