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December 10, 2006
Andrew Strauss was satisfied with England's efforts after a useful two-day work-out against Western Australia at Perth. Strauss, who was captaining England in the absence of Andrew Flintoff, made 88 in a first-wicket stand of 183 with Alastair Cook, who top-scored with a composed 106. "The wicket was pretty flat and both Cooky and I appreciated some length of time in the middle," said Strauss after the match had ended in a predictable draw.
"It's a practice match and the best practice is to get some runs," he added. Strauss was England's form batsman in the opening stages of the tour, but managed scores of just 12, 11, 14 and 34 in the first two Tests. "It's not gone quite according to plan in that respect," he admitted. "I wouldn't have been desolate if I hadn't scored runs, but it's nice to get some time in the middle."
Realistically, England have to win Thursday's third Test if they are to get anything out of this series, and Strauss added that the real bonus of their performance was the chance to get a sneak preview of the WACA conditions. "The guys have said it's been slow and low in recent years, but there's was bounce and carry on the first morning for our bowlers, and it played slightly better than I expected."
The success of England's batting meant that Michael Vaughan's much-vaunted comeback had to be put on hold. "Vaughany was due to come in at No. 4," said Strauss, "but as the day went on it was more a case of giving the guys who may be involved in Test matches a run-out in the middle, so he slipped down the order. If we lost a few early wickets he'd have come in.
"We've not had a huge amount to do with Vaughan," said Strauss, when asked whether it was a distraction having a non-playing captain hanging around the squad. "He's encouraged by how his recuperation is going, but he realises it's better to keep a low profile. But he came through his fielding really well. He was really happy with it, so that's encouraging."
Changes are anticipated for the third Test, with Monty Panesar widely tipped to come into the side for his first appearance of the tour. "I wouldn't read too much into it," Strauss said with a grin after it was pointed out he had bowled more than three times as many overs as his rival Ashley Giles. "I think it was important that Monty got a good bowl, and the wicket maybe suited a quicker left-arm spinner.
Strauss couldn't tell from his sighting of the pitch quite how much of a part spin would play in the Test. "It's hard to say because we haven't seen how the wicket deteriorates," he said. "It's wasn't overly difficult to face the spinner, but as the game goes on, they'll become more difficult because of the turn and bounce, which is something spinners always look for.
"The seamers will have to be disciplined," added Strauss. "There may be a wicket or two early, but then it's a case of being really disciplined. I thought Jimmy [Anderson] bowled exceptionally. He swung it late and bowled very few bad balls. It was a tough time in those first couple of Tests, but he got some really useful rhythm out of this match."
The form of Steve Harmison remains a worry for England, however. He took 1 for 99 in 21 overs in this match, but Strauss insisted he was getting back towards his best. "He's coming alright, but he's not having a lot of luck. There were a few occasions yesterday when it was outrageously bad luck that he didn't get wickets. Hopefully that luck changes, because sometimes all you need is one or two wickets and it all falls into place.
"He's been hurting to be honest," added Strauss. "Harmy had a big contribution to make in this series, but he needs to be patient and things will happen. You don't go from world-class to nothing overnight. He has all the attributes to bowl very, very well in Australia, and I've never seen him work so hard in the nets."
Strauss glossed over the reported divisions in the England camp, and backed his coach, Duncan Fletcher, to ride out the current storm. "Duncan is always good in a crisis," he said. "He doesn't lose his head, he keeps focussed, and he's always drumming in simple things we need to not lose sight of.
"He hasn't changed at all," Strauss added. "He's been there and done it all before, and it's important not to get sidetracked by off-the-field issues. The guys have got a point to prove and the squad's still together."
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