There are – in England at least – a lot of people watching. It’s the highest level of the game, it’s hard; many fellow professional cricketers are clamouring for your place. This is the first Test of the summer, at Lord’s. There’s pressure, alright.
There’s obviously a bit extra as an opening batsman. The new nut, first few balls of the innings and all that.
Now imagine you’re also the skipper, and you haven’t had a score for a while.
Forget the tiresome stuff about ‘media pressure’ – as I say, there’s always pressure – the only real stress Andrew Strauss will have felt under will have been his own. He’s a top player, a fine leader, and a proud man. Like anyone else, he needs to be pulling his weight with runs.
After a harrowing winter for himself and the side, and a tricky start to the county season – cleaned up second ball by Graham Onions in April – this is clearly a huge game for him, and a first innings century is not a bad way to respond. Although, notwithstanding Onions nicking him off early at HQ a few weeks ago, Strauss will have been grateful to be playing in the familiar conditions of north London rather than the dustbowls of the UAE.
And today, after Broad removed Shannon Gabriel first ball of the day – Gabriel’s first ever contribution in Test cricket a golden duck – the England captain had his chance. To restore a bit of confidence, and to get the media monkey off his back. Strauss – as he had been before the Test – is the story today, but in far more welcome fashion than has been the case of late. Just as he did in New Zealand a few years ago, he’s made a score when he really needed to. The calm assurance and inner toughness that have helped him lead England to world No.1, coupled with the skills of a world-class batsman, saw the skipper to a welcome century.
It was an encouraging start: a compact straight punch down the ground off Kemar Roach from under his eyes brought him three in the second over, and next over he hit the first in a fine series of innings-defining cover drives for four. Footwork sound, downswing fluent. Just a good batsman, really. Considered a back foot player, he actually scored many more runs on the front foot through the covers than rocking back and hitting square.
Then at one point, confidence growing, he came down the track to West Indies’ offspinner and hit over the top for four. Marlon Samuels at Lord’s a less alien proposition than Saeed Ajmal in the desert, but these at least were signs of clear, positive thinking – hell, even enjoyment.
He had his luck here – edging to first slip on 95 but saved by the double reprieve of an Aleem Dar no ball call and a Shivnarine Chanderpaul drop. It would have been a shame to ruin the fun of Strauss reaching three figures again. And he was grateful: the relief shot through his face in a broad smile when he finally reached the landmark and the Lord’s crowd rose to him as one.
Strauss’s record on his home ground is impressive: he averaged 57.53 here before today and this was his fifth century in 17 Tests, drawing level with KP’s ton total at Lord’s. Only Graham Gooch and Michael Vaughan have more, with six. Strauss might one day look back on stats of such a long term nature with interest and satisfaction.
Today, he’ll just be pleased to have a decent total next to his name and to have helped England into a dominant position. Thousands of England supporters will be too.
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