July 19, 2009

Ashes

Strauss betrays caution by failing to enforce follow-on

Jamie Alter
Andrew Strauss in the field, England v Australia, 1st Test, Cardiff, 3rd day, July 10, 2009
 © Getty Images
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Mike Brearley knows a thing or two about calling the shots on the field. Looking at Andrew Strauss captaining England on day three at Lord's, and not enforcing the follow-on, Brearley calls it a 'pusillanimous' decision. Fantasies of a quick win for England were dispelled by Australia's stubborn tail-end reaction and some puzzling tactics by the home side, he writes in the Observer.

I disagree with Andrew Strauss's decision. He has at his disposal four front-line quick bowlers, plus a spinner. By the end of Australia's innings, Andrew Fintoff had bowled only 12 overs, Graham Onions 11, and Graeme Swann one, so most of his bowlers should have been fresh. It was a pleasant day, not too hot or debilitating. The pitch was likely to be at its quickest yesterday. Batting again meant that, unless England unaccountably collapsed, they were bound to use up time that they might need later – as happened in Antigua last winter, when England failed to enforce the follow-on and West Indies' last pair survived. One would expect Australia to bat much better second time round, whether following on or not.

David Gower agrees, saying Strauss needs to take a bolder approach. The fact that Australia got within touching distance of saving the follow-on might also have affected his thinking. Only time will tell now whether the choice to bat again is the correct one, he writes in the Sunday Times.

So for me, it would have been better to put the pressure straight back on to the Australian batsmen, not necessarily expecting them to fold again as they had in the first innings but knowing that they would have to bat exceptionally well — and for a very long time — to have even half a chance of saving the game. Even the prospect of having to score more than just a few runs at the end of the game to finish off the win should not have been a daunting one.

Alex Massie, writing in Spectator magazine, says events may yet prove Strauss's decision correct. Despite just three occasions when a side has followed-on and won - in Test cricket's 132-year history - enforcing the follow-on has become almost as unfashionable in the modern game as stationing a fielder at third man.

Ravi Bopara is becoming a worry. He may be a young man making his way in Test cricket, but Ashes series are no place to be allowing a novice the leeway of education, writes Steve James in the Daily Telegraph.

What lies behind the jitters of Mitchell Johnson? Every time Ricky Ponting hands him a new ball, he must feel like an antique collector entrusting a Ming vase to someone with a bad case of the DTs, says Martin Johnson in the Sunday Times. He has another piece in the same paper where he says Ricky Ponting's finding that captaining Australia isn't the cushy job it once was.

In the same paper Simon Wilde says that while Andrew Flintoff's retirement was inevitable, the timing was questionable.

Whereas England seem in control, two of the Australians are in a tizzy, says Peter Roebuck in the Independent.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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