Strauss shows stress of shouldering batting burden

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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss's batting in Australia has epitomised the performance of the England team. He arrived full of expectation and confidence. With 10 Test centuries and the reputation of being one of the finest opening batsmen in the world, the Ashes offered him the chance to prove that he was, indeed, one of the best.

But it has not happened for Strauss, who has offered much but has yet to deliver a performance of any significance. In 13 of the 29-year-old's 14 international innings here he has reached double figures but his highest score is only 50, posted in the first innings of the Melbourne Test on Boxing Day.

For a player of his quality and pride these figures will hurt. The first 10 runs are the hardest a batsman has to score and when a good player gets in he is expected to make it count.

Australia bowled beautifully at Strauss during the Ashes. The seamers kept the ball away from his favourite cut shot, which is an area where he collects a high proportion of his runs, and they made him drive the ball down the ground, a shot he struggles to play with the same fluency.

The tactics have continued in the one-day series and the New Zealand bowlers have adopted them, too. During his innings here on Tuesday, James Franklin and Shane Bond provided Strauss with several straight full balls, which he failed to drive through the extra cover/mid-off region. And it was the failure to make the most of these scoring opportunities that led to his downfall, when he attempted to work a similar length ball through the vacant square-leg region and was trapped plumb in front.

Strauss's technique prevents him from playing the straight drive as well as the cut shot but it is the mental side of his game, the area where he is strongest, that is letting him down. It was why he attempted to pull balls he should have been blocking and played the shot he did against New Zealand on Tuesday, and it is why he has yet to post a big score in Australia.

The absence of Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and Marcus Trescothick has placed an enormous burden on Strauss, who will feel that it is his responsibility to fill the gap left by the trio. And Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, believes that it is the failure to cope with this situation that has caused the slump in form.

"He has been put under a lot of pressure and he is struggling to handle it at the moment," Fletcher said. "As an experienced and senior player, Andrew probably feels that he has to go out there and get on with it when we just want him to play his natural game. There is also the extra pressure of looking round the team and knowing that you have to score runs. It can make you try too hard and this can make batting difficult.

"His role is to play as he does in Test cricket and let the side bat around him. But in one-day cricket he probably feels that there are times when the side is behind the run rate and it is his job to lift it. Desperation forces batsmen to play shots they are not capable of playing. It can cloud your judgement too."

Fletcher admitted that England would have considered resting or dropping Strauss but for the injuries to other key players. "We would like to give someone like Strauss a rest, but it would mean playing another inexperienced player. When you bring an inexperienced player into the side you hope that your experienced players are confident and playing well.

"Strauss and Collingwood are struggling with their games and confidence and, with Vaughan, Pietersen and Trescothick out of the side, we haven't got a batsman here to replace Strauss. If we had, we would have a look at giving him a rest."

England are in desperate need of Strauss breaking through the 50-run barrier tomorrow when they take on Australia at the Adelaide Oval. The Australia Day celebrations will ensure that the game is played in front a huge, raucous crowd and England are in desperate need of a strong performance following Tuesday's débâcle at the same venue.

But the chances of England leaving this wonderful ground with an unexpected victory are slim. Australia have won 10 of the 12 one-day matches they have played on 26 January and England's batting looks incapable of testing them.