England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval August 17, 2010

Strauss seeks consistency, Pakistan seek spark


All the talk this week has been of whitewashes, specifically the one that Ricky Ponting and his colleagues intend to inflict on England this winter. Right at this moment, however, it is Andrew Strauss and his men who are armed with the paintbrushes and pots of primer. With six consecutive Test wins already racked up this year, and a share of the series against Pakistan already ensured, the onus for England is to continue their momentum right through to the end of the summer, so that they can arrive in Brisbane in November with a record-equalling eight straight victories to back up their Ashes ambitions.

While Pakistan are in town, however, it's never wise to get too far ahead of the here-and-now because, as Strauss remembers well from the last time the two teams played in a Test match at The Oval, circumstances can change as quickly as the English weather. Back in 2006, an intriguingly poised contest was transformed into a crisis to rival the Gatting-Shakoor Rana stand-off at Faisalabad two decades earlier, as umpire Darrell Hair casually awarded five penalty runs against a Pakistan team whom he had unilaterally decided were guilty of ball tampering.

The row escalated to boardroom level from the very moment that Pakistan refused to take the field after tea on the fourth afternoon, and after several tense hours of diplomatic and not-so-diplomatic exchanges between Hair, Pakistan's captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, and various officials from the ECB, PCB and ICC, the match was eventually forfeited to give England a 3-0 series win. "It was like watching a train wreck really," recalled Strauss. "We knew that something pretty massive was brewing and it was something we had no ability to control."

Eight players in Wednesday's contest survive from that match - four on each team - but the prospect of a repeat scenario is remote in the extreme. On the one hand, Strauss is a more experienced leader than the stand-in skipper of four years ago; on the other hand, his counterpart Salman Butt is a more conciliatory figure than the intransigent Inzamam. There's time for Pakistan to fight back on the field through the excellence of their seam bowlers in particular, but they've rarely looked like sparking into life in the manner best epitomised, in the past, by the likes of Javed Miandad and Waqar Younis.

It's not as if they've been short of grist to the mill either. It's hard, for instance, to imagine Miandad letting an issue such as Stuart Broad's shy at Zulqarnain Haider pass without an inflammatory intervention, even less so after it transpired this week that that same throw might well have aggravated a finger injury that has now ruled Haider out of the rest of the series. That suggestion was quietly played down by the management - and Pakistan's spirit of conciliation is to be applauded in that regard - but for the sake of a competitive series, a bit more of the aggro of old would not go amiss.

The Broad incident remains notable all the same, because it came during England's most trying spell of the series to date, with Haider and the Pakistan tail making light of their capitulation to 72 all out in the first innings, and turning a likely innings defeat into a slender but defendable lead. Now, faced with an Oval wicket that is likely to be one of the truest surfaces of the series, and with the returning Mohammad Yousuf set to insert some much-needed backbone to Pakistan's batting, England know that this will in all likelihood be their stiffest examination of a misleadingly dominant summer. Strauss is determined that the frustrations of Edgbaston will not be allowed to take root again.

"There was a period where we didn't react as well as we could to the circumstances, but we make mistakes," said Strauss. "You're never going to get everything right over the course of a Test. There were situations where we probably did get a bit emotional and frustrated, and that's not a good place to be in terms of nailing your skills. But we learned our lessons from it and won the game by nine wickets, and we're in a pretty good place as a side because our guys are honest with each other, and are prepared to take it on the chin when we don't do well, and praise people when we do."

On that note, there was no escaping the fact that Broad had sailed too close to the wind at Edgbaston. "He admitted he did wrong," said Strauss. "He over-stepped the mark, he's got the punishment and from our point of view the case is closed, although if other people want to talk about it, that's their own business. We've all got to watch it, but Broady has generally been very good this year. There were some incidents in the past, but he's had his head on. He's bowled very well, but he's also been a pleasure to captain. I haven't got any real problems with him. We never want to see people doing that on a regular basis. If he did it again, there would be issues, but I don't think he will."

Speaking to Cricinfo in the aftermath of the Edgbaston Test, England's bowling coach David Saker had voiced his concerns about the "complacency" that had seeped into the attack on that third afternoon, and while Strauss did not feel that his player's standards had dropped quite that drastically, he nevertheless agreed that, with Australia looming large, the ability to deal with those periods when the opposition are in the ascendancy will be crucial to his team's survival Down Under.

