West Indies v England, 5th Test, Trinidad, 1st day March 6, 2009

Strauss savours the purplest of patches

Andrew Strauss endured a nudge-and-nurdle day, but finished in the runs once again © AFP
It's a wonder there are any questions left to ask Andrew Strauss. When he took on the England captaincy he was always going to become a regular with the media because of all the preview and post-match duties that surround a Test, but Strauss's three first-day hundreds have meant he has never been far away from a camera or a notebook during the games themselves.

Strauss, though, has been through enough tough times to know that he should enjoy the success while it lasts. His third ton of this series made it five in his last 12 innings dating back to his twin efforts in Chennai in December, as he moves up the list of England century-makers to be level with Denis Compton on 17. This latest century was very similar to those two innings in India, coming on a low, slow surface that is already suggesting it could offer more to the spinners as the game goes along.

"It's been an incredible little run for me, a purple patch," Strauss said. "And having been through a couple of difficult patches in my career I suppose you appreciate them a little bit more, and maybe that makes you hungrier to take advantage when you are in good form."

This is the second time Strauss has registered three centuries in a series following his impressive efforts on the 2004-05 tour of South Africa. On that trip he was still a relatively fresh face to international cricket and each new attack he came up against had yet to work him out. They often fed his strengths square of the wicket, but slowly the top bowlers cottoned on to his weaker areas and exploited them. Now, though, his reinvention is seemingly complete and he is a batsman capable of responding to conditions.

Whereas in Antigua and Barbados the drive and cut were in regular use, here it was more of a nurdle-and-nudge day for Strauss as a lack of pace made timing difficult and Chris Gayle set defensive fields. He still managed to score all around the wicket, but 67 singles in his unbeaten 139 show how hard he was made to work.

"It's a slow attritional wicket, but there are certainly signs of turn there in the evening session and on day one that's a nice situation for us to have," he said. "But we have to set the game up well, we've had a good first day but need to keep doing that. It's going to be hard work again, we aren't going rip through them, but I think we have the armoury to take those 20 wickets."

It was a hot day's work as well with Strauss taking every opportunity to towel down. Owais Shah felt it more than most and for the second time in his short Test career he was forced to retire hurt with serious cramps that left him on a drip in the dressing room.

"The conditions today were exceptionally hot and humid and they are the conditions when if anything is going to happen it will be here," Strauss said. "He's fine now, he's been on a drip and the cramps have gone but it is a bit of an issue and he needs to work out how to manage it."

On the previous occasion cramps hit Shah in a Test, against India in Mumbai on his debut in March 2006, he was also batting alongside Strauss. If England are looking for promising omens, Strauss scored a hundred in that match and they won to famously square the series, with a little help from Johnny Cash.

England have a lot to do if they are to repeat that performance and retain the Wisden Trophy, but once again their captain has provided the ideal start. His personal success may mean a few extra media duties, but if the runs keep flowing he won't mind talking about it. What would make it even more special is, if the next time he speaks, he can reflect on victory as well.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo