Strauss and co put on a show
Posted in England in West Indies 2009
Ask any England fan why they have flown all the way to the West Indies to watch cricket, and you are unlikely to get an answer that does not mention sun, sea and sand.
With soaring temperatures, crystal-clear water and golden beaches, conditions in the Caribbean as so close to paradise that some holiday-makers might argue that what happens on the field hardly matters.
But it doesn’t half help if England are doing well.
If those souls who travelled halfway round the world to see their side bowled out for 51 in Jamaica weren’t cursing their diaries after the tourists rallied strongly in Antigua (“If only I’d booked my flight a week later”), then they were surely ruing their choice of dates on a day of almost uninterrupted England dominance.
In that respect, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook provided the thousands of supporters who flew into Barbados this week with an ideal start to their holiday - not to mention propelling England into a position of immense strength on the opening day of the fourth Test at the Kensington Oval.
Those who left a bleak British winter behind cannot fail to have been cheered by the manner in which the openers seized control of a contest England must win if they are to have any chance of coming from behind to take the series.
Strauss provided the majority of the enjoyment, his splendid 142 deserving to be ranked among his most fluent innings at any level, let alone in the international arena.
It was his fourth hundred in 10 innings, one of which was the aborted effort in the recent abandoned Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Seeing his side humbled at Sabina Park in his first game as captain clearly stung Strauss, for he followed up that performance with a sterling 169 in the rearranged third Test in Antigua, before his splendid effort today.
This was far from a marathon innings - he batted for little more than two sessions - but he played with such freedom that he reaped 18 fours and a six off the 210 balls he faced.
That maximum - a slog-sweep off Sulieman Benn - took Strauss to three figures, a reflection not only of his positive mindset but further proof that he was operating near the top of his game.
Strauss’ runs may have come against some wayward West Indies bowling, and on a pitch offering both seamers and spinners precious little assistance, but that should not detract from the crispness of his strokeplay.
It is worth noting that no other batsman came close to matching his uninhibited brilliance: he scored almost twice as quickly as Alastair Cook for much of their opening stand of 229, Owais Shah laboured 47 balls over his seven, and even Kevin Pietersen, a man who normally treats slow scoring as a criminal offence, spent more than an hour and a half making an unbeaten 32.
Those fortunate enough to be present in Bridgetown will remember the languid pull stroke which brought Strauss his first boundary.
The sashay down the pitch and whip over wide mid-on at Benn’s expense could not have been played any better, while the ease and power with which he dispatched a Daren Powell long hop through midwicket earned him, somewhat unfairly, a torrent of abuse.
Yet the shot which will live longest in the memory is Strauss’ off-drive off Jerome Taylor, to a ball of perfectly reasonably length but one dispatched unerringly back in the direction from whence it came.
Strauss’ departure may not have been the most dignified - beaten by a low full toss from Powell, he picked himself off the floor he see his stumps splayed - but that was quickly forgotten as the crowd rose to acclaim an innings of the highest calibre.
Cook, too, was afforded a rapturous send-off after departing for 94, his third successive half-century but the 11th time in succession in which he has passed 50 without reaching three figures.
Though comfortably outscored by Strauss, he nevertheless managed a rare six, and played a key role in maintaining a run-rate in excess of 3.5 an over for the first two sessions.
It would be remiss to overlook the numerous slices of fortune enjoyed by Cook, in particular, the younger partner four times fortunate to escape with miscued pulls or hooks while Strauss was put down on 58 by Chris Gayle at first slip.
If England’s decision to play six specialist batsmen was regarded by some as conservative, no-one could fault their aggressive approach with the bat, as exemplified by Strauss.
Only in the evening session did West Indies manage to exert a modicum of control as Gayle resorted to employing a ring of fielders and sweepers on the boundary and instructed Brendan Nash to bowl wide of off stump.
His tactics were justified by a spell that saw England lose three wickets in an hour, but, as the England fans who soaked up the sun will tell you, that was the exception rather than the norm.