Struggling Strauss must turn promising acorns into great oak
England's leader can do little wrong in terms of captaincy but worrying trend continues with bat
Double Ashes-winning captain, soon-to-be skipper of the world's No 1 Test team if all goes to plan and so well-respected by opponents that they are now withdrawing appeals against one of his players: what more could go right for Andrew Strauss?
Well, a decent score would be handy, just to prevent a few murmurs of concern from growing into calls for the opener to admit he has a real problem. As Strauss pointed out with mild exasperation earlier this summer, one member of the team always seems to be under the spotlight, no matter how good England's results have been.
This time last summer it was Alastair Cook who felt the heat. And, more recently, Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad have had their performances scrutinised in microscopic detail. All three of those players can now breathe easily (although Cook is no doubt readying himself for the first bit of criticism in nearly a year after scoring only 20 runs in four innings against India) but Strauss is struggling to make his presence felt as a batsman.
The facts are these: in eight Test innings this summer, against Sri Lanka and India, England's leader has totalled a distinctly modest 129 runs – despite reaching 20 (and therefore getting 'in') on four occasions. He scored a century and passed 50 on three other visits to the crease during last winter's Ashes, which would have been headline news on many a recent tour of Australia but looked fairly small beer thanks to the mighty efforts of Cook and Jonathan Trott.
But – and here is something that suggests less of a blip and more of a trend – an innings of 110 in Brisbane is his only three-figure score in his last 37 completed innings, a sequence dating back two years.
A couple of things need underlining. Firstly, Strauss is not about to be dropped. And secondly, he looks in much better form than during his last century drought when 30 innings went by before the Middlesex left-hander made a career-saving 177 against New Zealand at Napier in March 2008.
All that said, though, Strauss would feel happier if only he could turn promising little acorns into one big oak this summer – and preferably during England's first innings at next week's Edgbaston Test.
It all looked promising for him yesterday. Having come through a tricky little period on Saturday evening, he settled in again and looked in no trouble at all while reaching 16. With Ian Bell batting beautifully at the other end, a big stand looked almost inevitable – until Strauss edged a catch behind.
There was nothing exceptional about the ball from Sree Sreesanth. It may have bounced a bit more than England's captain expected but, in terms of misbehaving, it appeared to do nothing other than maintain a straight line across him. When your luck is in, you play and miss. When it is out, the snick goes straight to hand (or in this case, glove) and another innings is cut short.
Strauss, of course, is not the only England batsman to have been brought down to earth just a little. Cook, as already mentioned, has not got going against India (although he made another mountain of runs against Sri Lanka during the first half of the summer) while Trott has literally hit the turf with a bump.
A routine piece of fielding on Saturday ended with Trott in agony and lucky not to have dislocated his shoulder after falling heavily. He was unable to bat in his normal No 3 position yesterday and must be a serious doubt for Edgbaston.
Missing out on a Test at his home ground would be especially disappointing for Trott. On top of that, it would require England's selectors to search for their thinking caps in order to come up with the best possible replacement.
Bell has clearly made the strongest possible case to continue at No 3 in the absence of his Warwickshire team-mate. As for who might fit into the lower middle order, several candidates (Ravi Bopara, James Taylor, James Hildreth and Samit Patel) come to mind but no red-hot favourite.
This week's England Lions game against Sri Lanka A could help to clarify England's thinking.
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