Mike Holmans December 6, 2009

Can Strauss perform the impossible?

Because of Strauss's leadership, England are now playing optimistic one-day cricket: they have no idea whether they are going to win the next game but they will give it a decent shot because – at last – they believe in themselves.

Andrew Strauss has been positive with the bat and his captaincy © PA Photos

Maybe one day we will look back on the South Africa v England ODI series and think “This was where it all began.” We probably won't, of course, but should England win the 2011 World Cup, the roots will be traceable back to South Africa 2009.

They will not be the best team in the world by then, but it is entirely possible to win the World Cup without being the best team in the tournament, as India showed in 1983, by being the best on the day - several times, if need be. That's the nature of tournament play. And what England have managed, when the weather allowed, is to beat a superior team by being better on a couple of days.

As against Australia during the Ashes, they grabbed hold of some key moments and never let go. It is not the holding on that is the difficult part, though, so much as the creating of key moments to grab. The difference about England in this series is that they now have a number of players capable of doing it.

Kevin Pietersen is one, according to past experience, and so is Fred Flintoff if he's ever fit enough to play, but neither of them made any contribution at all, whether or not they were physically present, so we can now see Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan, Paul Collingwood and even Tim Bresnan as blokes who can play a momentum-grabbing innings or bowl a critical spell, whether wicket-taking or strangling, and in Strauss see a captain with the acumen to think on the hop and capitalise on opportunities.

Few previous England one-day captains would have had the gumption first to bring Anderson back in the 21st over at Port Elizabeth and then to bowl him out rather than holding an over or two in reserve. Most of Strauss's predecessors would have carried on fiddling around with lesser bowlers for another ten or twelve overs, by which time the middle order could easily have recovered some equilibrium and South Africa gone on to make 211/9, sub-par but a score which England would probably have found challenging.

His batting is still pretty hit or miss by international standards but it sets a moral example to the team. If the skipper is prepared to push himself to play more aggressively than he is naturally comfortable with, the rest of them have no excuse to hang back, and one can sense the feeling of freedom as the middle order come out to bat.

Because of Strauss's leadership, England are now playing optimistic one-day cricket: they have no idea whether they are going to win the next game but they will give it a decent shot because – at last – they believe in themselves.

This does not make England a team to be feared in one-day cricket. They still deservedly inhabit the lower parts of the ranking table, and will very likely lose a lot of games as well as winning some. But long-suffering fans of the team can, with any luck at least, now sit down to watch an ODI without that awful foreboding that it is all going to go horribly wrong over the next two or three hours and can even expect England to provide some of the day's entertainment rather than just be the stooges for an exhibition by a team which really knows what it is doing.

It is only a start, but if things go on like this, Andrew Strauss may yet be remembered as the captain who made a sought-after designer handbag out of the sow's ear of England's one-day team.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2009, 21:40 GMT

    Although I think it is very early to say that England have improved to any great extent, I would agree that the SA series, for once, provided a lot more positives than negatives. I thought England's team selection was much better than we've seen in recent times. It all seemed much more logical; less bits-and-pieces cricketers and more specialists which I think was the best approach. It's one thing hitting a few boundaries slogging against an English County Division 2 side, but entirely another against Dale Steyn and Co. I think England adopted the correct approach, namely, to pick the best batsmen and the best bowlers and to back them to perform to their ability. Simple, but positive, thinking resulting in an encouraging England performance.

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2009, 15:54 GMT

    England will be lucky to come away with winning two tests. the batting has improved but the bowling has now gone from bad to worse. Whatbout getting S.H.back in before its too late

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2009, 9:57 GMT

    I will support andy strauss not for single reason but alot. First of all he is good choice as team leader among other options. Only he the man who can bring shine to England's Cricket,with his aggresiveness and leading tactics which led them to play CT 2009 seminal leaving behind favourities like protease,india and Srilanka. Best Of Luck ANDY Nadeem Dahar From Sukkur,Sindh,Pakistan

  • testli5504537 on December 9, 2009, 8:25 GMT

    New English youngsters Played really well,particularly Morgan and Trott.They Played well in SouthAfrica. The man(PeterSon) Who gave the Big Scoring Game is in Out Form. thank u ......

  • testli5504537 on December 8, 2009, 22:23 GMT

    come on mike? really? it takes more than beating south africa, englands last series against australia and their last series against india were complete drubbings! also it being played sub continent isnt going to help englands cause either! myself, i think theres more chance of Fiji winning the winter olympics in canada next year!

  • testli5504537 on December 8, 2009, 16:52 GMT

    What on earth is Rome talking about? An impressive performance in the Champions Trophy and a series win against South Africa included barely a contribution from Pietersen.

    Plus, for the first time for donkeys' years there actually seems to be a settled selection policy for the squad. The team needs some slight tweaking (I think the bowling department lacks some variety, and I think the opening partnership might need to still be looked at) but it seems settled to me.

    I wouldn't be as optimistic as thinking we will win the World Cup, but I'm happier with the one day squad than I ever have been in 25 years of following England.

    [Mike: Rome presumably did not bother to read the article, just the teaser with the headline. Like you, I was pleasantly surprised by their performances against SA and feel more optimistic than at any time since 1992.]

  • testli5504537 on December 8, 2009, 4:52 GMT

    SO so early dear......... Let them play against india,pakistan. I think SA is better team than Eng bt they ve little problems to improve...

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2009, 17:27 GMT

    Mr. K I hope you realise the world is no more just england.

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2009, 10:01 GMT

    hey mike, u ve got to take into considerations the conditions in the Sub continent. SA jus like England have fast and bouncy pitches whereas the pitches in sub continent are very low and slow. Looking back at the 2008 home series where SA were left beleagured by a 4-0 whitewash everybody started talking about the revival of the England ODI side.But then they were left to lick wounds by the Indians. And yeah, England's capability to be at their best when it matters the most is very much questionable. More than once did they look that they were gonna make it(champions trophy 2004, 2009, Twenty 20 world cup 20009) but ended up being knocked out.And one more reason. Their reluctance to play more limited overs cricket.

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2009, 6:34 GMT

    Yeah, I definitely think Strauss can't. As for his batting he doesn't deserve to be on any decent batting order in one-dayers. And yes, the problem with the English press is they glorify their players so much so that the players themselves have a false sense of greatness. Look at Kevin Pietersen downplaying Yuvraj Singh in a press conference in India. He was playing international cricket and smacking the Aussies before Pietersen was even thinking of kissing the Queen's ass. England is a team of people who can't make it to their own national teams. I bet the English board has an elaborate recruiting agency catching aspiring players young at the club level itself. This process needs some time to bring forth a team of 11 Trotts. So, it might take some time for England to win the world cup.

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