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Familiar Foe Spoils Strauss’ Party

Morne Morkel continued to torment Andrew Strauss on day two at Lord’s to leave England struggling in a game they must win, says Jo Harman.

It’s no secret that Morne Morkel fancies a bit of Andrew Strauss. “Morne loves getting Strauss out for a living,” Dale Steyn told AOC last summer. “If Strauss is at the non-striker’s end for the last three balls of my over I might not be going all out to get the wicket, I just don’t want to give them a single and let him down the other end.” That’s quite an admission from the world’s best and most attacking fast bowler, that he might send down a couple wide of off stump just to make sure his partner in crime gets a proper crack at his bunny.

To call a batsman with more than 7,000 Test runs and 21 centuries anyone’s bunny is a big call, but the statistics bear it out. During England’s tour of South Africa in 2009/10 Strauss passed 50 just once, falling to Morkel three times in four Tests, and the South African paceman has been all over him again this summer. But despite Strauss’ travails there was hope, even expectation, that this time would be different (so much so that we stuck a fiver on it at AOC Towers).

Strauss, after all, was playing his hundredth Test on his home ground where he has scored five Test tons (only Gooch and Vaughan have more), needing just one more century to equal the record number of centuries scored by an Englishman. Earlier in the summer his South African counterpart Graeme Smith marked his hundredth Test appearance with a ton of his own – the symmetry would be beautiful. It was written in the stars, surely?

We should have known better. There’s little room for sentiment in cricket and so it proved when a full delivery burst between Strauss’ bat and pad two balls before lunch on day two, as the England captain fell to Morkel for the eighth time in 11 Tests.

So what is it about South Africa’s gentle giant – at least off the pitch, on it he’s a 6ft 7in wrecking ball – that leaves Strauss powerless to stop him? The key is the angle of attack. Morkel comes round the wicket to Strauss, angling the ball in at his stumps and moving the odd one away from the bat. That, aligned with his ability to extract steep bounce from a fullish length, leaves Strauss unsure what to play and what to leave. It’s a similar line of attack to the one used by left-armers Zaheer Khan and Chanaka Welegedera against Strauss in the past and they too have had success.

Morkel set him up sweetly at Lord’s, cutting him in half before inducing an edge with a delivery that moved away and then firing one in short which Strauss took square on the body. In the next over he finished him off with a fuller delivery that came back with the angle and Strauss, slow to come forward after the blow he took in Morkel’s previous over, had his stumps rearranged.

Several people have queried why the world’s finest quick has not taken the new ball in the series, with the Proteas opting for Morkel and Vernon Philander instead, and there was speculation that Steyn’s below par display on day one at The Oval was in part down to his dissatisfaction at being relegated to first change. But when AOC caught up with Steyn after the Headingley Test, he insisted nothing could be further from the truth. “Morne probably bowls just as quick as I do and he has a better bouncer. Who better to use the new ball and set the tone than Morne? Morne bowling at Strauss is a massive thing for us mentally, so when it comes to taking the new ball I’m one of the first guys to say he must do it. It’s all part of our plan.”

There is, of course, a second innings to come for Strauss to get one over on his nemesis but it’s a plan that’s working perfectly so far for the tourists, and as the England skipper sat on the balcony watching Trott, Cook and Taylor all follow him back to the pavilion before tea on day two, the hundredth Test victory party that England fans had so dearly hoped for looked a long way off.

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