England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 4th day August 7, 2006

Positive Strauss gunning for victory

Andrew Strauss: leading from the front © Getty Images
Positivity. It's the buzzword of this Test match. Ian Bell reeked of it in his first-innings century, Faisal Iqbal and Kevin Pietersen have been bubbling over with it in their match-long slanging match, and it was the source of Monty Panesar's success in inhospitable conditions over the weekend, as he kept Pakistan in check with a relentlessly accurate attacking line.

And it was noticeable this evening how the same attitude had rubbed off on Andrew Strauss, as he sized up the prospect of a series-clinching victory. "I think I'd just make us favourites," he grinned, after setting his side up with his second hundred of the series. "It's going to be a good day's Test cricket, we're excited about it, and the team that plays the best is likely to win the game."

You've got to speculate to accumulate, as the old saying goes, and perversely Pakistan's achievement in bowling England out could well have done their opponents a favour. All four results are now possible, but on a wearing pitch and with Inzamam-ul-Haq struggling with a chest injury, a pursuit of 323 - the second-highest run-chase in Headingley's illustrious history - ought to be a chase too far.

Especially if England are up for the challenge. Strauss's century was his second second-innings hundred in three matches (and his fourth out of ten overall) but this was a return to the buccaneering strokeplay of his epic tour of South Africa two winters ago. Width - of which there could be plenty - was dispatched with a withering cut; length - which slipped further back the more furious Mohammad Sami, in particular, became - was hoisted into the gaps in the leg-side.

It wasn't that Strauss really meant to get on with it, but with Marcus Trescothick struggling once again to be his usual dominant self, it just panned out that way. "There's a pretty small margin for error for bowlers," he explained. "If it's short, there's a good chance to score, but if they do get it in the right spot, it's very difficult for the batsman. Tomorrow, the balance between attack and defence is going to be important, but having won the last Test, there's a great feeling we can win tomorrow as well."

England scored their runs at a fair clip throughout the day, at a shade under four an over in the final analysis, and much of that owed to a fine performance from Chris Read, who overcame his early nerves to compile a brisk and attacking maiden half-century. "It was a very good innings under pressure," said Strauss. "He felt he needed to show people that he can bat at this level, and he did a very good job today by being positive. Which is the way he's always played for Notts, and the way that is most likely to be successful for him."

The England performance had a very different feel from the plodding uncertainty that they showed in similar circumstances at Lord's in the first Test, when the declaration was delayed so long that stalemate was the only realistic result. "The good thing [about being bowled out] is that it potentially gives us two cracks with the new ball," said Strauss, a factor that Bob Woolmer at Lord's cited as essential to any fourth-innings victory. "But from our point of view there's enough in the wicket to believe there's ten wickets out there if we bowl well."

The key to victory may well be Panesar, whose nagging accuracy allied to the odd hint of uneven bounce could unsettle a team that is notoriously uncertain against left-arm spinners. "It's not quick turn, so the spinners have still got to work hard," added Strauss, "but if he bowls like he did in the first innings, there's no reason why he can't get three or four wickets. He's bowled outstandingly, combining two roles of keeping them quiet and being attacking at the same time, on a wicket that didn't really suit spin bowling. It's been an outstanding effort, and hopefully the pitch will deteriorate more and he can be one of our matchwinners."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo