England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's May 16, 2012

Strauss not looking too far ahead


With the sun shining on Lord's and Andrew Strauss receiving the ICC Test Championship mace in the rose garden, it would be easy to reach the conclusion that all is well for England cricket.

It is true, too, that the last few years have brought unprecedented success. England have won their first global competition - the World Twenty20 - they have won the Ashes home and away and they have climbed to No. 1 in the official Test and T201 rankings. It is a record of which they are justifiably proud.

Any delusions of grandeur they may have had, however, were dispelled over the winter. Defeat against Pakistan in the UAE - a crushing 3-0 defeat at that - provided a harsh reminder of how far they have to go before they can build the "legacy" of which they have spoken.

Now England find themselves at a crossroads. Win against West Indies and South Africa this summer and they will re-establish their reputation. They will still have questions to answer about their ability to counter good quality spin bowling in Asian conditions but they will at least arrive in India later this year with confidence restored. Lose either series this summer and they will be overtaken in the rankings and their period of supremacy will be regarded in much the same way as a one hit wonder looks back at their music career. Even a draw against West Indies, with the first Test starting at Lord's on Thursday, would see South Africa take top position.

Another series loss may also bring more casualties. Eoin Morgan was the one man to lose his place as a result of the winter's travails, but it was telling that, at the captains' pre-match media conference, it did not take long for questions to turn to Andrew Strauss' own form. England's captain, averaging just 26 over the last year, knows that he is under the spotlight and gave the strongest hint yet that he will reflect on his position as captain at the end of this three-match series.

"It's dangerous to look too far ahead," he said. "Things can change so quickly and if you're too wedded to some ideal moment to go you can be very surprised by it. So the way I'm looking at it really is one series at a time and if I feel like I'm still contributing and helping the side be a better side both as a captain and batsman then I don't see any reason to change things. But we just don't know what's round the corner; we never do."

Perhaps little should be read into such words. Strauss tends to speak in measured tones and use caveats to cover most eventualities. He did accept that the runs had not flowed as he would have liked, but insisted his confidence and his determination remained as high as ever. While he suggested conditions in the county game had not been conducive to batsmen finding their touch, he also knows that the likes of Nick Compton, Joe Root and Varun Chopra are rendering the argument that England do not have suitable top-order replacements redundant.

"I recognise as captain and as an opening batsman that I need to contribute," Strauss said. "I fully intend to do that. I've got no reason in my mind why I shouldn't go on and do that this summer. Hopefully I'll be able to lead from the front with the bat as well.

"It's always a challenge as an opener to score runs. I feel in reasonable form last six months, but 20s and 30s aren't what we're looking for.

"It didn't feel like a witch hunt [being questioned over his form], it just felt like the issue of the day. I think we all know that the only way to switch attention elsewhere is to go out and perform and that's what I intend to do.

"Conditions in county cricket this season have challenged you to look at your technique and, if there are any weaknesses in it, they are going to be exposed. We have been unlucky with the weather but, if you combine the weather and the lack of the heavy roller, then suddenly there have definitely been times when things have been too much in favour of the bowlers. It hasn't been impossible to score runs, but it's all about balance between bat and ball.

"I feel good. The times I've lasted more than 10 balls or so I've felt very good. But it's been the nature of the beast that, early season with the weather we've had, that it's been pretty tough for batting. But I feel well-prepared, I've had a lot of time working on my game in and amongst the games we've played and I'm quite excited to go out there and hopefully have a good season."

England have other issues to resolve before that. They have to pick three from their five seamers - realistically one of Steven Finn, Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan - to play here, while Jonny Bairstow is also set to make his Test debut.

"He's a really exciting talent," Strauss said of Bairstow. "He's shown glimpses of it in the shorter forms of the game and his first-class record is excellent. He can play the game at a number of different paces, as well. For a guy batting at No. 6 that is a great attribute to have. He is young and enthusiastic and it's been great having him around because it just reminds us all how special it is to be representing your country: you can see the excitement on his face. It has been lovely to have him involved. It has come a little bit from leftfield for him but I'm sure if he gets the chance he will make a really good fist of it.

"All five seamers have very strong reasons to be playing in this Test match, but the likelihood is we are going to pick three of them. A lot of it boils down to your gut feeling about who you is going to offer the most in these conditions, but I would be very confident walking out with any of the five that we have here this week.

