Strauss's poor form the only worry for the smooth-running side
Matthew Hoggard set to returnEngland leads the series 2-0
CHESTER-LE-STREET: I just happened to be present in Cape Town a couple of years ago when Geoff Boycott met Andrew Strauss and, in his own straightforward way, made detailed criticisms of the Strauss-technique.
Strauss was in the press area because he had just made a big score, which he pointed out to the old master, very politely, and added that while things were going well he did not propose to make any changes.
Boycs said fair enough, but just bear in mind what I say, and as no-one doubts he is just about the wisest man still deep in cricket, Strauss thanked him and went on scoring runs. In his first 19 Tests around that South African tour Strauss made 1716 runs at 50.47 with seven hundreds and five fifties. Now that run stream is dry.
Astonishingly Strauss averages below the England tail-enders in the series against the West Indies. Strauss's average is 15.60, Ryan Sidebottom averages 23, Steve Harmison 22.50, Liam Plunkett 19 and even the apparently hapless Monty Panesar 17.
Strauss's last score was a duck and the same Geoff Boycott has written that he ought to be sent back to Middlesex to work on the fault he has developed and score a few runs. That is not the custom any longer apparently although Plunkett has been sent back to Durham to learn to bowl properly.
The difference is that Plunkett is 22 and unproven; Strauss is 30 with runs behind him and, indeed, a brief spell as a successful captain too. I agree with Boycott. Sometimes the old-fashioned ways are the best, but the England selectors have to pay some respect to Strauss's central contract which means that he is highly paid, and until he finishes that contract in September will have to be paid whether he plays or not. Besides he still averages above 40 in his Test career.
All that means that there is a weak spot in the most powerful batting line-up England has had for years. At 22, Alastair Cook is one of the top century makers for his age in the game's history, Michael Vaughan looks as if he might take over from Peter May as a classical batsman as well as the leading captain, Kevin Pietersen is batting like an express train without brakes, while Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell act as the rescue unit if the other four fail. Follow that with the undoubted talent that Matt Prior has shown and there is a temptation to expect 500 as a first-innings total.
The unlucky side
It makes a powerful combination which is reflected in the 2-0 winning lead England has built in the series against an admittedly poor if courageous West Indies. You can tell how fate is abusing the side at every opportunity because no sooner has Darren Sammy taken eight wickets in the third Test and batted with conviction than he has hurt a groin muscle and will almost certainly not play in the Test which begins in Chester-le-Street on Friday.
Once again England confidently names its side in advance. Matthew Hoggard, whose immaculate line and length was badly missed in the second Test in particular, returns having bowled a 10-over trial for Yorkshire earlier in the week and turned up in the last stages of the Old Trafford Test to have a net. It is going to rain for much of the first three days but England will still win. It has won the previous two Tests on this new ground in three days each.
The teams: England (from): Michael Vaughan (capt.), Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matthew Prior, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Ryan Sidebottom, Monty Panesar and James Anderson.
West Indies (from): Daren Ganga (capt.), Devon Smith, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Fidel Edwards, Corey Collymore, Runako Morton, Daren Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, Sylvester Joseph, Jerome Taylor.
Umpires: Brett Bowden (New Zealand) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan). Match referee: Alan Hurst (Australia). TV umpire: Nigel Llong.