England captain Andrew Strauss came into the Test series against the West Indies with a big question mark hanging over his form. He answered his critics and removed any seed of doubt about his right to the England captaincy with the only way he knows how – runs. With a stoic century in the first innings of the opening Test at Lord’s followed by another ton in the second Test, Strauss demonstrated that his class is indeed permanent. Denesh Ramdin could take a leaf out of Strauss’s book. The 35-year-old is already looking forward to the big one this summer, a three-match South Africa Test series. Disappointed by England’s lackluster performance in the final washed-out Test, the Middlesex player knows there will be no room for complacency against the Proteas. His opposite number, Graeme Smith, who averages 72 in England, will become the most capped Test captain, surpassing Allan Border, if he plays in all three Tests this summer. He has just been passed fit after recovering from ankle surgery. It was Smith’s South Africa who were the last side to beat England on their home turf, back in 2008. Strauss will be desperate it doesn’t happen again.
Despite a comfortable 2-0 series win over West Indies, the Three Lions batting could come unstuck against South Africa. The Proteas have named an unchanged squad on Wednesday following their last Test series victory against New Zealand. It includes world No1 fast bowler Dale Steyn, the tall Morne Morkel and the second fastest bowler to reach 50 test wickets, Vernon Philander. Meanwhile, England have issues at No6. Jonny Bairstow had a torrid time in his second Test against the short ball and struggled in the most recent match in Birmingham. Ravi Bopara is not proven at Test level and the last time he faced an attack of the quality of South Africa’s, he averaged just 15 – that was against Australia in the 2009 Ashes series.
Ever the entertainer, after the final days play at Edgbaston was washed out, Kevin Pietersen’s somewhat shock decision to retire from limited overs cricket sunk in. When England announced their squad for the forthcoming ODIs against the West Indies, the reality of Pietersen’s decision became a disappointing reality, the squad in black and white and no KP. With 4,184 runs at an average of 41.84 in the 50-over game, Pietersen, just 31, will be sorely missed on the international stage. Few batsman have possessed such natural talent and even fewer have the ability to clear any bar across the world when they walk to the wicket. Coach Andy Flower even went public after England’s most talented batsman quit and said he tried to dissuade him from doing so. Flower says Pietersen will regret it later in life, right now every England cricket fan across the country will watch the next five ODIs thinking about who is absent from the pitch opposed to the players on it.
Despite the rain, and wintery conditions for the Lord’s Test match, the recently concluded series with the West Indies reminded us why the game is worth fighting for. The Caribbean side were massive underdogs, but barring some poor periods of play, went toe-to-toe with the world’s No1 side for large parts of the series. West Indies captain Darren Sammy showed courage to score his first Test, and first-class century, at Trent Bridge. Tino Best’s comeback at Edgbaston, where he broke the record for the highest score by a No11 with a scintillating 95, will be remembered for a long time to come. Marlon Samuels played with composure and drove the ball as well as any current Test match batsman during the series. He also was not afraid to have a little chin wag with the England fielders, and it is characters like this that Test cricket must embrace.
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BIOGRAPHY: Hector Bellerin
BIOGRAPHY: Nemanja Matic