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May 22, 2004
If God is an Englishman, he must also be a member of MCC. For how else could you explain the phenomenal rise of Andrew Strauss?
Two years ago, Strauss was elevated, almost overnight, from a handy county pro to captain of Middlesex, when Angus Fraser was spirited up to the great gherkin in the sky to become the cricket correspondent of The Independent. Two days ago, after Michael Vaughan had twisted his knee, England came calling for a stand-in opener. Today, the understudy brought the house down, as he became the fourth player - and the first Middlesex captain - to score a century at Lord's on his Test debut.
Little wonder Strauss was beaming an hour later, as he spoke to the press in the MCC museum, where an honours board - a replica of that legendary list in the dressing-room - would soon be updated to reflect his achievement. "It's been a crazy week," he admitted. "I haven't had time for it to sink in, but somebody up there must have been smiling on me today."
Strauss had brought up his hundred with an exultant thump for four, whereupon the culturally switched-on fans in the Edrich Stand serenaded him with a blast of "The Blue Danube". But Strauss's innings was far from being a waltz - on 91, a nervy swish actually grazed his off stump as it flew off the inside-edge for four, and moments later he was dropped at gully by the lanky Jacob Oram, who bent like a thirsty giraffe but couldn't quite lap up an ankle-high chance.
"I had a tricky time in the 90s," said Strauss with a hint of understatement. "I was nervous, not just for myself, but for the anticipation of the crowd and my team-mates. So when I was able to release that pressure, it was just unbelievable."
As the milestone approached, Strauss missed out on a host of scoring opportunities, including a leg-stump half-volley and a cut shot that hit the fielder, but he knew he just had to stay calm. "It wasn't so much the frustration that was getting to me, but the adrenalin. I was starting to come at the ball harder, and on 98 I tried to drive a ball that was almost a bouncer, which wasn't the greatest piece of judgment!
"But I couldn't just let myself think that this was going to be my day - if I'd nicked one, I'd have looked a bit of an idiot. I just had to get on top of my game, calm myself down and watch the ball, which is how I got into the side in the first place."
Strauss's familiarity with his surroundings certainly didn't hinder his cause. "You can overplay the home advantage," he said, "but I knew the wicket, am used to playing on the Lord's slope, and I'm familiar with walking into the dressing-room or through the pavilion. There are quite enough new experiences to be dealing with on your Test debut as it is, so all these things help."
A pair of good sixties on the recent Caribbean tour also helped. "One-day cricket doesn't examine your technique to quite the same extent," Strauss admitted. "But after that I knew I was capable of scoring runs in international cricket." So too, it transpired, did his coach. "John Emburey apparently tipped me for a hundred the other day, and said sorry for putting me on the spot, but I think all he meant to say was that I've been in good form recently."
Strauss's wife, parents and close friends had been at the ground to witness the moment, and his Middlesex team-mates - currently south of the river at The Oval - all hit the dressing-room roof when the moment arrived. "I was probably only coming in for one match, so I felt I had nothing to lose," he added. "But to score a century on debut at Lord's - that's just the ultimate dream come true."
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala