Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood are two resilient cricketers with much international experience. Yet these two players, ostensibly amongst England’s toughest, are both in the midst of huge slumps in form and have found themselves mercilessly exposed by Australia and, lately, New Zealand. Are their problems technical, physical or mental?
Clearly, they are a combination of all three; fatigue of both kinds sets in only when performances have waned.
Strauss went into the Test series in fine form. This perhaps contributed to his incorrect belief that he had to fill Marcus Trescothick’s 2005 role in taking the attack to Australia’s bowlers from the off; hence, he got out to a number of injudicious shots when he should have been looking to build the foundations. Next came a period when he appeared to have found the right balance, and was extremely unlucky with umpiring decisions.
Yet what started out as a mere dip in form has continued apace. The excuses have gone and Strauss’ body language and confused stroke play are those of a man who has lost all faith in the methods which have served him so well. In 15 international innings down under, Strauss has never passed 50. These are abysmal stats for a man who has prided himself on his consistency since emerging so spectacularly three years ago. The only solace is, unlike in the case of Collingwood, his technique has not disintegrated, even if his cricketing brain seems to have done.
The case of Collingwood is even more bewildering. He began phenomenally in Australia; a 96 and a 206 in his first three Test innings seemed to put all doubts over his compatibility at Test level to rest. But the Australian bowlers, thereafter, nullified his scoring shots and uncovered fundamental weaknesses outside off-stump against the quick bowlers, where Collingwood’s studiousness could not hide his vulnerability.
But no one ever doubted his quality in the ODI arena, where he has over 100 caps and has saved England on many an occasion. However, save for a painstaking 43 in the first CB Series game, the Durham player has appeared dejected and bereft of all belief, as he himself has admitted. After his double hundred, an epic vigil of concentration (albeit one in which he was never able to truly dominate), expectations have weighed him down. In his last four games, he has not passed 10. Patently, he, like Strauss, is a man worn down and in need of a break.
That is all well and good. But the World Cup is seven weeks away and the duo are both essential facets of England’s misfiring batting line-up. They are also victims of England’s stubborn refusal to embrace rotation of any sort, leaving players nowhere to hide when their standards slip. England should amend this and give one – or both – a break, even if it means thrusting Ravi Bopara into the firing line. But the reality is, after the relentless beatings both have endured, it seems impossible that both will recover in time for the World Cup.