Strauss backs batsmen to come good
England's 354-run victory in the first Test at Trent Bridge disguised the poor form of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, who contributed just 51 runs between them in four innings. But England's captain, Andrew Strauss, has backed both men to overcome their recent fallow periods and return to their best this week.
Pietersen's form has been especially troubling for England, with no centuries in any international cricket since the Trinidad Test in March 2009 - 22 Test innings ago. Cook, on the other hand, produced twin hundreds during his stint as captain in Bangladesh earlier this year, but has since seen his returns fall away.
Strauss, however, is not concerned, and believes that the conditions in the Trent Bridge Test were so helpful to the bowlers that it is difficult to read too much into that contest. "That game was a hard time to be a top-order batsman, to be honest" he said. "In both innings we found it very difficult, with the wicket and the swing. Ideally we don't want the lower order to have to bail us out, but they did that very well."
With the Ashes looming large, however, and pressure for places mounting, all of England's batsmen need runs to justify their selection - even Pietersen, who has never once been dropped since making his Test debut in 2005. "We all go through it," said Strauss. "You're not human if you don't go through a poor run of form at some time, but players of the quality of KP always come back and he will."
"He's in a good place mentally and the results will come, hopefully this week," added Strauss. "He feels like he wants to get that score but we're very happy with what he's doing and he will come right. You always want to get that score on the board and prove you're as good a player as everybody thinks you are."
Cook has made only 79 runs in five innings since signing off as captain with a matchwinning century in the second Test at Dhaka, but Strauss was keen to defend his opening partner. "You have to take a slightly long-term view on batters," he said. "You have to accept that people are going to have a bad Test or two because that's the nature of the beast, but I have no concerns about his form.
"Only three or four Tests ago he was making a hundred in Bangladesh, and playing very well in South Africa. The technical adjustments he made before that trip were important adjustments, and he's a quality performer. He's a fantastic rock at the top of the order, and he'll continue to be."
Aside from Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior, who made a hundred in the first and second innings respectively, all of England's batsmen struggled to master the conditions and an aggressive Pakistan seam attack, with Strauss's 45 being the next-highest score. "If you get in, you have to make sure you get a big score," he said. "That's our responsibility to the team and that's what we're focused on rather than individual performances.
"I don't think it's that much of a secret that we are trying to become the best in the world," he said. "But the rankings say we are fifth, so we've got a lot of hard work to do. No doubt the guys want to put in the hard work, because there's been a lot of top-quality effort off the pitch."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.