The following article of mine was posted on Holding Willey last Friday. As far as the penultimate paragraph goes, I note from an article on the Beeb that Jimmy Anderson is being rested and that Jonny Bairstow will be in the side for the Edgbaston Test. Both of which sound very sensible in a ‘dead rubber’ situation – don’t over-bowl the main strike bowler, and give the new guy another chance in an uncompetitive situation.
Despite having wrapped up the Test series against the Windies with a game to go (as most observers had predicted they would), there is a feeling of unease concerning England. It’s do to with the impending series against South Africa, that top-of-the-world-rankings decider which is going to offer a much sterner test of the England team’s skills in general and of Andrew Strauss’s leadership in particular. Perhaps surprisingly, questions still remain about whether they will be up to the challenge.
The problem, apparently, is that Strauss is not ruthless enough. Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, summed it up in his report on the second Test: “Both at Lord’s and here at Trent Bridge they had the opposition on their knees and then let them struggle back to their feet ... when you have a team 61-6 and an attack like England’s you should administer the coup de grace, just like they should have killed West Indies off at Lord’s before the fifth day.” The point is that allowing a team to come back into the game is might work against the current Windies side (they were still beaten by comfortable margins in both Tests), but it could be suicidal in a contest to determine who is the number one Test side in the world.
It seems absurd to be debating the effectiveness of a captain who led England to an Ashes win in Australia and who has never lost a Test series at home – with the victory over the Windies his record now stands at eight home series wins, seven in a row (a new England record) plus the time when he stepped in against Pakistan in 2006. But the England captain’s position is never fully secure, although in Strauss’s case he’s usually been accused of being unimaginative rather than lacking in ruthlessness.
Taking their cue from those in the media, of whom ‘Aggers’ is one of the more coherent and balanced examples, England cricket fans can be a pessimistic lot. If there is a cloud attached to the silver lining it will be sought out. Which is why Jonny Bairstow’s place in the team is being questioned after just two Tests; along with the questions over whether one or two of the bowlers will be rested for the third Test next week, it’ll be interesting to see if Bairstow retains his place.
At least there are no further questions about Strauss’s form with the bat. In fact, he’s now one century away from equalling the England Test record of 22, held jointly by Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott. And while we’re talking about records, Strauss and Cook have now become the third-most prolific Test opening partnership. Ever. Whatever happens later this summer, it is certain that to cricketing historians of the future, Andrew Strauss will be in very exalted company.