September 28, 2009

Strauss outsmarts Smith in mind games


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a funny game cricket is! How quickly the experts could be proved wrong and how amazingly the events go exactly in the opposite direction to the one envisaged.

England, besides the weakened West Indies, were considered as the rank outsiders and hosts South Africa were installed as the hot-favourites for the title when the ICC Champions Trophy 2009 got underway on September 22.

In less than a week’s time the underdogs England have become the first team in the competition to qualify for the semifinals and the fancied South Africa earn the dubious distinction of being the first outfit to crash out of the mega event.

The manner in which England have played their first couple of games, having trounced first Sri Lanka and then South Africa in totally different conditions, no credit could be taken away from Andrew Strauss and his boys for coming good against all odds.

I don’t think anyone expected England to bounce back so strongly after the drubbing they received at the hands of Australia in the ODI series at home earlier this month. The turnaround has been nothing short of sensational and they are now only a couple of wins away from capturing the crown.

Strauss has turned out to be an inspirational leader who has provided the much needed confidence and self-belief to his teammates who were obviously demoralized after having lost six matches on a trot to an Australian team that wasn’t as good as the results reflected.

The mental toughness of the England skipper deserves special mention. He may not look all that a dashing character in the field but he’s one man who is there in the game with his heart and soul.

Strauss is not known for bullying the opponents or doing anything that could bring the gentlemen’s game to disrepute. On the contrary he’s cool, calm and composed. This, however, doesn’t mean him to be taken for granted as the South African captain Graeme Smith discovered at the Super Sport Park in Centurion on September 27.

Smith was leading the run-chase and he was middling nearly every ball. The contest was alive as the asking rate was still in single digit and the home side had wickets in hand when the last 10 overs of the innings began, five of which were to be used for the batting powerplay.

Having hammered the England bowlers all over the park from the first ball of the innings, Smith showed signs of having cramps around the time he got to his century. He desired the services of a runner to conserve his energy for the final onslaught. He got the treatment at the ground and A B de Villiers came along to run for his fatigued captain.

The on-field umpires had no issue in allowing Smith a runner but they went by the book and sought the consent of the fielding captain. Strauss was very much alive to the situation and he was in no mood to give a lifeline to his opposite number. I think he made a perfectly right decision of turning down the request not once but two times.

Cricket is a tough game and it should be played the same way. If Smith was fit enough to flay the bowlers why should he have been provided the luxury of not running his singles and doubles. South Africa’s hopes of staying in the competition vanished the moment Smith was snapped fittingly by Owais Shah, who was guilty of dropping him earlier in his innings.

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