x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Strauss is not right with lefts

The England captain has struggled against left-arm bowlers, especially the pacemen.

Andrew Strauss, left, was dismissed for just three runs at the Rose Bowl yesterday.
Andrew Strauss, left, was dismissed for just three runs at the Rose Bowl yesterday.

Earlier this month, while discussing Kevin Pietersen's struggles again left-arm spinners, Andrew Strauss talked about how repeated failures against a certain type of bowling can become "self-perpetuating". Just over two weeks later, his words seem a bit self-prophetic.

As Chanaka Welegedara's first ball of the England innings yesterday jagged through his defence, the England captain's statistic against left-arm pacers was promptly placed on television screens and the conversation in the commentary box veered towards his perceived weakness.

With the second ball of his second over, Welegedara dismissed Strauss for the third time in three innings, forcing an edge to first slip.

In the last Test at Lord's, the Sri Lankan seamer had caught Strauss in front of the wickets twice, and all the three dismissals have come inside three overs.

In 150 Test innings, this was the 23rd time Strauss was dismissed by a left-arm quick, but his coach Andy Flower does not think much about these statistics.

"I don't think he has a huge technical difficulty," Flower said last week. "If a left-arm over bowler gets you out twice in a row in one match, that's life. I am not worried about it."

While Flower remains unflustered, some English cricket fans are concerned, especially since their next Test series is against India. Zaheer Khan, who will be leading the visitor's attack, has dismissed Strauss five times; four of those came on his last visit to England, in 2007, at an average of 17.25 runs per dismissal.

Overall, Strauss's average against left-arm quicks is around 28, while it stands at more than 46 against right-arm pacemen. Before December 2009, that average against left-arm pacers stood at over 41, but the problems seems to have been exacerbated since the home series against Pakistan last year, when the now-banned Mohammad Aamer got him out four times in six innings, while Wahab Riaz, another left-arm pacer, took his wicket once.

"We always have these things in cricket because there are so many variables that we come up against," Strauss said in reference to Pietersen's problems.

"It might be any type of bowling or it might be on certain grounds. You think: 'Oh, my record here isn't very good', and then that becomes self-perpetuating, so these things test you mentally and you have to overcome them.

"It is a game of cat and mouse and any particular weakness you have is exploited, so you need to close that up and stay a step or two ahead of the bowlers."

Strauss seems to be struggling to do that in recent times, not just against left-arm pacers, but overall. In his last 25 Test innings, he has just one century and 744 runs at an average of 31. At home, since the unbeaten 53 against Pakistan at Birmingham, he has only 59 runs from seven innings.

England will need their captain to be at the top his game when India come visiting. The hosts have every chance of dethroning India from the top of the ICC Test rankings this summer and Chris Tremlett's six for 48 on his return to his former home ground has convinced England's bowling coach of the need to produce bouncy tracks for the series.

"India are a handful at any time with their batting line-up," David Saker said. "But if we get wickets with bounce in them, that will suit Chris. The Indians will be troubled by him, and if he can get the wickets he needs, we're looking forward to that Test series very much.

"It was very pleasing to see how much it bounced here, and if we had to wheel out a wicket week in, week out, that's what we'd like to see."

For Tremlett, it was a homecoming scripted in heaven. Two years ago, the 6ft 8in giant, frustrated by injuries and an unhelpful Rose Bowl track, left his boyhood county Hampshire, where his father, Tim, is director of cricket, for London and Surrey. "I became stale at Hampshire, seeing the same people and experiencing the same atmosphere all the time," he said last year. "On and off the field I needed a change."

Surrey provided that change and in many different ways. He dropped his nickname "Goober", which he said came from Dimi Mascarenhas. "I think it is supposed to mean that I'm a big, clumsy giant," Tremlett said. He picked up a wicket with his second ball for the new county and his 48 championship scalps brought him back into the England team for the Ashes.

Tremlett has not looked back since. His second coming has been impressive with 31 wickets from six Tests, including the one ongoing.

He started his second innings in Test cricket with a three and five-for at Perth, before taking the Ashes-clinching wicket of Michael Beer at Sydney.

His six-for at the Rose Bowl is his best bowling performance and at the end of the Sri Lanka innings yesterday, Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, took the ball and passed it to the unassuming bowler.

Tremlett pocketed it and waved around the ground before walking away. There was no great show of emotions, but enough to suggest the "gentle giant" is shedding his softer side and India should be on the watch.

Meanwhile, as rain consistently disrupted the third day's play yesterday, Alastair Cook (55) became the first England batsman in nearly 50 years - since Ken Barrington in 1962/63 - to score fifties in six successive Test innings after being dismissed for 55. Cook had scored three hundreds in his previous four Test innings.

England ended the day on 195 for four with Pietersen top-scoring with 85 runs before being caught behind off the bowling of Thissara Perera, the medium pacer. Bell was unbeaten on 39 with James Anderson, the nightwatchman.