Strauss puts his best foot forward
Middlesex 321-5 v Sri Lanka: England's Test captain opens up with century against tourists to confirm he is not winding down just yet
Sunday 15 May 2011
In case it was supposed otherwise, Andrew Strauss is going nowhere. It is always tempting to presume that an international captain who surrenders his one-day responsibilities, as Strauss has done, is on borrowed time if not fatally wounded.
But Strauss, architect of two Ashes victories, made it abundantly clear this week that he intends to leave a deeper impression still. He set about buttressing his declaration of intent yesterday with a century in his first first-class innings since that memorable match at Sydney in January when England secured a 3-1 series win. Neither the deed nor the word so far is of a man who sees the end.
His innings against Sri Lanka was perfectly characteristic, peppered with pulls and cuts, though he was quick to drive anything over-pitched. He looked in good order, unlike the tourists whose bowling seemed dangerously threadbare after the usual allowances are made for working their way into the tour and growing accustomed to the conditions.
"I really want us to push on from the Ashes and achieve something special and hopefully create a bit of a legacy for ourselves," Strauss said. "It's going to take a huge amount of work to do that, and that excites me.
"There's some real challenges for us in Test cricket over the next two or three years – Sri Lanka and India this summer, South Africa next year, India away from home, and then two Ashes series – so there's plenty to float my boat. But nothing is guaranteed.
"It's dangerous to look too far into the future. You only have to look at someone like Paul Collingwood, who was in the form of his life 12 months ago and is now retired from Test cricket. If anyone gets the impression I've stopped playing one-day cricket and am gradually winding down to the end of my career, that's just not the way I see it. The idea of not playing one-day cricket is to really give me a spurt in Test cricket and allow me to play longer and lead the side as well as I can."
England now have three captains. Strauss, who salvaged so much after the dark early days of 2009 when his predecessor Kevin Pietersen and the coach, Peter Moores, were deposed, will continue as Test captain. Alastair Cook will lead the 50-over team and Stuart Broad has been handed the Twenty20 side, entrusted with defending the world title next year.
It is bound to present some minor difficulties and if it is now considered the obvious policy, it hardly explains why most countries have only one captain. Perhaps Strauss and England have come up with an idea that will be taken up as the new way.
There remains the feeling that Strauss has not had quite his due for his exemplary achievements and the sense that England's failure at the World Cup somehow, if wrongly, diminished the Ashes triumph.
"If anything the edge was taken off by us going straight into that one-day series with Australia and not performing well," said Strauss."The World Cup was definitely disappointing because you only have that opportunity once or twice in your career and our form in the 18 months prior to the World Cup suggested we had a realistic chance of doing well.
"But after six weeks at home you realise that the Ashes was special for a lot of people back here and no one will take that away from us, we don't need to be in open-top buses cruising around Trafalgar Square to know that we've achieved something pretty special. And maybe in some ways it's a good thing to have to knuckle down and prove ourselves again."
He is aware that there is a danger of seeing Sri Lanka only as the warm-up act for the India tour. England have made the mistake before of treating them too lightly – they drew 1-1 here five years ago. But Strauss, making his 39th first-class hundred, was out for 151 from 233 balls with 25 fours, and shared a partnership of 214 for the second wicket by Dan Housego, making his second century. They both pretty much had matters their own way, although Sri Lanka took four wickets in the evening.
The proceedings were accompanied throughout by the noises from protesters outside the ground. The Tamil Youth Organisation are calling for an end to the tour until an independent inquiry is launched into war crimes allegedly committed towards the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.
The First Test will begin at Cardiff on Thursday week. There is a batting place up for grabs which might be decided by performances in the England Lions match against Sri Lanka in Derby this week. Both Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan, the favourites, are playing, as is Samit Patel, returning to the fold after being overlooked for failing to meet minimal fitness requirements. If England decide they need two slow bowlers on Cardiff's unresponsive pitch, Patel's superior batting allied to his left-arm spin may yet land him an improbable Test debut.
Strauss has to remind England that there is more to life (if not much) than winning the Ashes and that he is still the gaffer. "We've got to move away from just focusing on Australia," he said. "Those two Ashes series are going to be big challenges for us but they are quite a long way away still, so number one in the world is the immediate goal and this summer we can go a long way to achieving that."
Addressing any loss of authority, he said: "There's always that chance but I'm not concerned. The control slips if you're not playing well personally and you're not winning Test matches. That's the challenge for me: play well, keep winning and help Alastair and Stuart to develop as leaders. I've got an important role to play there." He had the perfect beginning to it all here yesterday.
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