Strauss refuses to show hand
England captain silent on selection ahead of first one-dayer against West Indies
In a display of secrecy which would have brought approval from MI6 and the CIA, England declined to reveal their team yesterday. Presumably, they will hand over the sheet containing 11 names to the match referee, Javagal Srinath, before the first one-day international today but it is not a cast-iron certainty.
To judge from the mood of the captain, Andrew Strauss, yesterday, he might turn up for the toss at Providence Stadium and say: "Look, sorry, Javagal, but we don't want the oppo to know who's playing, so would you mind awfully for once if we didn't tell you?"
Strauss politely refused to engage on such topics as: where he would bat on his return to one-day international cricket after two years, which pair would open the batting and who would be wicketkeeper. Asked if Kevin Pietersen would play, he said: "We'll see on Friday morning."
The captain sounded as if he was joking but it was clear that England are in such a desperate state that they will seize any possible perceived advantage. Asked if he thought Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain, would be remotely bothered about who was and was not in the beleaguered tourists' side, Strauss was moved to say: "I don't care if he doesn't care."
The only unequivocal evidence Strauss was prepared to impart was that he would be fit to play, though his strained right hamstring was still strapped and he had batted with a runner in the team's practice match the previous day ("only as precaution").
Strauss was slightly less forthcoming than his predecessor, Pietersen, who was interviewed by Nasser Hussain for Sky Sports yesterday and reiterated his reluctance to be captain again.
"I'd have to think long and hard about doing it again because of my personality, because of the way I like to do things," he told Hussain in the interview to be broadcast before the match today. "We'll have to wait and see. If it gets chucked at me, I'll have to do a lot more thinking than the first time I took it over."
But he ruled himself out of the captaincy of the Twenty20 team in the world championships in England this summer. Hussain asked: "If they say 'Kevin, look, we desperately need you to captain'." Pietersen said: "No." Hussain: "No?" Pietersen: "No." That's a no then. It could have been Strauss talking about his team.
This may be just another one-day series at the fag end of a turbulent winter for England but it has assumed a greater significance. The team have not won an international fixture since they first left home back in October. Five-one dayers were lost to India in India and the two-match Test series was lost 1-0.
Then came the Caribbean and a Test series England were clear favourites to win. They lost the first match and never recovered. Last Sunday in a woefully inadequate exhibition Strauss's unprepared men were defeated in the solitary Twenty20 match.
Andy Flower, the assistant coach, would like to become team director, Strauss would like to continue as captain. There is a flood tide of opinion running their way – Pietersen again gave his support, if not ardently – but together they need victories. It will need a titanic effort of will and perhaps one outstanding individual performance to achieve that today. Perhaps the real reason for secrecy is based on keeping everybody alert.
The smart hunch is that Ravi Bopara and Steve Davies will continue to open the batting after doing so in the Twenty20 match on Sunday. Patience has been lost with the pair who started the winter, Ian Bell and Matt Prior, and as England appear to be obsessed with having a keeper who also opens the batting Davies, who looked exciting but limited, has been summoned from the taxi rank.
Strauss's return complicates matters and he will probably bat at number four. Gareth Batty, the reserve spinner, will play his first one-dayer since 2006 and Stephen Harmison's pace in the nets yesterday indicated a possible recall. Either way, it will be a new team.
Strauss promised that they will play assertive cricket because he recognises that the one-day game has changed, or at least has been changed by India. But otherwise he was distinctly cagey. Not that Gayle, the West Indies captain, was revealing his hand. His hamstring may have suffered a slight relapse and he may not play – or he might have been indulging in a game of double bluff. "I can give you some tips but I won't at this moment, he said."
Predictably, he cared not a jot about England's intentions but then Strauss did not care about this lack of care. After the unexpected Test series win when the home side had to cling on for grim life and the shattering Twenty20 result, the West Indies are in control. England can win but may need help from MI6.
Possible teams: England: R S Bopara, S Davies (wkt), K P Pietersen, A J Strauss (capt), P D Collingwood, O A Shah, A D Mascarenhas, S C J Broad, G J Batty, J M Anderson, S J Harmison.
West Indies: D S Smith,R Sarwan, S Chanderpaul, L M P Simmons, D J Bravo, K A Pollard, D Sammy, D Ramdin (capt, wkt), N O Miller, L S Baker, F Edwards.
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