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Andrew Strauss's century silences critics

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Tom Fordyce | 20:29 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2012

Lord's has seen bigger hundreds. It has seen more important hundreds. But the standing ovation that Friday's full house gave Andrew Strauss as he celebrated his first Test century in a year-and-a-half was as long and as loud as any at headquarters in an age.

It wasn't just that the skipper's unbeaten 121 put his side in complete control of this first Test, with a lead of 16 and seven first-innings wickets in hand.

It was a collective celebration, a sympathetic sigh of relief, that one of England's most popular leaders had finally emerged from the most prolonged and agonising slump of his career.

"Outwardly you're always going to say you're playing well, that you're just one innings from playing as well as you ever have," says Alec Stewart, England's most capped player and here at Lord's as an analyst for the BBC.

"But inwardly you are asking yourself questions. Am I still good enough? When will these runs come?

"Inside he would have been hurting, and in a way a little embarrassed that he hadn't been offering enough to his side as a batsman. He needed this score to put the whispers to bed.

"It's not just his technique that has been examined over the past year-and-a-half. The longer his barren run has gone on, the more the mental side of his game will have been tested too."

Strauss struck the 20th century of his Test career. Photo: PA

For a large part of his Test career, Strauss has excelled at converting good starts into big scores. At the end of the last Ashes in England he had made hundreds on 18 of the 32 times he had passed 50.

The problem since then has not been as straightforward as a dearth of runs. In the 16 Tests since his previous Test century in Brisbane he has averaged 28 - not a great return, but by no means a disaster.

It is more that he had lost the ability to build big scores from promising foundations. Since the winter of 2009 he had gone past 50 a commendable 14 times but gone on to a century only once.

"This innings was as good as you'll see, because of the way he made the runs," says Stewart. "He played like a man who knew he was going to get a hundred.

"He played down the ground beautifully, put away the short balls and seldom looked hurried despite his examination from the pace trio of Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel.

"This was a good day for Strauss to come good. Playing on his home pitch against a lively but less than threatening West Indies bowling attack enabled him to play with confidence and freedom the longer his innings went on.

"He's always been more comfortable with the ball coming on to him. The slower-paced pitches and examination you receive from spin on subcontinent-style pitches are not his first-choice conditions."

Strauss is a normally a non-demonstrative chap, his equitable nature one of the essential attributes in making him such a successful skipper.

He had looked anxious as he closed in, not so much nervous in the 90s as edgy in the 80s. At Birmingham last summer he had fallen for 87 against India, and leaden-footed wafts against Edwards had bowler wailing and batsman self-remonstrating.

His reaction as the ball raced away past gully for the four that brought up his century spoke volumes - of the relief at ending his drought, of satisfaction having batted so chancelessly for so long, and of pleasure at doing so on his home patch, amongst his own.

"When you put away those runs to go past 100, there is a huge adrenaline rush, a great rush of emotion," says Stewart, who famously scored a century in his 100th Test match 12 summers ago at Old Trafford.

"All the pent-up tension suddenly leaves your body. You can actually be a bit shaky afterwards. You have to consciously take a moment to bring yourself back into focus, to bring your heart-rate down.

"Strauss will have felt that release as soon as he hit the ball. He would have known off the bat that it was going for the all-important four. Everything that has been building up and up in his mind for the last 18 months will all have come out at once.

"Everyone on the dressing-room balcony was on their feet. The whole of Lord's was on their feet. It seemed to go on for hours. It was a wonderful moment in Strauss's career."

In only three of Strauss's 20 Test centuries has he gone on to make 150 plus. With the pitch benign, the West Indies attack wholehearted yet impotent and the weekend forecast for sunshine, he will walk out on Saturday knowing he has a wonderful opportunity to surpass his previous best Test score of 177.
"What he needs to do now is build on this tremendous fighting innings," agrees Stewart. "He needs to go on to get one of those Graham Gooch 'daddy' hundreds, and then to take this form into the rest of the summer - because things will get tougher against South Africa."

With this innings Strauss has joined Kevin Pietersen, Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch on 20 England Test hundreds, just two behind joint record-holders Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott.

His current age of 35 was once considered the upper limits for a Test batsman. Two of his recent predecessors as England skipper, Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, had both stepped down at that stage in their careers.

But with Ashes series home and away to follow next year, Strauss is unlikely to be following suit any time soon.

"He has consistently said that he doesn't feel out of form. I don't think he will have worried about being 35," says Stewart, who made his final Test century aged 39.

"Linford Christie said that age was just a number. I prefer to think of it as a unit of experience. If you're 21, you might have more years in the side ahead of you, but you don't have that experience.

"You know when it's time to go. For me it hit me when I was on tour with England in Australia. I got back to the team hotel in Sydney and just knew that I'd had enough.

