West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua, 1st day February 15, 2009

Strauss takes the bull by the horns

"There are two ways to come back from what happened last week. One is to go into your shell and try and get runs and the other is to take the bull by the horns and say 'I'm going to get runs' and that's certainly the kind of mindset I was in" © Getty Images
The strongest leaders respond at a time of crisis and if ever England needed a captain's innings this was it. In the last week alone, they have been humbled for 51, their third lowest Test total, and been involved in the shortest match in history after the outfield farce of two days ago. Through it all the players have had to remain focused on their challenge, trying to claw back a series deficit, and in compiling a magnificent 169 - one of his finest centuries - Andrew Strauss has shown that he has the strength and character to turn the team's fortunes around.

He looked under pressure in Kingston and few could have blamed him given his rapid elevation to the top job. However, two painful innings suggested the weight of the role was heavy on Strauss's shoulders. The way he cut, drove and pulled here was the innings of a man lifting the burden off in the most convincing of styles.

It was one of those days where nearly everything went right for him, including losing the toss after he admitted he, too, would have bowled first, and he also received a life on 47. "I was very keen to field first when I came to the ground, but by the toss it was a bit more 50-50," he said. "I probably would have done, so it was a good toss to lose."

Perversely, the mad scenes of the last couple of days - with a Test being moved to a new venue in less than 48 hours - could have helped England. Being the visitors, and also the batting team when the match was abandoned on Friday, meant none of the controversy rested with them. They were just the unfortunate other half. Also, how many people have mentioned 51 all out in recent days? No longer has it been the talk of the town thanks to the extra-large sandpit a few miles down the road.

Although Strauss made back-to-back hundreds in Chennai in December they were far more grafting innings, perfectly suited to the occasion but devoid of flair. This 278-ball innings was the free-flowing Strauss of 2004 and 2005, the one that marked his debut with a hundred against New Zealand at Lord's. And in terms of tone-setting pace this was comparable to his hundreds at Johannesburg on the tour of South Africa and at The Oval during the 2005 Ashes.

"There are two ways to come back from what happened last week," he said. "One is to go into your shell and try and get runs and the other is to take the bull by the horns and say 'I'm going to get runs' and that's certainly the kind of mindset I was in. Generally as a team we were positive, but in a controlled way which is the right way to be."

Any captain likes to get any early century under his belt. It stamps his authority and means he doesn't have to answer questions about justifying his own form while trying to lead the side. An early ton, however, is no guarantee of a successful reign. Kevin Pietersen marked his first Test in charge with a century at The Oval followed by another two games later in Mohali and now he is back in the ranks. Strauss, though, is set for the long haul and his innings today provides a foundation on which his authority on the side can be built.

"We've had a hard couple of weeks. After being bowled out 51 in the last Test you want to come out and play positively and prove to everyone that as a batting unit we have a lot of good players," he said. "In that respect it's very satisfy. As a captain it's always important to get runs and lead from the front, but I've felt in pretty good form all tour so I knew that if I backed my game plan that runs would come."

Despite his double failure in Kingston, any doubts about his batting pedigree as captain would have been very premature. When he previously took charge in 2006 he scored two hundreds against Pakistan including, like Pietersen, one in his first Test, at Lord's. When he was denied the Ashes captaincy that winter his form went into a protracted slump that cost him his place. On his return he was a different player, more conservative and less cavalier (not that he was ever the most gung-ho) but this was a reincarnation of a younger Strauss.

When at his best, Strauss sees the ball early and relies largely on three basic strokes; his drive, cut and clip. However, his game was so strong on this occasion that the pull was also impressive, especially the one through mid-on to move to 99, until the tired effort that brought his downfall. The footwork was crisp and sharp, especially impressive when he came down the pitch to the spinners. One such shot, a lofted straight drive to fittingly bring up England's 100, went clean out of the ground and bounced into Factory Road. If he managed that at the Sir Vivian Richard Stadium it would have landed in scrub land. It said a lot about why so many people are pleased cricket is back at the ARG.

And on a day bathed in memories, England came up with a few comparisons of their own. In 1994 they responded to being bowled out for 46 in Trinidad by reaching 299 for 5 at the close on the opening day in Barbados. They had also been put in, by Richie Richardson, before Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart opened with a stand of 171. They went onto win the match handsomely so the omens are good for England. All that, though, is for the future. Today was about England getting their tour back on track. They needed someone to lead from the front, and in Strauss they found the perfect man.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo