Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

James Lawton: Strauss brings Test to boiling point

England captain Andrew Strauss
England captain Andrew Strauss

When Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were scoring centuries and Jonathan Trott, in his meticulous, somewhat sadistic way, was letting the Australians know he was absolutely intent on getting one of his own, the scoreboard could scarcely have been more emphatic.

It spoke of only one possible conclusion to the first Ashes Test this breakfast time.

The scoreboard was, however, wrong — utterly wrong. If the first Test was heading anywhere, it wasn't a draw — not, anyway in terms of what is likely to come next in Adelaide at the end of this week — but a massive victory for the psyche of Strauss's England.

This belief, it is true, might just be taken hostage by some extraordinary convulsion in the small hours of this morning but this would have been at total variance with all chartable evidence over the previous four days.

This said, unequivocally, that when England were under most pressure they still looked, unlike the Australians in similar circumstances, players of both accomplishment and considerable competitive nerve.

In suggesting this so impressively they were, of course, challenging a quite well established tradition here in Brisbane and this was something not fed in along with the computerised numbers flashing so brightly against the names of England's batsmen.

What is supposed to happen is that the Poms arrive as nervous kittens while their hosts grow a little more ravenous for their blood with each new session.

Then the action shifts to South Australia, where England report with hollowed out cheeks and staring eyes.

Not this time, however. England didn't suffer one serious casualty on the day Australia dominated so profoundly with Saturday's huge stand between Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin.

By comparison, Australian captain Ponting appeared to be in charge of a detachment of walking wounded when Strauss, Cook and Trott took the fight back to the Australians.

Most haunting was the sight of Mitchell Johnson, whose progress in Test cricket has come at a rate faster than the legendary Jeff Thomson, pitching to the lowest point of his career.

One of the most gifted, and violent lower order batsman in the game, who came into this Test with a century and a haul of five wickets from his last state game, he made a duck in the first innings.

An accomplished fielder, he dropped Strauss just as the England captain was moving on to a new plateau of aggression.

As the bowler who many rated as the chief threat to England, he returned to the dressing room in the dusk with match figures of none for 133.

Strauss, more than anyone, carried the aura of someone who knew precisely what was at stake.

He wasn't playing for a draw because that would have been the least of his ambition.

What he was really playing for was confirmation that whatever happens in the next few weeks — or occurred when most of England was sleeping towards another working week — is that he has indeed brought a team equipped to make at the very least a proper battle on Australian soil.

Former Aussie captain Ian Chappell might have been making music for Strauss's ears when he said, “We've heard a lot about this English team but we have to admit they do look like a real deal.”

Strauss, though, is plainly in a zone beyond mere flattery or false hope. He declares, “The most important thing in Test cricket is not to think about the past or the future but live in the present.”

Right now, he could hardly want to be in any other place.

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