"Gooch told me that you instinctively know when it's time to retire, and he was right. I just didn't want to tour any more. Others realise they have had enough of the relentless training. Some realise their talent has dropped away just enough to matter.

"You want good players to play for as long as possible. Strauss is nowhere close to being finished."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Well done, Andy!

  • Comment number 2.

    Yeah, good stuff, great knock under immense personal pressure. I know Aggers says there was no "witch-hunt" but there were constant references to his recent form, comments that he MUST get a ton this innings, no pressure then, and suggestions who might take over if/when he fails. Same went for Cook's place in the side a couple of years ago when he had a (relatively) barren spell, to Pietersen when he gets out to a "daft shot" on 98 and further back, to the likes of Flintoff and Botham who have at times struggled for form. Maybe it's the nature of the sport that attracts so much over-analysis but is it just in England where the mood becomes so negative so soon?

  • Comment number 3.

    Didn't Bopara score 3 centuries against this West Indies side?

    Bopara is a terrible international batsman. Consistently under-performs like... Ramprakash and Hick in their time as England batsmen. Always solid in county cricket but against teams of any significance, they don't have the mental strength.

    Strauss?

    He's a bit different to Bopara but I still think it's time to replace him. One century on what was effectively a flat track today is nothing to be amazed at. You had to get yourself out on this pitch today...

    Cook trying to drive before he was settled.
    Trott tried to swing at one...
    Pietersen trying to play an off spinner too aggressively...

    It's no wonder Strauss did well today, he had a point to prove so it made the cricket as dull as dish water because he hardly played any risky shots. Sure, it was needed and sometimes you just can't play those kind of shots but this was a flat track with a West Indies bowling attack that wouldn't have frightened Geoffrey Boycott's mother holding a stick of rhubarb.

    I expect nothing less than a triple century from Strauss on this pitch, it really is runs for the taking. If he gets any less than 200, I suggest dropping him.

  • Comment number 4.

    It's a strange series so far as it still has the feel, not to mention the seasonal weather, of an early season warm-up. England know the attack has little to threaten them. The pitch is sedate, easy paced so fine to survive on but not a pitch that's going to cheer up those who like the ball coming off the bat a little harder. All of the England dismissals you could put down to a lack of patience on a stodgy wicket. KP's dismissal had a certain inevitability to it.

    This innings certainly isn't the full return of Strauss. It's a good knock in tepid conditions, a net session conducted out in the middle. It's certainly not been a knock under the same pressure as, say, Collingwood's sensational ton against the Saffers last time they were here. To my mind there was never any doubt about his place in the side or his position as captain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Haha, Thats pretty funny stuff Andy.

    Strauss is in the final furlong of an accomplished career, however he still has much to offer England over the next year or 2 i'm sure, not least in ensuring that he steps down at the right time and provides a smooth transition to Cook (presuming he is the next captain).

    In the meantime lets hope he still has plenty of days like today to remind us what a fine batsman he is, and has been for England

  • Comment number 6.

    Odd coincidence there, I was referring to Andy @post 3 not post 4. Just to avoid any confusion

  • Comment number 7.

    I hope comment 3 was a joke.

    "Bopara is a terrible international batsman"

    Why does Bopara keep getting stick? Okay, he didn't perform well against Australia in 2009 playing badly out of position, but let's be fair to the guy. He had a bad series as a youngster making his debut in Sri Lanka, where he was admittedly, well out of his depth, before he gained some experience and earned a run in the team where he scored three successive centuries against the Windies. At that point, he was heralded as the solution to the Number Three problem that had been an issue in the team since Vaughan retired, which it turned out was far much pressure to put on a talented batsman being played far too high up the order (many pundits had even suggested this at the time) and he was subsequently exposed against Australia. He has only played in one test since then (three years ago) against India at Edgbaston where England were 596 for 4 (a 372 first innings lead) by the time he came out to bat. On what basis then is he not cut out for Test batting? His ODI record and first class average tell us, contrarily, that he could be a very good Test player and a useful bowling option (a la Collingwood).

    "Didn't Bopara score 3 centuries against this West Indies side?"

    The only bowler featuring in both the 2009 Windies side and this one is Fidel Edwards, so this is clearly a moot point. In my opinion, the current bowling attack is probably the better one (at least in terms of potential), so I feel that this comment unnecessarily degrades Strauss' achievement today.

    Clearly, the Windies attack, though promising, is not yet a major force in these conditions. Furthermore, Strauss clearly prefers playing against pace attacks. However, a hundred should always be applauded, because, as the other batsman that have failed to score hundreds here have proven, it always requires skill, application and hard-work. If hundreds were easy, all the England batsman would have made one today rather than being sat in the pavillion. Strauss may not be one of the world's best openers, but he is a very good one and I, for one, cannot think of a better English opener or captain to take Strauss' place at the moment (who are the alternatives? Carberry? Root?). Let's just celebrate his achievement and hope that his form continues at least until the end of the next Ashes!

