Leeds can help keep England on top of the world – Strauss

ANDREW STRAUSS believes Headingley’s reputation for result pitches and its notoriously capricious nature can play into England’s hands as they seek the victory that would prevent South Africa snatching their world No 1 crown.

England would lose top spot in the International Cricket Council rankings if South Africa follow up their innings win in the first Test at the Oval with victory in the game that starts at Leeds this morning.

But with 25 of the last 27 Headingley Tests having produced a result, and with the ground as unpredictable as the great British weather, Strauss is hoping the venue will help England maximise home advantage as they seek to level the three-match series.

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“Generally it’s been a result wicket,” said the England captain. “Certainly the games I’ve played here have all ended in results.

“That’s a good thing, and there are slightly more unique challenges that it does throw at you as batsmen and bowlers.

“It’s a slightly intriguing ground in terms of the fact you can be bowled out for 100 first innings but if you get past the first hour you can go and get 400.

“There are times when the bowling looks unplayable and times when it looks very flat, so the overhead conditions do play a big part, and as always you’ve got to try and look into your crystal ball a little bit and try and get the balance of the side you think is most going to allow you to win the game.”

England’s deliberations will centre on the composition of their bowling attack after Strauss confirmed Nottinghamshire batsman James Taylor will make his debut at No 6.

It was an attack that misfired badly at the Oval, where England claimed only two wickets.

Neither Strauss nor team director Andy Flower has ruled out an all-seam attack, which would mean no place for Graeme Swann.

England must decide whether to retain Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan and/or recall Middlesex pace bowler Steven Finn.

Strauss gave nothing away during his pre-match media briefing but stressed Bresnan’s knowledge of the Headingley conditions would not necessarily work in the player’s favour.

“I think you just select the best XI to win the game of cricket regardless of where people are from really,” he said. “Bres knows the wicket well and knows the lengths to bowl here, and he’ll be feeding that information to the other bowlers.

“An all-seam attack is definitely an option but, as is always the case, you want to have a look at the wicket on the day of the game.

“If you go in with an all-seam attack you’re putting all your eggs in one basket to a certain extent, but if we think the wicket is going to help seam it’s certainly possible.”

Strauss pronounced himself satisfied with the pitch prepared by Yorkshire groundsman Andy Fogarty and his team.

“The wicket looks pretty good,” he said. “There’s a little bit of grass cover on it so there’s going to be a bit in it for the bowlers, which I’m sure our bowlers are going to be happy about, but obviously the challenge is there for our batsmen as well.

“I think it’s going to be a fair contest between bat and ball.”

It is a contest that will test England’s mettle after what Swann termed their “public humiliation” at the Oval.

England have lost five of their last nine Tests since becoming 
No 1 and need to recapture the form that took them there in the first place.

“Clearly we’ve been a bit inconsistent in the last 12 months in differing conditions but perspectives can change very quickly,” said Strauss. “If we win this Test and the next one then suddenly things are looking very rosy again.

“It’s important not to start navel-gazing too much and to keep our heads high, keep working hard and do the simple things well.

“The No 1 status is never something you focus on day-to-day but we want to win this series and, if we lose it, then we lose that ranking as well, which would hurt.”

Strauss expressed confidence his side will bounce back and prevent South Africa gaining a third successive Test win at Headingley after victories in 2003 and 2008.

“We’re very confident,” he said. “There’s clearly a steely determination among the troops to show that we are better than what we showed last week.

“In the past, when we have lost a game, we’ve always bounced back well and I anticipate us doing that again.

“It’s going to take a little bit of character and guts but I know we’ve got a lot of that in the squad and I’m very confident we’ll come out here and play good cricket.”

Strauss was similarly optimistic that Taylor would rise to the challenge of trying to fill the problem No 6 position, describing the 22-year-old as “an old head on young shoulders”.

He also had words of sympathy for Ravi Bopara, whom Taylor replaced after the Essex batsman withdrew for personal reasons.

“I feel for Ravi,” said Strauss. “He’s going through a bit of a hard time personally at the moment and it was a big call on his part to say, ‘Look, I’m not in the right frame of mind.’ I think that’s quite a brave thing to do. We’re all behind him and we will offer him any support that we can.”