Strauss rediscovers scoring touch as Somerset loan pays dividends

Somerset 329-2 India
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The Independent Online

From the off, Andrew Strauss seemed to the Taunton manor born. The way he was greeted as he went out to bat he might have been any one of Arthur Wellard, Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Marcus Trescothick, or a combination of all four.

When he returned almost two hours later to the Andy Caddick Pavilion, he was applauded beyond natural courtesy, as if he had won not only the Ashes but the county championship itself for Somerset, which is much harder, having never been done.

Perhaps it was all a ploy to make him feel so welcome that he would never want to leave. Or perhaps it was relief that he had batted with such a pleasant briskness before the first Test next Thursday.

Strauss made 78 from 98 balls in this special guest appearance for Somerset against India, made at his request because Middlesex did not have a match. It had been 12 years since he played his only first-class match on the ground, five since the most recent of his four limited-overs games, though nobody could have guessed as much.

He was up and running first ball with a clip through mid-wicket for two and scored another two off the second with a push to cover. The first wicket partnership was worth 101 and Strauss dominated it in every way. Whereas his partner, Arul Suppiah was content, nay determined, to bed himself in, Strauss played an array of strokes in the warm sunshine. He cut and pulled, of course, but he drove with firm authority.

There was a little-concealed fear that he might fall victim to Zaheer Khan, India's estimable left-arm swing bowler. It was Zaheer who first exposed Strauss's fallibility against his breed four years ago and it does not appear to have diminished since. Chanaka Welegedara, the less illustrious Sri Lankan practitioner, bagged Strauss three times in the recent Test series.

But Zaheer had Strauss in no kind of trouble. Quite the reverse. Nothing at all should be read into this since this will not be the script that Zaheer brings into the Test series.

There was no hint of swing and he allowed Strauss to pull him regularly and provided an intermittent half volley. It was a jolly good surface for batting on and India in general did not do much more than go through the motions.

Zaheer, who missed India's recent tour of the West Indies, did not look as though he has been spending every day in the gym. But he is an extremely intelligent bowler, on his third tour of England, and the last of him has not been heard.

Strauss will still be rightly relieved that his decision to seek a first-class match was rewarded so bountifully. A first-over dismissal, which is always lurking in wait for an opening batsman against a new ball, would not have helped in any way.

But it may be remembered that Strauss, playing for Middlesex then, scored a hundred against the Sri Lankans before the Test series and much good that did him. He looked set for another yesterday when he seemed surprised by some extra lift from Amit Mishra and was caught behind by the reserve wicketkeeper, Wriddhiman Saha.

And off he went to his acclamation. Suppiah, who has sometimes laboured this season in the shadow of his Somerset opening partner Trescothick, (but then who would not?) flourished afterwards. In the evening he went on to his century from 179 balls with 11 fours. He and Nick Compton shared another century partnership for the second wicket between rain which cut nearly 20 overs from the day.

Compton, a biffing front footer, should have been caught at short-midwicket when he pulled a long hop from Sreesanth, but the ball went into and out of the fielder's hands. The culprit was Sachin Tendulkar. Perhaps in his 39th year he is showing signs of vulnerability, perhaps as with Zaheer, nothing should be read into it.

India rested their captain, MS Dhoni, VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh, all of whom were involved in the Caribbean series. If the rustiness in Zaheer's joints was understandable, others may simply have been getting accustomed to yet another country.

India have hardly had time to draw breath since their World Cup win in April – the Indian Premier League, the West Indies and now England. But by Thursday at Lord's they will doubtless know where they are.

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