  • Comment number 8.

    Well done Strauss! I can't be the only who is heartily sick of the constant carping about the England captain's "failure". Cricket is like that, you have periods of bad form as a batsman where the difference between your best and current form might almost be a matter of luck. The great players come through it and deliver once more. Strauss is in that category, unlike his critics!

  • Comment number 9.

    Class is permanent.
    Congratulations to centurion Andrew Strauss.
    Wishing the England skipper all the very best.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm pleased for Strauss. he is a good captain and a good guy.

    That said, a century against the worst WI attack in living memory (i'm 36) isn't too much to shout about. Luckily for England the WI don't have a decent spinner. As soon as we play a team with a good spinner the batting shortcomings will be exposed again.

    Still this is good for the gutter press i suppose, build them back up after crushing a terrible WI side to knock them down again when they inevitably fail against a good team with a good spinner.

    Personally, i would've brought in more youngsters for this series as the WI are there for the taking. I would've dropped Bell & Prior too and given more youngsters a go. I'll let you debate which ones.

  • Comment number 11.

    A real Captain's innings - gives Bairstow a great spot to come in and bat on his Test debut, too ! Runs on the board, no pressure.

  • Comment number 12.

    Wonderful century, wonderful skipper and what a top bloke!

    Andy 1005, what complete rubbish

  • Comment number 13.

    #3 what a load of utter rubbish. You've clearly never played cricket to any sort of decent standard, and your comments show you have little, if any, knowledge of the game. Go and troll somewhere else.

  • Comment number 14.

    It's far too early to say he's silenced his critics. He should be scoring runs against this West Indies side in May, especially on his home ground. The real test will come later in the summer.

    To my mind, the criticism has been entirely justified, because his form hasn't been great for a couple of years...averaged 25 against Pakistan (2 series), 17 against South Africa and 17 against Sri Lanka. It was 38 against India, but that only included one 50. That's just not good enough for an opener.

    That said, I like him as a person and a player, and there isn't anyone knocking the door down to take his place, so I hope this century isn't just a blip.

  • Comment number 15.

    #10, the West Indies have a reasonable spinner, or at least one who took 10 wickets in his last match against Australia (Shillingford). They didn't pick him because (Pietersen vs SLA aside) England don't show much weakness against spin outside of the subcontinent.

    Bell had a shocker in the UAE and Sri Lanka, but he was hardly alone. Before that, he was England's form batsmen. Let's give him a chance to get that back, rather than dropping him. I also can't see anyone breaking down the door for Prior's place... if you're thinking of Bairstow, I would rather see him dropped entirely rather than given that level of responsibility straight away.

  • Comment number 16.

    @10 - I think that you have your interpretation of Englands batting weakness slightly wrong there.

    If England failed everytime they came up against a team with a good spinner then we wouldnt have spent the last 2 summers notching up big scores against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Whilst there is a bit of a dearth of world class spinners at the moment these are the teams that outside of Swann himself possess the best spinners and England consistently played them easily and scored big.

    There are also players in this side that have scored 100's whilst facing the likes of Warne and Muralitharan.

    The problem for England is against all styles of quality bowling on Subcontinetal style wickets (Remember that Umar Gul had great success over the winter as well). Its something they'll have to try and address and work out a strategy to combat once the summer is over.

    For now the threat comes from pace (of varying quality) and thats what the batsmen need to focus on.

  • Comment number 17.

    I remember Mark Taylor, an Aussie skipper that England fans took to their hearts, going through a similar crisis and ending it in England (can't remember which ground he finally got his ton ... Edgbaston?). But he got the kind of ovation reserved for pretty special performers. The Lord's crowd did Strauss proud. I was chuffed.

  • Comment number 18.

    @10 I accept your point. In England I'd be confident of us playing anyone.

    However, if we went to the subcontinent again i'm pretty sure our batting would crumble. Prior and Bell are the kind of players that are great when the game is going well. at 350-5 Prior will come in and slap a quick 50. However, at 100-5 he rarely digs us out of a hole. I'm not saying drop them, i'm just saying playing the WI at home is a good opportunity to give some more youngsters a go to see what they're capable of.

  • Comment number 19.

    #7.

    Not sure that #3's joking! In any event, I agree that Bopara gets too much stick. Read an article recently about the effort Ravi made as an inner city kid trying to overcome the complete lack of resources to help him achieve what he was really good at: playing with a bat and a tennis ball wrapped in masking tape.

