Wednesday, August 19, 2009


One man will be more important than any other to England's hopes of winning the decisive Oval Test, which starts tomorrow, and thereby regaining the Ashes - but it won't be the six foot four Lancastrian near-legend we call Fred.

Andrew Strauss has gone about his Ashes 2009 business with quiet efficiency, much as he has done since returning to the side against New Zealand in 2008 after being dropped due to poor form. He is England's highest run-getter by a clear hundred (344 @ 49) - as he was during the fight to save the series in the Caribbean (541 @ 68) over the winter - and he currently averages at least 10 more than any of his top six colleagues do against the Aussie attack.

That, coupled with a direct, pragmatic approach to the captaincy, means Strauss has emerged as the team's MVP - a status conferred as much by his approach and ability as the absence of a certain KP. He has also succeeded in defying the traditional affliction of batting like an England captain, ie. poorly - as this comparison of his averages with and without the extra responsbility shows (a handy link that will either add weight to or disprove the contention as time passes).

Strauss has thrived under pressure, leading by example and tackling the Australian menace head-on, albeit in his trademark undemonstrative manner. Contrast and compare with England's supposed titan, Andrew Flintoff, for a moment. Fred took the plaudits for his five-for at Lord's (when Australia made 400 in their second innings) ... but shouldn't, as Lawrence Booth points out in his Spin column, the MoM award really have gone to Strauss for his first-dig 161?

Not to say that Flintoff's presence in England's fifth-Test line up is insignificant. He appears as some kind of bogeyman in the tourists' psyche and his no-nonsense batting bolsters the lower-middle order a sight more than Steve Harmison's. But he bowls as part of an ensemble cast - with seven wickets at 49 he is fourth in the England standings - while Strauss is the team's standout batsman.

Australia must be bowled out twice on what is likely to be a batter's wicket, and Flintoff's fire will be as important as the hoped-for contributions from Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad et al. But England have also to score 'big runs' (and winning the toss wouldn't do any harm either). This is Strauss's department - and if he hits his straps again, he might just drag the rest of the team with him.

No pressure, Andrew ...

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