Pakistan v England: Captain Andew Strauss must turn to selfish side to have chance of saving the series

January 19th, 201211:38 pm @


Whether he can do so yet again, after the latest embarrassing meltdown,
depends on two main factors: whether he can play Pakistan’s spin, and
whether he has another major Test innings – a Test hundred – left in him.

An emphatic yes has to be the answer to the question about whether he can play
Saeed Ajmal and his fellow spinners. Only one England batsman has scored two
centuries in a Test in Asia, and that was Strauss in December 2008, on a
Chennai pitch that turned far more copiously than Dubai’s, and against
Harbhajan Singh and the modest Amit Mishra.

But what Strauss is not skilful enough to do – or any of the other England
batsmen, except perhaps Kevin Pietersen or Ian Bell on fire – is to force
the pace against spin on these slow pitches. This is what Strauss tried to
do in Dubai, but did not attempt in Chennai, when he fixed on three scoring
shots and waited for the right ball to play them.

In his first innings here he tried to force the pace, critically, playing a
hoick that did not merit the title of pull. But you can see why: he did not
want the spinners to drag England into quicksand, and tried to lead from the
front, too selflessly perhaps, instead of batting in the manner that suited
him best.

Earlier in the over in which Strauss got out, he had tried a sweep against
Ajmal and missed. Had he not been captain, he would have heeded this warning
and blocked out Ajmal’s over for a maiden, without fretting. Instead, as the
gallant commander, he went for an even higher-risk shot, in an echo of the
Charge of the Light Brigade.

Look at the run-rates of some of England’s other batsmen and you can see why
Strauss tried to avert the danger. Alastair Cook scored eight runs in the
match from 61 balls, Pietersen two singles off 37 balls, and Bell four off
16 balls. That amounts to 14 runs by three usually excellent batsmen off 114
balls, or 19 overs, in Operation Headed Nowhere.

Strauss had scored 25 runs from 59 balls before his dubious second innings
dismissal, given caught down the legside. Strange to relate, on the replay
screen on the ground the Hot Spot showed up clearly, even brightly, on his
trousers – but not on television screens.

In Abu Dhabi Strauss has to bat less ambitiously against Pakistan’s spinners,
getting himself and England’s other batsmen – save Jonathan Trott – into
this series. From the present dire position Strauss might have to settle for
a pragmatic draw there, then press for a series-levelling win back in Dubai.

Then comes the second question. Has Strauss, who has scored one Test century
in the past 30 months, got another left in him, now he is a month away from
turning 35?

His self-belief will surely decide. He had a hard time last summer, passing 50
only once, but it was difficult for the opening batsmen of both sides in the
India series last summer and in the Pakistan series of 2010. There was only
one century for England’s opening batsmen in each of those series, both by
Cook, and two by India’s makeshift opener Rahul Dravid.

That Strauss made his career-best score in first-class cricket only in
September, 241 not out against Leicestershire, suggests the appetite is not
sated and his age not insuperable. But, ultimately, it will hinge on his
self-belief whether Strauss keeps the England captaincy until 2013, maybe to
become the first to win the Ashes three times.

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