Strauss calls for controlled aggression
Andrew Strauss has warned South Africa they are in for a shock if they think England cannot intimidate them without Andrew Flintoff.
England take their first step back into Test cricket tomorrow since their Ashes-clinching win at the Brit Oval almost four months ago.
It could hardly be a much tougher assignment than away to South Africa, who have the pedigree of a team only just toppled from their number one spot in the International Cricket Council world rankings, and with the obvious motivation to try to regain it.
Furthermore, Makhaya Ntini suggested yesterday that with Flintoff’s post-Ashes retirement, England have lost the player who most intimidated them. Strauss takes a different view.
“We’ve had to deal with him not being around quite a lot in the last few years,” the England captain said of the lynchpin all-rounder, who was regularly forced out by injury towards the end of his Test career.
“It’s nothing new - although this time it’s more permanent.
“But maybe that’s a good thing, because we aren’t side-tracked over whether he will come back.”
Strauss acknowledges the advantages which came with having Flintoff in his team - but is confident England have developing resources to offset his absence.
“We are obviously going to miss a guy of that quality, and the balance of the side is affected,” he accepts.
“But as for him being the only player who can intimidate South Africa, if they feel that, then I think that’s a good thing for us - because we have some very good cricketers who can surprise them over the coming weeks.”
Among them will be Oval man-of-the-match Stuart Broad, pace spearhead James Anderson, new batting find Jonathan Trott and, of course, Kevin Pietersen.
Pietersen has had to deal with some ‘mere-mortal’ vulnerability so far on this tour, trying to re-establish himself after four months out injured - with the added complication of returning, for the second time in England colours, to the country of his birth.
“KP found himself in quite an unfamiliar situation at the start of this tour,” said Strauss.
“He’s been playing cricket continuously, and it was the first time he’s had some time away and has had to find his feet again.
“I think that has taken some adjusting to - and you have to build up through the gears.”
A first half-century since his comeback, in a warm-up match in East London last week, hinted at Pietersen’s readiness after all for this huge examination of his talent and resolve.
“I’m very happy with the way he’s been going about things - and he looked better and better through the warm-up game,” added Strauss.
“KP being the type of person he is, he will want to have a massive impact on this series. When you combine that motivation with his obvious skills it’s a pretty good recipe.”
South Africa, meanwhile, have their own champion player still recovering from injury and unable to fire on all cylinders.
Although Jacques Kallis will be able to play just as a batsman, having missed the recent one-day international series completely because of a broken rib, Strauss discounts the notion that the all-time great all-rounder may have difficulty adapting to one role only.
“I don’t think Jacques Kallis and ‘mentally vulnerable’ go together that well,” he said, smiling.
“He’s proved what a quality player he is as a batsman. I think we can exploit the fact he can only perform one of his roles, perhaps, but if he can only use is bat he’ll be keen to do that.”
Strauss is confident over England’s own injury troubles. He reports that Anderson is fit despite his mystery knee injury, and that off-spinner Graeme Swann’s side strain is a future concern rather than an immediate one.
Whoever takes the field, on a pitch which wore a curiously green tinge today but is expected to look less alarming by tomorrow morning, Strauss has great faith in his staff.
They are briefed to meet South Africa’s aggression but to do so intelligently.
“I’m keen for players to stand up and be counted in pressure situations - and if you aren’t willing to do that you won’t survive very long in Test cricket,” Strauss points out.
“But it has to be done with thoughtfulness and be done smartly. There’s no point in getting carried away. It needs to be calculated and controlled.”