West Indies series a chance for Strauss to find his feet ahead of crunch SA Test tour

2012-05-16 00:00

THE Wisden Trophy series gives England captain Andrew Strauss a chance to regain some sort of form ahead of the crunch Test series against the Proteas in July.

Once upon a time the West Indies, with all their calypso stars, über-fast bowling and ultra-aggressive batting, would have headlined an English summer. However, that is all history, with the Windies now playing well only in patches.

The series, though, will provide England captain Andrew Strauss with the perfect opportunity to return to the groove ahead of the Basil d’Oliviera Trophy series against South Africa. Plainly put, the Johannesburg-born southpaw has been in bad form.

His last Test century came in the opening Ashes Test against Australia and that was not without significance as it set in motion the Pommie advance to victory over the Aussies.

While the other English batsmen continued to prosper, his own form waned. Fortunately, his team have been winning, the batting unit has churned out runs and the bowlers have been effective in executing their plans. And so the failures of the captain have been papered over.

Mark Taylor, who captained Australia in 50 Test from 1994 to 1999, went through a period where he did not pass 50 in 21 innings.

As a specialist batsman, such a record would have seen him banished to state cricket, but Tubby won every Test series during his prolonged slump to keep the wolves at bay.

And when his place in the team was put under the microscope, he scored a gritty 129 against England in the first Ashes Test in 1997. Australia lost that Test by a hefty nine wickets and Taylor did not make another significant contribution with the bat, but his team won the series with a Test to spare.

Taylor’s form improved to a point where he carried his bat for an excellent unbeaten 169 against South Africa in Adelaide and then added a record-equalling 334 not out against Pakistan in Peshawar.

It would be unfair to compare the captains, but Strauss’ slump in form does draw parallels. His batting unit did not always deliver as Taylor’s did.

England’s top-order is talented and has has the ability to score big runs anywhere. But while Australian batting successes shielded Taylor, England’s failures, especially on the sub-continent, have highlighted Strauss’ non-delivery. If it weren’t for the herculean efforts of the their bowling attack — on pitches as foreign as a dry turner on the damp Chester-le-Street — their report card would have resembled the disasters of a 1990s England touring side.

Strauss has been in moderate form for Middlesex, but with this Test starting tomorrow he can play himself in before he comes up against Dale Steyn and company. The West Indian attack, likely to consist of Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Darren Sammy, will not be a walkover, and if the early county games are any indication, batting is going to be a far from easy task.

Maybe the tougher batting conditions will strengthen Strauss’ resolve and show he is still worth his weight as a batsman and not just as a leader.

England are expected to retain the Wisden Trophy, but Strauss’ form is going to come under serious scrutiny. Irrespective of what happens in the next two months, the selection panel, which is a model of consistency, will in all likelihood retain Strauss for the July showpiece.

Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and the likes are prolific scorers on home pitches and will enjoy themselves after the testing times in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Strauss, however, has to sharpen his skills and the West Indies could be his grindstone.

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