    All power to him.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great to see. Strauss is popular with the fans and popular with the players. Getting good runs here should put that issue to bed for a bit, and I certainly hope the runs continue to flow in this match and the following ones.

    KP damn near flattened him with that bear hug, heh!

    England in a good position, but need to consolidate that. 16/3 effectively, so let's push on and aim for 200+ to get the squeeze tightly on the Windies to get this won by an innings.

  • Comment number 21.

    Well done to AS to score a century in any game is difficult, however let us put this into perspective, the century comes against an extremely weak Windies bowling attack, and I use the term "attack" very loosely. There was no turn on the batting pitch whatsoever, so all the conditions were extremely favourable, almost setup for him to make his century, it would have been interesting to see what he would have been like against a truly good bowling attack, not where he is given the luxury that the "Windies" allowed him

  • Comment number 22.

    @18 I think that's a bit of a misconception about Prior. Yeah his specialty is scoring quick runs...very quick runs...but there have been a few times just over the last 18 months when he's scored runs when we've been in trouble. Anyway on those occasions, I'd be questioning the batsmen that put us into the hole more than his ability to dig us out of it.

    Bell has also shown more mental fortitude over the last couple of years, apart from over the winter of course.

  • Comment number 23.

    It's a bit sad to see the current state of West Indies cricket after their glorious past. However, I remember 1984 when the Windies attack seemed intent in "knocking the block" off each and every English batsmen and wishing we had a bowling attack that could do that so maybe what goes around comes around.

    Anyhow, England need to win this match and that will allow them to try and get the rest of the players e.g. Swann in to form before we face a far sterner test against South Africa.

    By the way has anyone seen a Lords pitch with so little bounce? The keepers need helmets on their gloves to avoid serious numbers of broken fingers. Surely the groundsman could produce a better surface than this one?

  • Comment number 24.

    Andy1005

    Nonsense!

  • Comment number 25.

    He's saved his place with that knock but it will be interesting to see how he does against the Proteas, if he fails then, against a good attack compared with the impotent WI bowlers then we should look seriously at replacing him.

  • Comment number 26.

    7. At 00:19 19th May 2012, ZQLE170 wrote:

    "Why does Bopara keep getting stick? His ODI record and first class average tell us, contrarily, that he could be a very good Test player"

    Errr... have you seen his ODI record? He has batted 67 times, averages 30 at a strike-rate of 75 (less than Trott). No hundreds, just 8 fifties at an average of one every 8 games.

    He's done reasonably well over the past year with a few half-centuries, although the tour of India (av ~ 18) was a big reminder of his inconsistency.

    In total, he's batted over 100 times for England and has very little to show for it. The only reason, I presume, that he's still around is that he can bowl - as you said, a la Colly.

    A pity, because in theory he's the perfect #6 for us and, based on his Essex career and talent, should be playing all formats.

  • Comment number 27.

    Vaughn denied saying he wanted Strauss gone and its true, I've never heard him say any such thing, he's been fair regarding Strauss's form.

    Aggers on the other hand cannot claim the same. He has been like a monk on a mission, seemingly intent on collecting as many opinions against Strauss as he could find.

    He has'nt been finding many. For the last 2 series, I have found Aggers to be a lone campaigner against Strauss. Then he has the front to write a blog yesterday denying everything and talking about how good Strauss is.

    I would respect Aggers a lot more if he had'nt have done that. He has consistently called Strauss' position into question for the last 2 series, so just hold that line Aggers, dont flop like a fish when you come under some scrutiny. Be a man, admit that you've hoping for Strauss to be dropped. And you cant deny a witch hunt when you have asked everybody you have interviewed for the last 2 series about what they think about Strauss, the tone in your voice seemingly hoping for a dissentists opinion. I have noted that you have found short change out of almost everyone you rallied to. In fact Lord Patten positively put you in your place yesterday, Aggers.

    You can do two things for me Aggers. You can either be quiet about Strauss now, or you can apologise to him. I have the feeling you'll take the third option, the option where you deny running a witch hunt against strauss and join back in with the rest of us of supporting our captain. I would actually respect you less for taking that route, as I think you should just slink into the background after your failed coup - or just offer the man his apology.

  • Comment number 28.

    Come on people. Strauss hits one century and what? He's back on form and the future looks bright? Let's not take it further than necessary. If Strauss can consistently play like this throughout the series then there might be reason to write articles and blogs lauding the man.

  • Comment number 29.

    Just Heard Jeff Powell (Tabloid sports hack, no more than that) on Sky TV scoffing at England saying they'd be 2nd or 3rd ranked Test side by the end of the summer.

    He said that in any case they weren't the best side. He must have been alluding to SA. We'll see. Man for man I'd go for England. Not much in it. Cracking series to look forward to.

    Would love England to make Powell eat his words.

 

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