Strauss goes easy on Christmas spirit
Andrew Strauss is happy to play ’Captain Scrooge’ to help give England the best possible chance of beating South Africa in the second Test.
Strauss is as keen as anyone to make sure England do not miss the spirit of Christmas but insists that must not be at the expense of arriving at Kingsmead ready to go 1-0 up in a four-match series.
Like the rest of his team, father-of-two Strauss had no intention of missing out on the traditions of Christmas Day.
What was not going to happen, though, at England’s team hotel was over-indulgence of any sort - on captain’s orders.
“One of the things you’ve got to avoid is slipping too much into the Christmas spirit,” Strauss warned.
After nets this morning and a pre-match team meeting, Strauss was prepared for a little post-lunch leeway - before ‘game heads’ were screwed back on.
“In the afternoon you can switch off, which you’d normally do before a Test match anyway,” he said.
“But then come evening time, you’ve got to switch your mind back on to what you’ve got to do the next day.”
Strauss accepts the rationed Christmas is not “ideal”, but the stakes are high for England after their backs-to-the-wall defiance to sneak a stalemate in the first Test.
“There are some hours there you can sit back and enjoy Christmas and watch the kids run around opening their presents,” he added.
“But it’s not the same festive cheer as it would be back in England - with a few bottles and a mid-afternoon snooze. We’ve got to keep our minds on what we need to do.”
Strauss acknowledges England must improve on their Centurion performance, but senses too that the outcome there may have dented home morale most.
“It can be pretty dispiriting getting a side nine wickets down and not winning,” he said, casting his mind back to matches in which England narrowly missed out.
“That’s happened to us a few times: India at Lord’s (in 2007), in Antigua (this year) as well.”
On both those occasions, it was the team who had to cling on desperately who ended up winning the series.
“It can hurt you, especially when you have to come back a few days later and start all over again,” Strauss recalled.
“I think we were quite buoyed by the fact we got through the game at Centurion. But we definitely need to play better than we did there.”
The balance of England’s team - four specialist bowlers and an extra batsman - appears set to survive the Centurion scrape to be retained in Durban.
Strauss’ opposite number, Graeme Smith, and South Africa coach Mickey Arthur have both had plenty to say about the perceived vulnerability of England’s batting, with opener Alastair Cook and extra batsman Ian Bell both short of runs.
But Strauss said: "If he [Smith] wants to base his judgments on one game, I would always shy away from that.
“I’m very comfortable with our middle order. The likes of Matt Prior have scored a hell of a lot of runs for us in the last 12 months; Paul Collingwood’s in great form; and it was only two matches ago that Ian Bell played a fantastic innings at the Oval to help us win the Ashes.”
Smith, meanwhile, has one obvious concern of his own, namely the fitness or otherwise of Dale Steyn.
South Africa’s pace spearhead was thought to be over his hamstring strain, only to have to pull out of the first Test on the morning of the match.
The hosts are hoping he will be fit this time, with Friedel de Wet set to miss out despite taking five wickets on debut.
Strauss reports England are wary of the threat posed by Steyn but confident they have the ability to handle him.
“The principle we adopt with all bowlers is that you must respect them but not fear them,” he said.
“We’ve have some success against him recently. He’s the type of skiddy bowler that sometimes you can score off. But, obviously, he bowls wicket-taking balls.
“If he is a bit rusty and bowls a few bad deliveries then it’s important we put them away to put him under pressure.
“He’s obviously a very, very skilful bowler. You have to take care against him - and if you can get through those first few overs, you hope there will be some scoring opportunities.”