"It was a timely lesson that you'll never have everything your own way," said Strauss. "Sometimes you'll have to do the hard yards to get on top of sides, and The Oval and Lord's are usually pretty good batting wickets. Overhead conditions play a part, but there may be a different style of match: runs on the board and scoreboard pressure, rather than ball nipping all over the place.

"There's certain areas we want to improve on, but in general we just want to continue producing consistent cricket," he added. "If you want to become one of the better or the best team in the world, you need to play well day in, day out and not have bad sessions, bad days and bad Test matches, because good sides will take advantage and not let you come back into the Test match. We've been pretty good on that this summer."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dominic on August 18, 2010, 10:01 GMT

    While I agree that Broad should definitely have received a stiffer punishment for throwing the ball in a way that could have caused injury, I also feel that it's kind of gone under the radar that Asif actually did exactly the same thing to Collingwood in England's first innings, the only difference was that he missed.

  • Rizwan on August 18, 2010, 9:32 GMT

    best of luck PKP-XI (Punjab & Khyber Pakhtonkhwa XI) salman butt is a looser captain there is no place for farhat, akmal bothers & butt is not confirmed player in the team but now captain shame on PCB (Punjab Cricket Board)

  • Aravind on August 18, 2010, 8:23 GMT

    @TexanBlue I think probably he missed out on framing the right phrases.

  • Aravind on August 18, 2010, 8:13 GMT

    Though i am an Indian, i will have to support Pakistan in the 'Haider' incident. It is pathetic that the bias of ICC to the English and Aus teams continue and they say that India has the Power in ICC. Pathetic!!!

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2010, 6:44 GMT

    If I remember this correctly, this is the second time an English bowler throws a ball in a batsman's face. Is it legitimate as per ICC rules? It is good to know because Australians and Indians can also do the same to upset the batsmen. I think this is worser than verbal sledging. But for now, don worry Broady, daddy will look after you...

  • Jawwad on August 18, 2010, 3:27 GMT

    You didn't mention if the throw by Broad that had particulary injured Haider for good eventually turned out to be turning point in the match was infact dileberate or a strategic one? The lad missed out on debut century too. We've been seen British doing this since 1757.

  • sirasa on August 17, 2010, 22:31 GMT

    pakistan have been a great team .....they will recover soon

  • Badar on August 17, 2010, 20:24 GMT

    What is Salman Butt trying to do by saying "No team in the World can beat Eng in Eng?" And that, too, on the eve of a test? What kind of a message is he conveying to his team with these kind of words? If he's already giving up even before the toss then that clearly shows his negative mindset and his cowardness will bring his team down again. He's already not leading from the front by not scoring runs and showing a very negative body language on the field. Even if you think that your opposition is stronger than you, you still give your best fight on the field, just like Ajmal and Haider did in the last test. The PCB's ego is taking pak cricket down the hill very rapidly. This team is totally not competitive at the Test level and must take a break like Zimbabwe did a few years ago else reinstate Younis as the captain for Tests and draft in players who understand the endurance of tests. Don't go in a Test with ODI and T-20 specialists. We discarded Kaneria but ECB showed faith in Cook.

  • David on August 17, 2010, 18:51 GMT

    Punjab 11 will lose again!!!!!!

  • A on August 17, 2010, 18:15 GMT

    I can not believe Stuart Broad got away with just a fine after the ridiculous behaviour he displayed throwing the ball at a debutant. It was completely against the spirit of cricket and sportsmanship. He should have at the very LEAST got a one match ban and given a public apology, in addition to the ban. Because of his petulant throw, Pakistan's star batsman from the game has been injured and will need to miss the game! Yet, Broad is back to play. I think this is a travesty. The decency of the Pakistan management to not make a big deal out of this is highly admirable, but I think they should have pressed for a serious review of Stuart Broad. What he did is essentially walking up and hitting a player to injure him from further play. That is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable. It is violence and aggression that is bordering on illegal. I am extremely disappointed in anybody in the English team who supports his place in the squad. He should be axed immediately. Absolutely pathetic.

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