England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day May 28, 2012

Strauss' new Australians ready for South Africa

After proving their mastery over West Indies, England's only doubts surround No. 6 - and here the selectors might just get lucky once again

Finally, England pushed the door open good and proper. At Lord's the gulf between the sides was evident but not cataclysmic. Here at Trent Bridge it has been as near as damn it. A pity, frankly, because there are signs - I know, we keep saying it but there are signs - that West Indies are on a better track. Clearly there is stomach for the fight and a long process of learning has brought fruit, most especially with Marlon Samuels and Kemar Roach. The trouble is that though heart and spirit matter, talent matters more and these two stand alone. Mind you, England have got a few teams covered on that one.

First then to Andrew Strauss, who must wonder about the madness of it all. One minute looking down the barrel, the next tapping on the shoulders of Walter Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott at the top of the list of England's hundred-makers. Lucky for him to have the opportunity to go past such names this summer. Even luckier to have been born of equable temperament - not too low a month back, not too high now.

He really is a crackerjack leader, not least when it comes to controlling the lads during those tricky DRS moments. By heaven Stuart Broad throws his weight at these, which isn't to say that Graeme Swann and Matt Prior are backward in coming forward with their enthusiasm. Strauss has to decipher, digest and decide quickly. He calls it right so often it's creepy. Maybe he gets inside an umpire's head as easy as that of an England cricketer. Seriously, this is a science that when so carefully explored and applied is worth a wicket or two.

Come to think of it, can you recall seeing Strauss flustered by anything? I can't, certainly not by his own. He likes it that the players express themselves. Indeed, one senses a quiet amusement at the self-fulfilling prophecies around him. He is top dollar with his men, with the media and, thankfully, with the bat once more. If there is a grumble, it is about an oddly unimaginative tactical eye. Swann did not bowl until after lunch today, which would be a surprise on the first morning of a Test, never mind the fourth with England straining for a breakthrough. At the risk of repeating this column of a week ago after the win at Lord's, the very best thing Strauss has done, with Andy Flower tight at his side, is to create an environment in which opinion, trust, discipline and flair have equal measure.

Now to the future. England have a very different test to come against South Africa, a team that almost exactly mirrors their own. Varied and productive batting, classy and accurate fast bowling, high quality ground fielding and close catching. Swann offers more to his captain than Imran Tahir if the pitches are as usual. Should it become a very dry summer, Imran may have more of an impact but, then, so might reverse swing. Jacques Kallis is the trump card of course: a better fourth seamer than any at England's disposal, a keen student of reverse swing and a master batsman. West Indian batting technique is woeful, South Africa's, best illustrated by Kallis, anything but.

The point here is England's one Achilles heel, the No. 6 spot. The selectors might have got lucky with Ravi Bopara's injury, so eager were they to look at Jonny Bairstow's exuberant talent. Now they might be lucky again with Bopara's impending return to arms. Bairstow's short-ball problem against Kemar Roach - it is a wicked short ball by the way, genuinely fast, skiddy and throat high - will have dented the Yorkshire tyro's pride and may well have compromised the selectors' faith. Not long-term but right now. The consequence of which may be to Bopara's profit. If so his lively, swinging medium-pacers could be as handy for Strauss as a more experienced batting technique will be for a middle order that is sure to be thoroughly worked over by South Africa's hunting pack.

This is conjecture, of course, and there is still another match against West Indies to be put away, one in which Bairstow will almost certainly have the chance of reply. What we know as fact is that England, like all really good teams, know their moment and up the ante accordingly. The third evening was a classic of its type: a weak team in deficit and a limited time to play. In went England for the kill - swift, lethal. Thrilling to watch actually, in the way that the Australians were for so long. There is no higher praise than that.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on May 31, 2012, 20:35 GMT

    @5wombats - Wasn't here for the pre India series banter but I've obviously seen what's gone on ever since. I half agree that to be compared to the Aus and WI great sides we have to start doing better in SC. Personally I was mortified with out batting in UAE and I felt we should have had little trouble with SL and the draw was only good because it preserved our number 1 ranking. But you're right in that we don't actually have to beat SA to earn our number 1 spot but if we lose the series it's gone and deservedly so. I agree that a number 1 side should not be losing a series 3-0 but by the same token it should also be winning more series than it's drawing.

  • Martin on May 30, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    @JG270 hey mate! Just so you know - this time last year all the india fans were on here bigging it up about what they were going to do to England, and how England had to beat india in order to be considered "number one". We whitewashed them. Then they all became Pakistan fans and said we have to "win in the Sub-continent" to be considered number one. Well, we got whacked in the UAE but did get a win in Sri Lanka to draw the series there. Now that they are all South Africa fans they say stuff like "you have to beat SA in order to be number one". Then we get the usual one; "You have to beat india in india to be number one". What makes india think they are so important? It doesn't matter what England do because after everything they will still say "ah - but you aren't as good as the Great Aussies - so that still makes England rubbish". It doesn't matter what England do or who they beat. When you poke a one-eyed man in the eye he goes blind. That's what has happened here.

  • John on May 30, 2012, 20:53 GMT

    @Chithsabesh Sivasankar Bharadwaj on (May 30 2012, 16:23 PM GMT) - Sorry but where does 5W say that winning in India is not important ? He just says that it is not SO important , meaning that it is no more important than winning in Australia , SA or any other country. So what is being said is that winning in India isn't the be all and end all but winning as many series as possible to try and preserve our ranking is more important. If (and it's a big if) we beat SA at home and then lose to India away (apart from all the tasteless comms we'd get - which we get anyway) I'd be quite content. Obviously we want to win every test match we play.

  • John on May 30, 2012, 20:53 GMT

    @RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on (May 29 2012, 03:59 AM GMT) PS I actually just looked at the Aus team which lost that series to SA and it seems that most of the big guns had retired before that series. Funny how folk (not you , but others) notice that the greats like Gilchrist , Langer , Mcgrath and Warne had retired when Eng beat them but did not notice that they were missing from that SA series

  • John on May 30, 2012, 20:43 GMT

    @GeorgeWBush on (May 29 2012, 19:48 PM GMT) Truth is Eng just have to do better than their nearest rivals to keep their number 1 ranking. But if they want to be remembered as greats they do need to improve in SC

  • John on May 30, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    @RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on (May 29 2012, 03:59 AM GMT) SA are a very tough side but re beating sides away from home who of note have SA actually beaten in the last few years well it would have been Australia in Jan 09.As with their home series they draw most of them. Please look up the stats if you don't believe me. And even if SA were doing as well away from home as folk seem to have a perception of them doing they still can't afford to draw series at home. I do agree that beating a top side away from home by a slender margin is better than thrashing a minnow at home but truth is that despite all their great players - for whatever reason - SA are neither thrashing teams at home nor beating decent sides away from home. Having said that , they are an extremely tough side to beat and it could all finally fall into place for them on this tour.

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2012, 16:23 GMT

    @5wombats winning in England is important for other teams i agree but telling Winning in India is not Important is frankly ridiculous. So say If England gets beaten in India its not important is it.

  • Randolph on May 30, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    Another problem with this article is that Mark Nicolas mentions the English side. How can this be a great English side when only about half of the team are actually English?

  • Randolph on May 30, 2012, 8:53 GMT

    @5wombats, @jmc, @ landl - welcome back friends!!! We missed you over the period of the entire Pakistan series and half the SL series. How were your no doubt 'coincidental' holidays?!

  • Randolph on May 30, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    I was going to say South Africa are the new Australians, but then I realised England and South Africa are interchangable anyway.

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