Strauss Century Puts England On Top Again

It was déjà vu for Andrew Strauss and England on Thursday at Kensington Oval as the touring captain’s forthright century led his team to a position of strength at close of the first day of the 4th Digicel Test against the West Indies at Kensington Oval in Barbados.

Strauss compiled 142, his second successive century, as England closed on 301-3, the identical position they ended day one of the 3rd Digicel Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground just over a week ago.

The 31-year-old Strauss was the dominant partner in a record-breaking opening stand of 229 with Alastair Cook, who offered assured support in scoring 94.

There was a wicket apiece for Jerome Taylor (one for 45), Sulieman Benn (one for 59) and Daren Powell (one for 72).

The West Indies, after losing the toss, were made to toil in fine batting conditions under sunny skies and against the backdrop of a predominantly English crowd of close to 10,000. The home team did themselves no favours with a shoddy performance in the field as five opportunities were missed throughout the day.

Strauss, in confident mood after his brilliant 169 at the ARG, began fluently and, after a couple of sedate overs playing himself in, quickly put the West Indies attack to the sword with some crisp strokes.

The England skipper cruised past fifty but then benefitted from two chances in successive overs.

The first, when 50, did not go to hand but his flying edge at Benn’s left-arm spin should have landed in Devon Smith’s lap at slip were he not positioned far too wide. Strauss had pushed on to 58 when a more genuine chance came along as he drove at Fidel Edwards, but Chris Gayle grassed the straightforward first slip catch.

Strauss went to lunch on 71, with Cook in his wake on 37, and England having a solid platform of 108 without loss.

The second session further dulled the West Indies as the pair extended their partnership with an even more authoritative display.

Strauss continued to stroke the ball sweetly and arrived at his 16th Test century, and third against the West Indies, midway through the session, off 144 balls – his fastest in test cricket. He reached the landmark in style, launching Benn onto the roof of the Greenidge & Haynes Stand at midwicket.

The pair took tea at 221 for none with Cook in sight of an eighth Test hundred, unbeaten on 84.

The West Indies hit back in the final session as they snared three quick wickets to stall the visitors.

The under-pressure Daren Powell, poor in the first two sessions, produced a brilliant yorker to land the breakthrough. He rocked back the middle and off stump of Strauss, whose ugly attempt at survival only ended up with him falling over.

The England skipper struck 18 fours and a six off 210 balls in four hours, ten minutes.

Cook, searching for a first Test century since December 2007, survived a couple of chances, on 85 and 86, before he miscued a hook at Jerome Taylor and Ryan Hinds clung on to a fine diving catch at midwicket.

Strauss and Cook passed two records during their partnership, going beyond the previous best England opening stand on the ground, of 172 between John Edrich and Geoff Boycott in 1968.

They then erased the best ever opening stand for England against the West Indies, beating 212 between Reg Simpson and Cyril Washbrook in 1950 at Nottingham.

When Owais Shah fell cheaply cutting at Benn and diverting a catch to slip, England were 259-3 and in danger of ruining their captain’s good work.

The West Indies should have added another crucial wicket before the close but the unlucky Edwards had England’s champion batsman Kevin Pietersen, then 20, dropped at fine leg by Taylor.

Pietersen went to close unbeaten on 32 while Paul Collingwood was 11 not out.