A captaincy masterclass from Strauss
It can be a dog’s life being a cricket captain: adored and cherished, chastised and deplored in equal measure. If Ponting was the crown prince of captains after the first test in Cardiff, he became the pauper at Lord’s and is now very much in the shadow of Strauss at the Oval.
The second day of the final and deciding Ashes test could not have gone much better for the England captain, with the home side bundling Australia out for 160 inside 53 overs and closing day two on 58 for 3, a second innings lead of 230 after England were bowled out for 332 earlier in the day.
Strauss showed his cool when Australia reached 73 without loss and cunning in choosing the right bowlers, at the right time, to turn the tide of the match.
With England’s first innings total looking under pressure just after the Lunch break, despite some good bowling, Strauss turned to the enigmatic Stuart Broad to break the opening partnership of Shane Watson and Michael Katich.
Within 6 balls the Notts youngster duly obliged and a very un-Australian collapse began. From 73 for no loss, the tourists lost 10 wickets for 87 runs.
Strauss stuck with Broad and two overs later the Australian captain was on his way back to the dressing room, closely followed by Mike Hussey for a duck to the same man.
Enter danger man Michael Clarke. Strauss allows the Australian to first drive through extra cover for four. Then the England captain slyly manoeuvres the field and places Jonathan Trott at short extra. Low and behold, the next delivery Clarke obliges and drives a Broad delivery straight into Trott’s cavernous hands.
Marcus North is the next Australian down the ramp and Strauss brings on off-spinner Graeme Swann. Strauss allows North one delivery without a second slip, then just before the second delivery he casually inserts a fielder in that slip position.
A delay and an ostentatious shuffling of the field takes North’s mind off the next delivery and he misses a straight ball and is given out lbw. Katich follows soon after, again to Swann, as pressure mounts with wickets falling and suddenly Australia went from looking menacing at the crease to staring a big defeat in the face.
The day finished in much the same manner for the England captain, unbeaten on 32, despite losing three colleagues, and walking off the Oval pitch with shoulders as broad and proud as the day is long.
A special mention for the glove work of wicket keeper Matt Prior, whose keeping has come on keeps and bounds since a dreadful tour of the West Indies, and he was rewarded with a stunning catch off Mitchell Johnson standing up to the stumps to the bowling of Swann.
Broad finished with 5 wickets for 37 runs of 12 overs and again credit to Strauss for sticking with his underfire gem, when many commentators were calling for him to be dropped. People have short memories.
But are England now in a position to win the Ashes?
PHOTO: Stuart Broad (C) of England celebrates with teammates Andrew Strauss (L) and Matthew Prior (R) after he gets the wicket of Michael Clarke of Australia during the fifth Ashes test cricket match against Australia at The Oval in London August 21, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville