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England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 5th day

England regain their hunger

Andrew Miller at Headingley

August 8, 2006

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Four run-outs, including three direct-hits, were a testament to England's renewed hunger © Getty Images
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Today a weight had been lifted off England's shoulders, and the spring in the team's step couldn't have been lighter or bouncier if this match had been played on the moon. After a lethargic 11-month period in which they had won just three Tests and no series, here, at last, they put all their recent woes behind them.

If the team was excited then so too were the Headingley faithful, who flocked to the ground in such numbers that the match was declared a sell-out with half-an-hour to go before lunch. "It's fantastic to see a full house on the fifth day of a Test match," said Strauss. "It says a lot for the way the game of cricket is viewed at the moment. Everyone loves to see the England team winning, and we love to feel as though we are being supported."

This match was a resounding triumph for England, because for the first time in a long time, there was no sense that the side was waiting for an injection of inspiration. The Monty and Harmy show at Old Trafford last week could have been written off as a freak if this game had gone awry, but instead their stellar performances had the opposite effect. "Success breeds success," explained Strauss afterwards, as he reflected on a consummate team effort.

"Today was pretty special actually," he added. "We knew that if we did everything right we had a good chance of victory, but that doesn't mean that you expect it to happen. We needed lots of discipline and patience and we got what we deserved. It all comes down to our ability to handle pressure, and did that very well."

Four run-outs in the match, including three direct-hits, are a testament both to the pressure that England exerted and to the discipline that they showed when the opportunities arose. "That's down to a lot of work," Strauss stressed, "it's not just luck. We were really targetting that aspect." But more than anything, it was a sign that the pride and motivation was back in England's set-up, as Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, noted: "After drawing against Sri Lanka then losing [the one-dayers] 5-0, I'm sure they were out to prove to the world and their home public that they are a good side."

Strauss, of course, was at the helm of England's drubbing in the one-day series, but his leadership since then has been a revelation. The stand-in's stand-in is seldom mentioned now - and so too, astonishingly, is that leviathan of a man, Andrew Flintoff.



Monty Panesar: England's source of inspiration in the absence of Andrew Flintoff © Getty Images
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Admit it, at what stage in the last two matches has Flintoff actually, genuinely, been missed? (Other than for his overall talent and geniality, of course.) Ian Bell at No. 6 hasn't left England wanting for anything, while the role of chief crowd-pleaser and general provider of inspiration has passed seamlessly to Monty Panesar. In no way does this suggest that England are better off without him, but in these two games they have at last learned not to lean on him. When you consider how listless the one-day side has invariably been in his absence, that's quite a remarkable feat.

"Freddie leaves a big hole in this team," added Strauss, acknowledging that without the big guy there is no place for the rest of the players to hide. "We knew that all 11 guys had to stand up and be counted and they responded excellently. All 11 performed, and our fielding's been spot-on as well. They can be very happy with themselves this evening."

The success of Strauss's England, however, raises further uncomfortable questions for the team management, who are guilty of being backward in going forward ever since the Ashes. "Now's not the time for anyone to start making a contest of things," pleaded Strauss when the inevitable issue arose, but with one game to go until the Ashes and England back on an even keel at last, surely some stability in the leadership is what the team needs more than anything else.

"Anyone would love to be the England captain," confirmed Strauss. "I don't think that changes whether you've done three Test matches or no Test matches. I've enjoyed doing the job over the last three Tests, but as far as I know, Fred's coming back for the winter. All we want is for the England team to do as well as possible out in Australia."

There's still a nagging sense, however, that the management are dragging their heels, and this was borne out by Strauss's uncharacteristically grudging endorsement of another champion display from Panesar. "Monty's done everything that's been asked of him in this Test match," he flat-batted. "Every game he's played for England, he gets more settled in the side and hopefully he'll get better and better."

Those aren't the words of a proud and forward-planning captain. Those are the words of a man toeing the party line. He was rather more effusive about a fiery performance from Sajid Mahmood, whose pace and hostility was fuelled by some ungenerous cries of "reject" from the Pakistani fans on the fine-leg boundary, but it was Panesar who was once again the difference between the sides, as he took three times as many wickets at Headingley than all other English spinners of the past decade, including the ball of the match to dislodge the Man of the Match, Younis Khan.

Ultimately, it matters not a jot what and how captains speak after they've won a Test series. It's what goes on out on the field that really matters, and Strauss is a man who looked like a leader out there today. He marshalled, and his men responded. "I felt there was a real hunger to win," he concluded. "When we play well, we back ourselves to beat just about any side in the world." Throw a hungry Flintoff back into the ranks, and just watch what might be possible.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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