ICL: Indian Cricket League

Strauss and Cook power England


straussAndrew Strauss led from the front once again with a superb 142, and Alastair Cook produced his highest Test score for 14 months, as England bounced back from their Antigua disappointment to dominate the opening exchanges of the fourth Test in Barbados. The pair batted straight through the first two sessions in a partnership of 229, an English record for the first wicket against these opponents, but West Indies still revived their hopes of staying in touch in the game by claiming three wickets for 80 in a tidy final session.

By the close, however, England had negotiated six overs of the new ball to reach an imposing 301 for 3 after winning the toss, although Kevin Pietersen, unbeaten on 32, was lucky to reach the close after being badly dropped by a diving Jerome Taylor at square leg on 20. Nevertheless, for the second Test running, the kingpin of England’s innings was the new captain, Strauss, whose 142 was, arguably, even more imposing than last week’s first-day 169 at the ARG. He capitalised on a swift but true surface to crack 17 fours and a six in a 210-ball masterclass, an innings that confirmed he has found himself a rich vein of form.

Starting with his twin centuries at Chennai before Christmas, Strauss has now made four hundreds in five fully-fledged Tests, and crucially, each of those innings has demonstrated the same compact self-discipline that was a hallmark of his performances at the start of his career in 2004-05. Furthermore, his average as England captain (a spell that began with two hundreds in four Tests against Pakistan in 2006) has now climbed above 60. England desperately needed a man who could rise above the chaos, both on and off the field, and sure enough they have found him.

As had been the case at the ARG last week, Strauss cashed in on every slight error in width or length, but retained the discipline to leave comfortably alone outside off stump. His driving was particularly imperious - anything remotely full was met with a cool stride and a rapier flash of the blade. He did offer one genuine chance, on 58, when Chris Gayle at first slip fluffed a regulation opportunity off the luckless Fidel Edwards, but all in all it was a performance of the highest quality, and racked up at a tempo that even his old mucker, Marcus Trescothick, might have struggled to match.

Strauss is not renowned for being a quick scorer - indeed he was dumped from the one-day side after England’s last visit to the Caribbean for the 2007 World Cup. But the manner of some of today’s strokeplay suggested he was getting his eye back in after his two-year hiatus, ahead of the ODI series that follows next month. He cashed in with 11 fours in the morning session, including four in consecutive deliveries from Edwards and Benn, whom he smashed through the covers to reach his fifty from 71 deliveries. And midway through the afternoon session, his century was brought up with a Pietersen-esque flourish, a dismissive slap for six over midwicket, again off Benn.

Indeed Strauss, who went to tea on 136 not out, might have banked on adding many, many more, had it not been for arguably the best ball of the series - a definitive bolt from the blue from Daren Powell, who had been wayward and wasteful in his first two spells of the day, before sweeping Strauss off his feet with a perfect late-swinging yorker with the seventh ball of his third. Stumps splattered and brought to his knees, it was an undignified ending to a fantastic performance, but the largely English crowd rightly gave their captain a huge ovation as he returned to the pavilion.

Cook, as is his wont, took longer than his captain to settle. Evidently still suffering from the technical flaw that has undermined his recent form, at first he wasn’t entirely certain of the whereabouts of his off stump, but showed enough durability to ride out the early part of his innings. Long before he redeemed himself with that yorker, Powell fed him a brace of woeful short balls to get his feet moving properly, the first of which Cook did well to reach, before the long-suffering Benn was belted over midwicket for only his second six in international cricket. (The first, at Wellington 11 months ago, was a top-edge).

Cook’s biggest problem in recent months has been rebooting his innings after passing fifty - his last hundred came at Galle in December 2007, and he has since fallen between 50 and 76 on ten occasions. By tea he was 16 runs shy of his eighth Test century, and well set to break that particular hoodoo, but sadly for his piece of mind he was unable to do so. On 86, he edged at a catchable height straight through the gap between keeper and first slip, but it was his addiction to the hook shot that proved his downfall. An earlier miscue had flown safely down to third man, and a second swish had fallen tantalisingly short of square. At the third time of asking, however, he ran out of fortune, as Ryan Hinds dived athletically at midwicket to give Taylor his first breakthrough of the day.

Cook was gone for 94, and suddenly England, at 241 for 2, had two new batsmen at the crease. Pietersen, his feet stuck in the crease, took his time to get going as West Indies teased him with the lollipop offerings of Brendan Nash, but it was the man at the other end, Owais Shah, who succumbed in a tentative hour before the new ball was called for. Benn, extracting some purchase from the wicket, found a bit of extra bounce outside off stump, and Devon Smith claimed a chest-high catch at first slip to end a tortuous innings of 7 from 47 balls.

West Indies’ grand finale to the day could have gone even better had Taylor, charging in from square leg, clung onto the spiralling top-edge from Pietersen, as Edwards worked up his habitual head of steam in the lengthening shadows. Instead it was England, who coincidentally made exactly the same score on the first day of the Antigua Test, who reached the close with their heads, shoulders and most of their torsos in front. Even so, having dropped Steve Harmison in favour of Ryan Sidebottom, and with no out-and-out fifth bowler in the absence of Andrew Flintoff, they still face a stiff challenge to claim 20 wickets, as and when their turn to bowl comes.

Source:Cricket News

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