No headache for Strauss as keeper switch works
Andrew Strauss is very comfortable with England's decision to change their opening batsman and wicketkeeper with the World Cup less than six months away, after Steve Davies, the latest man to take the gloves and slot in alongside the captain, hit 87 off 67 balls in the first one-day international against Pakistan at Chester-le-Street.
It had looked as though the selectors had committed themselves to Craig Kieswetter after rushing him into the one-day side in Bangladesh earlier this year, then rewarding his World Twenty20 form with the gloves against Australia and Bangladesh this season. However, despite hitting a hundred in his third game in Chittagong, Kieswetter failed to take the chances offered to him, and his form faded alarmingly during the one-dayers in mid-summer.
Struggling against Shaun Tait's 95mph outswingers is one thing, but the alarm bells began ringing when he also struggled against the friendlier offerings of Mashrafe Mortaza and Rubel Hossain. Although he was retained for the two Twenty20s against Pakistan, a pair of skittish innings suggested he was still a long way from top form despite returning to Somerset and hitting 80 against Lancashire.
"We felt it needed to be done," Strauss said of the change. "Steve has been in outstanding form for Surrey, and Craig Kieswetter will tell you himself he did not bat as well as he would have liked in the one-day series against Australia and Bangladesh. We made a change, and at the moment we're quite happy with that decision."
Davies also fell cheaply in the Twenty20s, twice picking out fielders on the leg side, but in Durham he took his chance to make an impression with a confident innings which set England on their way to 274 for 6 in 41 overs. With just 11 more ODIs between now and the World Cup England don't have much time to make up their minds over such a key position, but Strauss isn't concerned.
"There are a lot of things that give me headaches. But one of our guys getting 80 off 60 balls is not one of them," he said. "It was an outstanding innings. He's been chomping at the bit to get a chance to play, and has had to wait very patiently.
"He took his chance with both hands today. He's got shots all round the ground - which is important in one-day cricket - and he seems to equally play seam and spin pretty well. It was a great start. He's obviously got a lot to learn at this level, but he's taken a big step forward today."
Davies knows that his latest England selection will allow him a run of matches at least until the end of the season to prove himself compared to the one-off appearances in a Twenty20 against West Indies in Trinidad, and the Champions Trophy semi-final against Australia last year when Matt Prior was ill.
"The two games I played previously, one was when Matty was out and the other was just a one-off Twenty20," he said. "But I feel this is now my time. It's a great chance for me, and I'm really happy with the way things went today."
It highlights the depths to which this tour as sunk, and the gulf between the two sides during the Twenty20 matches in Cardiff, that everyone was relishing the 'contest' on offer in Durham even though England were always well placed for victory as they defended their total. However, it was an improved display from Pakistan as Shoaib Akhtar bowled quickly and without luck, Kamran Akmal hit a half-century and there was some lusty hitting from Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq.
"It was a definite improvement from the Twenty20 and we looked a much better unit," said Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach. "The boys really batted well which is what we've been struggling with. Asad Shafiq has just flown in from Sri Lanka and looked pretty good so there are definite positives out of this game. We could probably have managed to keep 275 down to 250 but that's the way the game is. It was superb cricket from England, they batted superbly up the order and 270 was maybe a touch too many."
And Waqar admitted it will be a challenge for his team to overcome a confident home side. "England, no doubt, are playing superb cricket in Twenty20 as well as one-day cricket," he said. "They're a much better unit. It will take a special performance to beat them, but we looked pretty good and close to beating them. We just need a bit of momentum to go our way and hopefully in the next couple of ODIs if things fall right we can manage to beat them."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo