Graeme Swann has praised Andrew Strauss for his measured response to what he sees as a “witch hunt” against the England captain.
Since England lost their fourth Test in a row in Galle last week, the opener’s lengthy run without a century and the team’s poor form in the sub-continent have seen Strauss’s position come into question for the first time in his three-year reign.
He could not manage his first hundred since November 2010 on day two of the second Test against Sri Lanka, but scored a hard-working 61 and put on a first-wicket stand worth 122 with Alastair Cook, right, who was 77 not out at the close.
That left England in control of the game at 154 for one – only 121 behind with nine wickets in hand.
Asked about his captain’s effort, Swann said: “He hasn’t shown any signs (of pressure). We only realised he was under scrutiny because some of us can read and we’ve seen the papers.
“There has been what I see as a bit of a witch hunt towards him, which I think is unjustified, but you wouldn’t tell from the way he carries himself and the way he’s captained.
“He’s very phlegmatic, very laidback. He’s the best captain in world cricket and a world-class opening batsman.
“He’ll be kicking himself not to have gone on (to a century) but he gave us a solid start and we’re delighted how it’s panned out.”
Swann accepted that players at the top level would always be judged by high standards, but was quick to remind Strauss’s critics about the two successful Ashes victories and the side’s ascent to world No 1 status on his watch.
“When anyone is in a position like Straussy, if things don’t go as well as they have done, the pressure builds up,” he said.
“My personal view is that he should be afforded a little bit of leeway because of what he has done over the last two or three years.
“He’s not in horrible nick, scratching around looking like getting out in the first over every time. He’s getting good starts.
“Sometimes you have barren spells and his barren spell is a lot better than other people’s have been. He’ll be scoring hundreds before you know it.”
On the state of the game itself, Swann was buoyant.
With four wickets taken in the morning for just 37 runs and only one given away in the remaining two sessions, it was arguably the team’s best day of a troubled winter.
“It was a very good day and it was the day we were all looking for,” he said.
“Four wickets quick and cheap was important, but probably more important for the overall vibe in the dressing room was a solid start and 154-1.
“It’s probably our most complete day of the winter. We’ve had some very good days scuppered by bad ones but this was a very good all round day.”
Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford noticed a change in England’s approach to spin – noticeably a lack of premeditated sweeps and fewer bat-pad chances.
“The way they played in the first innings at Galle and the way they played (yesterday) was totally different,” he said.
“They certainly looked like they had a good think about playing our spinners, although I was expecting the pitch to do more.
“It didn’t really go that much, maybe that was the difference. It gives us something to think about.
“I expect my guys to be up for a scrap Thursday.”
Worcestershire’s hopes of Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal playing for the county again this summer appear to be fading because of new international commitments.
England’s winter tormentor Ajmal, who spent the second half of last season at New Road, has re-signed with the Royals for the 2012 Twenty20 competition.
But Pakistan are now expected to tour Sri Lanka during that period although the dates and itinerary have still to be confirmed.
Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes said: “We hear talk all the time of Pakistan touring Sri Lanka and now we are getting that sort of confirmation from agents. We still haven’t got definite dates, and it still hasn’t been officially announced when he might be going.”