Strauss out of tune
Dave Fulton believes Andrew Strauss' decision not to enforce the follow on in Antigua cost England.
Last Updated: 24/02/09 10:50am
There are certain contexts which are laced with irony. There are others where you wade through it as if knee-deep in treacle.
The last time the England cricket team played in the beautiful island of Antigua - discounting the 10 balls at the Viv Richards sandpit - they were obliterated by Chris Gayle and his Stanford Superstars in a match that was all about the cash.
Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire who provided the wonga - all $20million of it - was everywhere that week. From bouncing wives on his knee, back-slapping players and delivering frenzied speeches on the winners' rostrum, he wanted centre stage.
Andrew Strauss, meanwhile, who shares the same initials but thankfully little else, wasn't even playing for England. He wore the pink of Middlesex and could only contribute the worst dropped catch many of us have ever seen.
Strauss is too level-headed for such a mistake to linger but so acute must his embarrassment have been that for a moment he would have wanted the ground to swallow him up.
As that fate now seemingly awaits Stanford it is Strauss, who is at cricket's nerve centre. He has looked every inch a captain of England since stepping into the breach after Pietersen-gate.
He does not possess the flamboyance of a Pietersen or a Stanford but his words are carefully chosen and honest, his aura calmly dignified. He is also a man of action, as his 169 in the first innings proved, banishing the nightmares of Kingston's 51 all out.
But strengths can be weaknesses, too. For all Strauss' calm reliability he was too cautious in Antigua. Much of his captaincy was spot on: his field placings were imaginative and well thought out, his bowlers utilised effectively. But crucially, when 1-0 down in the series he didn't go for the jugular and enforce the follow on.
I accept Flintoff was injured and Harmison weak with a stomach upset but late on the third evening was a perfect time to get the West Indies openers in again.
Had it been halfway through the day I would have had no qualms about him having another bat, but time was always going to be a factor in this Test match and his bowlers could have rested up overnight.
Mike Brearley, regarded as one of England's finest captains, always opted to enforce when the opportunity arose but such tactics have become unfashionable in recent times. Mark Taylor started the trend opting against enforcing in the opening Ashes Test of 1994-95 which Australia won by 184 runs with Shane Warne taking 8-71.
Likewise Steve Waugh rarely enforced but his reasons were usually more psychological seeking to grind the opposition into the ground. He had the batsmen to take the game away from the opposition very quickly and would be very clear about his instructions.
Ricky Ponting opted against enforcing in Brisbane in the Ashes of 2006-07 to apply similar mental pressure. England, 445 behind on first innings, had their backs against the ropes and were there for the battering in every sense. This wasn't cautious, it was cruel.
Warne was a key factor in these decisions by Australia's recent captains. Their batsmen scored at a rate which meant plenty of time was left in the game and the more wear and tear on the pitch would help the master leg-spinner.
For all Graeme Swann's ability, he is no Warne; in the England team the seamers have to take the bulk of the wickets. There is also a myth about slow, low pitches deteriorating.
Recent events in Chennai should be remembered as rarely do these type of pitches do anything other than get flatter and slower. A fast, bouncy, cracked pitch... now that's a different story - but that's not what England were confronted with.
In Antigua the West Indies would have had to score more than 500 following on to have been anywhere near safe. Instead England took time out of the game setting a notional 503 and it cost them.
As Strauss' men trudged off at the end of a long final day knowing they deserved the win, it was the West Indies players who were once again punching the Antiguan air.