"The winter was a challenge and we've learned some really valuable things but now it's about reconnecting with what we've done well in these conditions. We're a very confident side and we've got all bases covered in these conditions, but the challenges is to perform. There are always points to prove. We have shifted our attention away from the number one ranking because it's unhealthy to look over your shoulder. It's about us concentrating on improving our own performances. If we can do that then the number one ranking will look after itself."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on May 18, 2012, 20:40 GMT

    @Meety - don't take this the wrong way but as a fellow Aussie do you think you might have a quiet word in Randyoz's shell-like ? Then again , perhaps you enjoy his missives as much as we do ! :)

  • Martin on May 18, 2012, 20:38 GMT

    @RandyOZ - how do you feel now that Strauss is a hundred and something not out? Just keep getting your excuses ready pal - you're going to need them. And as for you @rahulcricket007 - turn your caps lock off.

  • Randolph on May 18, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    You wonder how Strauss can still make the team. I suppose the batting talent is thin in England but surely not this thin?

  • Andrew on May 18, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    @SuperSloMo - obviously opening the batting early in the County season England is tough, however, surely "10 balls or so" is setting the bar a little low? @Slater1 - in 1993, the Windies BEAST Oz, & were still the best side in the world (albeit in decline). But, yes, that Lara innings was gold. I feel Bravo has it in him, too! @pommyadders/jmcilhinney - I think the "plan" will be for Strauss to play through the English summer as captain (fair enuff IMO). I would imagine triggers for a change in plan would be 1) WIndies winning a match or series & Strauss not getting many runs, 2) Straus's scores read like binary code or 3) Pressure to perform from the media getting to Strauss & he retires (mainly from a personal standard POV). Otherwise he'll lead thru the Saffa series, (& if he does well), tour India & possibly defend the Ashes.

  • Aswin on May 17, 2012, 11:07 GMT

    @pommyadders i completely agree wid u 6 tests is a decent run also if he fails until then it will prove dat strauss' time is really up and it will give the new captain some experience before the ashes

  • Adam on May 17, 2012, 10:39 GMT

    Strauss should be given this English summer with no questions over his position. If at the end of it he has made useful contributions then he can asses himself whether to carry on or not. If when the summer is over and he's struggled for runs, then he'll have to call it a day........or have the decision made for him. English cricket owes him a great debt.......six tests to see if he has still got runs in him is well deserved IMO.

  • Santhanam on May 17, 2012, 7:55 GMT

    Flashback to the year 1993. Windies Tour of Australia. Windies were overawed by the Aussie power then. But there was a Star waiting to rise, to take the world by Surprise. He was the Legend 'Brian Charles Lara' who finally arrived in Sydney to make a Majestic 277 in an Innings. Similar circumstarces here in England. Windies are over-awed once again, this time by England. Will there be another Rising Star?? Darren Bravo has shown his Talent in India Series with wonderful centuries. Could this be the Series finally for him to start his journey to greatness. Lets wait n watch!! All the best to Windies team who are slowly climbing the ladder with consistent performances.

  • Simon on May 17, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    Patchmaster - Bell's 100-per-innings ratio is in fact very good - 16 in 125. Miles better than, say Gower's (18 in over 200) and Gooch's (20 in 215) and WAY better than Alec Stewart's 15 in 235. And Athers also got 16, but in more than 200 inns. BUT!! Bell has never really come through the sort of tough conditions those blokes faced, and I agree he needs to prove himself against SAfrica. PS Those laughing at the "10 balls" comment obviously aren't opening batsmen.

  • John on May 17, 2012, 3:41 GMT

    Strauss is 35 now and given that he never had the talent of a Ponting, Kallis or Tendulkar, he's getting near the end of his career. If England beats the WI, he probably stays for the SA series. At the end of that series, if he plays in every test, he will have played exactly 100 tests. That might be a very appropriate time for him to leave- especially if England can beat SA. He's been a very useful batsman (the Player of the Series in the 2009 Ashes being a highlight) and an excellent captain. He'll leave an England team with a solid nucleus for the next few years and a very exciting group of young players coming up. He can look back on a job well done; hopefully he will have a good summer to finish it off.

  • Ed on May 17, 2012, 3:35 GMT

    I think there SHOULD be pressure on Strauss, but I would want to see Bell under MUCH more pressure than Strauss. Bell has had more chances than any player in test history I reckon. His century to innings conversation stat must be the worst in Test Cricket for a specialist batsman ? Bairstow in for Bell please. Bopara just doesn't seem like test material, and he's an awful fielder, Bairstow is a fabulous fielder, behind the stumps or in the circle.

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