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February 17, 2009

Strauss of old helps England make amends

Before talking about Andrew Strauss’ marvellous innings in Antigua, let me get one thing straight – the hard work is far from over. England have done well to reach 301-3 at the end of day one, but there is still a long way to go in this test match.

The batsmen have gone someway to making amends for the rather dismal 51 all out in Jamacia with their batting display in this ‘third’ test and the cricket odds are starting to lean in England’s favour.

It could, of course, all go horribly wrong yet. However, as long as Kevin Pietersen is at the crease for the majority of the first session, a score of 450+ is definitely on the cards.

Instead of speculating about what might happen though, let us look at something that did happen – Strauss’ hundred. To say it couldn’t have come at a better time would be an understatement.

The Middlesex man was under pressure to perform himself, the team were determined to make amends for the Jamacia defeat and as captain, it was vital he led from the front. After his fluent 169, all of these boxes can be ticked and that is credit to the England skipper.

It wasn’t just the runs he scored though; it was the way he scored them. Unlike his career-saving 177 in New Zealand last year, Strauss was positive from the beginning and batted with an uncharacteristic flair throughout. Yes, he rode his luck at times, but he hit his first six in three years of international cricket, so that’s something!

In short, it was the Andrew Strauss of old. It was the man who first emerged on the test scene back in May 2004. There was a confidence about him that has been absent recently. Perhaps the responsibility of the captaincy in a ‘backs against the wall’ situation brings the best out of him.

As much as you can’t base everything on one innings, something else Strauss’ knock proved was that he has the attacking ability to perform in future One Day Internationals.

Many have questioned whether he is good enough to play in the ODI team, let alone captain it, so hopefully this will go someway to ending that argument.  Time will tell I suppose, but the innings as a whole has to be an extremely positive thing for the England team.

If Strauss is performing well at the top of the order, it makes the whole batting line-up seem much stronger. Pietersen is 8 not-out overnight and this is perfect. Hopefully while you are reading this, KP is helping the innings kick on with Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood to follow.

England need to score big in this first innings and can’t afford to suffer a batting collapse. Anything under 450 would be a real disappointment, but as long as KP hangs around, cricket betting is more likely to favour a total close to the 500 mark.

Whatever the total though, it is vital that the likes of Steve Harmison and James Anderson follow their captain’s example of recapturing their best form. England have 20 wickets to take and they won’t do that in the appropriate time if the two opening bowlers are off the pace.

Come on lads; make us proud of English cricket again!

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

January 26, 2009

Shah has to play in first test – but who will make way?

I have always been a fan of Owais Shah. Often labelled as one of the unluckiest England cricketers of all time, the Middlesex man has only played two test matches despite his undoubted talent to score big runs.

However, on this West Indies tour, Shah should more than double his test match appearances. This is because he was in fantastic form for England in their opening tour match against a St Kitts Invitational XI, smashing an unbeaten 125 on day one.

By hitting such an impressive century in the only warm-up match before the test series, Shah has done his chances no harm at all of being named in the team for Jamaica next week. In fact, considering his excellent ODI form in the latter part of the English summer and in India, he simply has to play.

Should this be the case, there are two questions that would need to be answered by whoever makes the final decision on England’s team for the first test. First of all, who does Shah replace? He hasn’t been playing test matches, so one of Ian Bell or Paul Collingwood will need to sit out.

Secondly, what number does he come in to bat? Admittedly, this will more than likely be answered by the conclusion drawn from the first question!

So, with this in mind – let’s tackle it. Who should Shah replace? At this moment, it would seem as though the cricket odds are backing him to come in for Collingwood. The Durham man is absent from the match against St Kitts and Shah excelled at number five, so that is the most likely scenario right now.

As for Bell, well he only made 36 in the first innings against St Kitts, but he may well get another chance to confirm his place in the team during England’s second innings. Should he make a valuable contribution, even a 40-odd not out, then he could well keep his place as Collingwood’s expense.

Overall, the only certainty is that Shah has to play. If he misses out this time, then he may as well give up trying to play test match cricket for England. It would be a scandalous decision to select someone out of form (Bell) and someone who hasn’t played the warm up match (Collingwood) ahead of him.

You will probably be aware that there are two other major talking points after day one of England’s tour match that I haven’t mentioned as yet. Kevin Pietersen’s hundred in his first innings since relinquishing the captaincy and Andrew Flintoff’s injury scare. This is extremely deliberate, for different reasons.

In terms of KP’s hundred, well I just wasn’t surprised! He is the type of character that will always, always respond to his critics. It was obvious that he would score a hundred in his first innings as captain against South Africa last summer and it was the same on this occasion. It is just business as usual for KP and long may it continue. A lot of my cricket betting money will be placed on him scoring big on this tour.

As for Flintoff’s injury, well to be honest it isn’t something I want to think about. Freddie is such an important player for England and has been slowly moving back to his best in recent months. To have an injury setback now would be so, so frustrating. For what it’s worth, the latest is that his side strain will result in him sitting out the rest of this match.

So, a mixed day for England, but one that will hopefully guarantee a place in the side for Owais Shah. As for who he will replace, that depends on two things – Ian Bell’s second innings and Andrew Flintoff’s injury.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

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