DURBAN// Six batsmen and four bowlers; five batsmen and five bowlers or five batsmen, four bowlers and an all-rounder? That was the dilemma facing Andrew Strauss over Christmas dinner yesterday, with pre-match weather conditions in Durban only serving to confuse his thinking. The England captain must decide whether to retain Ian Bell, who scored just seven runs in two innings at Centurion, play left-armer swing bowler Ryan Sidebottom or hand a Test debut to the potentially explosive Luke Wright.
Durban has been overcast during the past few days with the temperature unusually low for this part of the world, struggling to get above 25C. Strauss admitted he made a mistake with the line up of his side at Centurion after coming close to losing. "You already have to have an eye on what you expect the weather conditions to be during the Test match and you put that into the melting pot when you decide what the best XI will be," he said.
"But you can obviously be proved wrong as I think we were in Centurion to a certain extent. We thought it was going to do more than it did on day one so you need to be a bit flexible. "We're not definitely going to pick the same team. It's an option but there would need to be strong reasons to change that balance at this stage. "We certainly haven't ruled it out but the fundamentals are still the same: pick the best XI to win the match in these conditions."
Strauss has happy memories of Durban, after he and Marcus Trescothick compiled an opening partnership of 273 in 2004, following England's first-innings capitulation for just 139. "From my experience of this wicket, it can do a bit early on and has maybe a bit more swing early on but can then flatten out," he said. "It'll ask questions of the bowlers and, with the Kookaburra ball, the first 20 overs are crucial.
"We need to have a little bit of a think about what that means with the balance of the side but we've still got those three options available." Strauss expects improvement from his team and said: "We recognise we need to play better than at Centurion. "But I'm still quite comfortable that we did a lot of things right. Ultimately we had a bad session that nearly cost us so there are lessons to be learned."