Strauss puts pressure on IPL stars
Andrew Strauss has a "fairly good idea" who will be batting No. 3 for England against West Indies and hinted that those candidates in county cricket could edge ahead of those plying their trade in the IPL.
Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell, Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara are all options at three and while the first two have started the domestic season, Shah and Bopara - along with Test certainties Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood - are in South Africa with their IPL franchises.
Bell has begun the summer with a bang, scoring 172 in the Championship and 108 in the Friends Provident Trophy, while Vaughan hit a polished 43 against Durham on Sunday. Meanwhile, Shah couldn't get a game in Delhi Daredevils' opening encounter against Kings XI Punjab, for whom Bopara was opening the batting
"I suppose there is a slight advantage about being back in England and pushing your claim forward," Strauss said. "Obviously if someone is back in England getting hundreds they are pushing their claims whereas for others who aren't it's harder for them to push their claims, especially if they are not playing."
Strauss also warned that it was the responsibility of the players at the IPL to make sure they were in right frame of mind for a Test by May 6. "The challenge for the guys over there, and it's an important one, is to adapt their game from playing Twenty20 to a Test match the following week," he said. "That's on their shoulders and they need to do that, but they are all good enough players. They are aware of what is required."
Of those chasing the No. 3 berth Bell has made the ideal start with his two centuries for Warwickshire, but Strauss added that other factors will come into the final decision which leaves the door open for Vaughan's experience.
"I doubt we'll be basing selection purely on early-season runs. I think we have a fairly good idea which direction we need to go in.
"It's fantastic that Belly has come back and hit the ground running, he had a very frustrating tour [in West Indies] to be fair. The one thing we said we wanted from him was hundreds and he's demonstrated his ability to do that and hopefully it will continue.
"Michael Vaughan hasn't had much of a chance to bat so far, we all know what qualities he brings, but that No. 3 spot is a hotly contested one with Owais Shah the man in possession and Ravi Bopara, who came in in West Indies and got a hundred. That's four good options for one place and it will be a tough decision."
Strauss will play one match before the first Test, against Leicestershire next week, when he is set to open the batting alongside Phil Hughes, Australia's rising star, who has arrived for his six-week stint with Middlesex.
Hughes' deal with Middlesex was signed before he stormed onto the international scene, by becoming the youngest batsman to score twin hundreds, in his second Test against South Africa, at Durban. However, his brief move to north London has still stirred controversy ahead of the summer's Ashes series.
Hughes will have three Championship matches for Middlesex alongside a host of one-day games before his spell ends on May 31, but Strauss insists Hughes' time in the domestic scene won't have a major bearing on the Ashes and could even be used to England's advantage.
"Of course a young guy like him who hasn't played in England can get some real benefits from playing here for six weeks," Strauss said. "The other side of it is that both Middlesex and other teams will pick out potential weaknesses that may not have been seen before. It's a double-edged sword.
"The Ashes series is later in the summer so we don't have to worry too much about his form at this stage. Middlesex signed him before he played for Australia so they didn't go into it with any malicious intentions."
Hughes, less than 24 hours after stepping off his flight from Australia, was unflustered about the prospect of English bowlers having an extra look at him. "I'm not worried about that," he said. "They can get the videos and go through the South African series. All the teams do that now, but I'm not worried about it at all. On a personal level it's about getting to know the conditions."
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo