England v New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's, 2nd day May 22, 2004

Strauss joins elite group

Liam Brickhill

'May we have this dance?' - Fleet Street warms to Andrew Strauss © Getty Images
On Friday Andrew Strauss became the first English batsman for 35 years to score a century in his maiden Test innings. "Strauss joins an elite quartet after composing historic score" read The Times headline, as the punsters of Fleet Street queued up to join him in a waltz.

Not since John Hampshire hit a century against West Indies in 1969, also at Lord's, has an English batsman reached the milestone in his first innings. Graham Thorpe, another left-hander, made an unbeaten 114 in the second innings of his debut Test, against Australia, in 1993.

Hampshire, however, never came close to another century in the remainder of his eight-Test career. "Strauss's innings was a lot better than mine because I was absolute crap", he told The Mirror. "I nicked everything and I didn't hit anything in the middle all through my innings. But I was proud of it, of course I was. I got my just desserts though, they left me out for the next Test. I had only played in the first place because they had injuries." That aspect, at least, sounds familiar.

Strauss looked nervous in the 90s, and took over 40 minutes to score the final 10 runs to reach his hundred. He was very lucky to survive an inside-edge off Chris Martin that actually clipped his off stump, and slashed a hard chance to gully when on 95. He finally drove Martin through the covers for his 12th four to reach a century off 199 balls.

"The odds were in Strauss's favour," wrote Michael Henderson in the same newspaper. "The pitch was good and the bowling, all too frequently, was not. He plays for Middlesex so there was nothing unsettling about his presence on the game's greatest stage, as there can be for others. Yet the runs still take some getting and he got them, somewhat methodically for some tastes but with no lack of conviction."

Strauss added 190 with Marcus Trescothick, his stand-in captain, against an attack that looked competent, but by no means dangerous. "Others have started well, including Ed Smith last season," said Christopher Martin Jenkins, The Times' chief cricket correspondent, "but not since Trescothick has it looked so abundantly clear that a Test batsman of substance has arrived for England."

"And if England win this Test match, what about Trescothick?" wondered Martin Johnson in The Telegraph. "The stand-in captain has barely put a foot wrong here, which makes a change from critics of his batting complaining that he barely puts a foot anywhere. When Strauss makes a century the word "waltz" rarely fails to make it into the headline, but if Trescothick attempted an evening of waltzing, there would be a lengthy queue outside the chiropodist the following morning."

Strauss was not even in the original squad to play in the first Test at Lord's, but was handed his debut because of Michael Vaughan's withdrawal through injury. His performance will now give the selectors and Vaughan, assuming he is fit, a lot to think about when picking the squad for the second Test.

"Will the recently-mooted plan to move either himself or Marcus Trescothick down to No. 4 now be forced upon England?" asked Mike Dickson in the Daily Mail. "Will an extra batsman's slot be needed to accommodate Nasser Hussain, who will now feel under even more pressure?"

"So the cat has been placed very firmly among the pigeons", added Mike Selvey in The Guardian. "As Strauss was completing his hundred, Nasser Hussein had been watching from the team balcony and no doubt reading the runes. One reason not to change a side is a fear of the unknown. Now though, the pressure is on him, the most vulnerable of the England batsmen, to continue to prove himself."

The day did not belong only to Strauss. Chris Cairns is the closest thing New Zealand has produced to a superstar since the days of Martin Crowe, and Richard Hadlee before him. Had his career not been blighted by injury, he may even have surpassed their achievements. Against England on Friday he smashed 82 off just 47 balls, a rate of scoring not often achieved even in one-day matches.

With his third six, Cairns surpassed Viv Richards's record number of sixes in Test matches, and had another record, also held by Richards, well within his sights. Had he scored 18 off the next nine balls, he would have surpassed Richards's record for the fastest Test hundred. It was not to be, however, as soon after hitting Andrew Flintoff into the stands past extra-cover, he skied the same bowler to Steve Harmison at fine leg.

"Cricket has a few dull, earth-bound records, but this is not one of them," said Tim de Lisle in The Times. "A six is more than just the most runs you can make from one shot. It is also the most damage you can do to a bowler's self-esteem and it is the biggest thrill you can give a cricket crowd. When Cairns was batting, it was a different match."

Liam Brickhill is editorial assistant of Wisden Cricinfo.