Strauss the conductor
South African-born opener adds to classical record collection of centuries as patience pays dividends for England
If any single player symbolises England's extraordinary Test winning sequence it is Andrew Strauss. His debut, fortuitously prompted by injury, coincided with the start of a run of seven victories, and yesterday his third Test hundred in 15 innings provided with them a glorious opportunity to make it eight.
He was as convincing in St George's Park as he has been since he stepped into Michael Vaughan's shoes at the top of England's batting order at Lord's last May. An elusive combination of temperament and method have made him ideally suited for Test cricket. In making 120 not out yesterday he not only ensured that England began to repel the inexperienced South Africa side, but also created several esoteric records.
Strauss became the first England player to score hundreds in the first innings of his first Tests both at home and away. He overtook Ranjitsinjhi who almost did it, but waited until the second innings of his maiden Test. In addition, Strauss also became the first player to score hundreds on his debut against three different countries, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa.
"I am delighted to have done it but I won't be putting it on my wall," he said afterwards. Nor was Strauss especially entranced to achieve this feat in the land of his birth. He was six when his family left. "I remember it was a lovely place to run around. I've just got the odd flash of memory."
His run around yesterday ought to lodge more firmly in the memory. Together with Marcus Trescothick he put on 152 for the first wicket and then with Mark Butcher took England to 227 without further loss, just 110 runs behind. The slow pitch is already showing signs of turn and England possess the only spinner in the match in Ashley Giles.
"Your first game against any opposition side it's important to knuckle down and try and get runs early in the series," said Strauss. "We wanted to lay down a marker for the rest of the series. It's gone fantastically well, I'm fortunate to be part of a good side. This is a very slow wicket and you have go to be patient on it and let the bowlers come to you. We did really well to put the defeat in the warm-up match out of our minds. It was disappointing but we just put it behind us."
The fear that England were undercooked for the series is beginning to look misguided. So far, they have taken advantage of South Africa's raw team by undermining their few experienced players. Only Stephen Harmison of the bowlers has looked seriously short of practice time, never finding any fluency on a placid pitch that was never likely to suit him. The concern for South Africa, of course, is that he will rediscover his momentum, and soon.
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