Strauss leads from front as England take control

England 301-3 v West Indies
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The Independent Online

Captaincy can have a strange effect on a batsman. The burden of collective responsibility can provoke introspection at the crease, a reduction of personal powers leading to long-term decline and the need for psychological help.

This is otherwise known as utter tosh in Andrew Strauss's lexicon on leadership. Once more he led England from the front yesterday: his century on the first day of the fourth Test was his 16th in Tests, his second of the series and his fourth in 15 innings as the side's captain. The role seems to galvanise him. He had spoken about inflicting scoreboard pressure on the West Indies and he followed both the spirit and the letter of his entreaty.

On another unfeasibly blameless wicket it looked as though it might be the most potent weapon at England's disposal. Strauss and Alastair Cook shared an opening partnership of 229, the highest for the first wicket since Strauss and Marcus Trescothick put on 273 at Durban in 2004. Perhaps more significantly, it was England's largest of all against the West Indies, beating the 212 of Cyril Washbrook and Reg Simpson at Trent Bridge in 1950.

No matter how much records are made only to be broken, it is always slightly sad to see the old ones fall. For England it was necessary to do something of this nature if they are to draw level in this series, not least because by the end of the first day they had been dragged back by the home side.

The tourists' glittering start, in which runs flowed at more than three an over, came to a shuddering halt in the final session. At lunch, they were 108 without loss from 30 overs, at tea 221 without loss from 62, at the close 301 for 3 from 90 – identical to the first-day total in the dramatic draw in Antigua. Had Kevin Pietersen been caught for 20 when he hooked Fidel Edwards to long leg – Jerome Taylor making a porridge of it – England might have been in real trouble.

West Indies were again rewarded for simply hanging on in there, a virtue not many would have accused them of possessing at the beginning of this series. Strauss, badly dropped on 58 by Chris Gayle at slip off Fidel Edwards was the dominant and more fluent partner in his sixth three-figure stand with Cook. For Cook, having shared in a record and scored 94 precious runs, there was, paradoxically, the grim feeling of failure. It was his 27th consecutive Test innings without a hundred but also the 11th in that sequence when he has not converted a half-century into a century.

From the moment he reached 80 or so yesterday he was agitated, his feet suddenly refusing to obey his brain, his shot-making choices anxious. He offered a top-edged chance on 85 and edged between wicketkeeper and slip on 86. Another more authentic boundary took him to 94, but then he essayed another hook, miscued and was caught at midwicket. Cook has already confessed that the run without a century is a monkey on his back and a gibbon is rapidly transmogrifying into a gorilla. Counselling may be the next step.

England were hoping for, indeed expecting, pace and bounce. It was apparent in the first 15 minutes that these two qualities were absent and theories propounded by many observers on the various successful methods by which any side might take 20 wickets to win the match all involved cheating or sharp practice, unless the surface wears as the match goes on.

But the tourists could do no more than they did after winning the toss. This was perhaps the acme of the transformation in Strauss's fortunes, though he will be well aware of the fickleness of it all. Less than a year ago, against New Zealand in Napier, he was playing for his career.

The elevation to the captaincy appears to have energised him. In 2006, when he performed the role in a caretaker capacity, he made two hundreds against Pakistan. Overlooked afterwards, he stalled slightly.

He regained some form, scoring two hundreds, in England's defeat by India in Chennai in December. This is the flourishing renaissance of a man who answered the call of his country after the Peter Moores-Pietersen imbroglio led to their being deposed in the first week of January. He has cut an impressive figure since, calm, thoughtful and authoritative, but the beating his side took in the first Test in Kingston may still have an enduring effect on this series.

Strauss was eventually undone by a stupendous ball from Daren Powell, a yorker which was aimed at the batsman's feet and swung devilishly late. The poor batsman was upended as he took evasive action and his stumps were splayed. Cook followed five overs late and an inept innings by Owais Shah ended with a lunge to slip.

In their desperation to draw level, the tourists made three changes. Two – Ravi Bopara for the injured Andrew Flintoff and Tim Ambrose for Matthew Prior who is on paternity leave – were expected. Ryan Sidebottom's inclusion at the expense of Stephen Harmison was surprising, particularly as it was expected that the pitch might be bouncy. It is not and whatever happens here it is conceivable that Harmison's mercurial international career is done.

*An announcement is expected today on the future of Andrew Flintoff on the West Indies tour. He had continuing treatment at the Kensington Oval yesterday and seems certain to miss the final Test in Trinidad.

Ball of the day

It took until the 65th over but, boy, it was worth waiting for. It was a viciously late- swinging yorker from Daren Powell which knocked Andrew Strauss from his feet and splayed his stumps. Electrifying stuff.

Shot of the day

Strauss's uncharacteristic slog sweep for six off Sulieman Benn to bring up his hundred. It was only the eighth six in his 108th Test innings and was the assertion of a man at the top of his game.

Moment of the day

In the 55th over Alastair Cook nudged the ball routinely to leg, he and Strauss strolled a single and England had their first first-wicket double-century partnership for more than four years and only their 17th in all. Whatever the pitch, they are worth savouring.

Kensington Oval Scoreboard

First day of five, close of play; England won toss

England – First Innings

*A J Strauss b Powell 142, 250 min, 210 balls, 18 fours, 1 six

A N Cook c Hinds b Taylor 94, 275 min, 187 balls, 9 fours, 1 six

O A Shah c Smith b Benn 7, 66 min, 47 balls, 1 four

K P Pietersen not out 32, 95 min, 64 balls, 3 fours

P D Collingwood not out 11, 53 min, 36 balls, 2 fours

Extras (b5 lb1 w5 nb4) 15

Total (for 3, 371 min, 90 overs) 301

Fall: 1-229 (Strauss) 2-241 (Cook) 3-259 (Shah).

To bat: R S Bopara, †T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, G P Swann, R J Sidebottom, J M Anderson.

Bowling: Taylor 18-5-45-1 (7-3-16-0, 4-0-11-0, 4-1-10-1, 3-1-8-0); Edwards 14-0-64-0 (nb3 w5) (3-0-11-0, 4-0-12-0, 4-0-20-0, 3-0-21-0); Powell 17-3-72-1 (nb1) (5-0-33-0, 3-0-16-0, 7-3-14-1, 2-0-9-0); Benn 16-4-59-1 (7-1-32-0, 4-0-21-0, 5-3-6-1); Gayle 15-4-28-0 (4-3-4-0, 11-1-24-0); Hinds 4-0-18-0 (one spell); Nash 6-1-9-0 (2-0-3-0, 4-1-6-0).

Progress: First day: 50: 68 min, 14 overs. 100: 116 min, 27.5 overs. Lunch: 108-0 (Strauss 71, Cook 37) 30 overs. 150: 166 min, 41.1 overs. 200: 216 min, 54.4 overs. Tea: 221-0 (Strauss 136, Cook 84) 62 overs. 250: 298 min, 74 overs. New ball taken after 84 overs at 260-3. 300: 369 min, 89.3 overs.

Strauss's 50: 93 min, 71 balls, 8 fours. 100: 169 min, 144 balls, 15 fours, 1 six. Cook's 50: 150 min, 95 balls, 4 fours, 1 six.

West Indies: *C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, R O Hinds, S Chanderpaul, B P Nash, †D Ramdin, J E Taylor, S J Benn, D B L Powell, F H Edwards.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R B Tiffin (Zim).

TV replay umpire: D J Harper.

Match referee: A G Hurst.

60.57 runs

Andrew Strauss's Test batting average during his two spells as captain. When not in charge he averages 41.04.