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August 9, 2010
Not since 1887 has a side made as little as 72 in their first innings and still gone on to win a Test, so it was no real surprise that history was averted at Edgbaston today. That Mohammad Amir got the better of a woefully flat-footed Alastair Cook was hardly a shocker either, but nor was the serenity with which Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott coasted to their target of 118. For all the defiance that Pakistan showed with the bat on Sunday afternoon, their overall standards were too low for too long from them to lay any rightful claim to a miracle.
And so for England the run of triumphs extends unabated. Six Test wins out of six is now the tally, which is two shy of their all-time record of eight in a row from May to December 2004, but for Strauss - who made his debut against New Zealand at Lord's at the very start of that run six years ago - any sense of a gathering momentum remains tempered by the acceptance that all is not quite as rosy as the record-books would suggest.
"Any time you win six in a row you are pretty happy with yourselves, but we are still conscious that there are plenty of areas where we need to improve so we are not getting too carried away," said Strauss. "The first job is to make sure we win the series next week and then push on from there, because this was a timely reminder you do have to work hard for a Test match. If it had been a longer chase it would have been much harder."
The underlying implication from Strauss is that England allowed themselves to coast through the latter stages of this game - and if that is understandable after mugging one's opponents inside 40 overs of the first day's play, then their subsequent lapses were concerning nonetheless. At various stages of the game, England lost five wickets for eight runs to give Pakistan their first glimmer of a comeback, before Zulqarnain Haider and his colleagues burrowed so far into their psyche that Stuart Broad's fit of pique was merely the most visible expression of a wider mood of frustration.
England will not allow themselves to look too far beyond the current challenge just yet - certainly not while the series is still live - but if their players can be driven to distraction in an innings in which their opponents still end up making less than 300, it hardly bodes well for what will lie ahead in Australia this winter, when the 50 degree heat of Adelaide will send their temperatures soaring far more readily than a debutant No. 7 and his obdurate tail-end colleagues.
"It doesn't matter how good you are, you don't have everything your own way all the time," said Strauss. "That's always the case. We got a double whammy because the ball didn't swing and also the wicket died, so there was no real carry or menace with the ball, and that's always going to be tough for the seamers. We were forced to work very hard for those final wickets, but thankfully we came out the other side."
They emerged with their victory, but Broad came out with a sizeable dent in his wallet after being fined 50% for his "inappropriate" shy at Haider - and it is perhaps somewhat fortunate for him that Pakistan's captain Salman Butt made less of the issue than might have been the case for previous leaders of tours to England - most notably Inzamam-ul-Haq and Javed Miandad. The ugliness of the incident deserved censure, and given Broad's tendency for sailing close to the wind, a one-match ban would not have been unwarranted, even though Strauss insisted his player had "matured".
"It didn't look good and he understood that he overstepped the mark, and he has paid the price for it," said Strauss. "What I would say is that, generally over the summer, he has been outstanding in terms of the way he has gone about his business, so let us just hope this is a one-off incident. It was an end-of-the-over chuck-the-ball-back when the batsman had gone down the wicket, and I don't think he meant to hit him. He was just throwing it back to the keeper.
"He is maturing and learning from his mistakes, and I am very comfortable in my own head that this will be a one-off situation," added Strauss. "We have to remind ourselves all the time that there are lines there that you don't want to overstep, and Stuart received a timely reminder of that. But you want aggressive characters in your dressing room and guys who want to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and have a bit of fight about them, so it's always that managing of where the lines are, and making sure people don't overstep those boundaries."
If discipline was one of England's issues, then batting form was the other major talking point, with Cook taking his summer tally to a troublesome 100 runs in seven innings in another painful performance. Though Strauss inevitably backed his opening partner to come good, and expressed his desire to see him at the other end at The Oval in 10 days' time, he could not deny that the lack of runs was starting to become a concern.
"Opening the batting in Test cricket can be tough at times and when you're down on confidence it can be exploited more than other areas in the batting line-up," said Strauss. "Cooky has played some outstanding innings for England in the past, he's a very valuable member of our side, and I have every confidence he will come back and play some valuable innings in the near future. He's a top-quality opening bat, and four Tests don't change that."
Of far greater cheer was the performance of Trott, whose refusal to rush at any stage of the contest enabled him to become the only player to reach fifty in each innings. His mannerisms remain peculiar, but the end result is unequivocal, and his twin performance in this match took his career runs tally to 923 in 11 matches, at the substantial average of 51.27. Another decent showing at The Oval next week, and he could well achieve 1000 runs inside his first year of Test cricket.
"The vast majority of the innings I've seen him play for England, he's had that calm unflustered look to him, and it's immensely reassuring to see your No. 3 batsman not get ruffled or flustered, and not get particularly concerned about how quickly he's scoring," said Strauss. "He's played some really valuable knocks for us in this series in these two Tests, and I'm really happy with the way he's coming along."
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