Back-to-form Strauss helps England to prosper

Digging in: Captain Andrew Strauss on his way to a half century .              AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena
Digging in: Captain Andrew Strauss on his way to a half century . AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena
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SKIPPER Andrew Strauss answered some of his critics after his half-century helped England take a grip on the Second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

The under-fire skipper made 61 as England reached the close on day two on 154-1 and in sight of Sri Lanka’s 275.

Although Strauss is still without a Test century in 24 innings, a dogged, patient knock helped set up a strong position, aided by Alastair Cook’s unbeaten 77, as England look to level the two-Test series.

“We’re all pleased for him because everybody is behind the skipper,” said Graeme Swann who polished off the Sri Lanka tail first thing in the morning.

“He proved himself, got another good start and will be kicking himself he got 50 and didn’t go on,” said Swann.

“He’s had a few questions asked of him in the media but we’re behind him.

“Personally I don’t think the media pressure is justified. I’m Andrew Strauss’s greatest ally and I think we should let him get on with scoring the hundreds he undoubtedly can do.

“He’s probably frustrated. He’s been in good form and every time he bats he gets a start. He’s probably in one of those patches when you don’t quite perform as you like.”

The pressure on Strauss has reflected the poor performances of England’s batting line-up in Asia this year - during which time they have lost all four Tests.

England had put themselves in a decent position at the end of the first day with Sri Lanka 238-6 and Swann took three wickets to check any late resistance from the home side after Anderson and Finn had not managed a wicket with the new ball.

Firstly he had Randiv caught in the deep by Pietersen for 12 and four runs later removed Matthews via a catch by Strauss at short mid-wicket after he had posted his half-century.

Bresnan chipped in with a wicket before Swann rounded things off to finish with 4-75 and Sri Lanka all out for 275.

England knew they needed to start well and Strauss and Cook did just that after getting through four overs before lunch.

It took just eight overs for left-arm spinner Herath, man of the match in Galle, to be introduced but England’s tactics were much better against him this time, with the much-debated sweep shot put into storage and both batsmen playing safer shots with the turn.

Cook, on 20, turned him to short-leg where Thirimanne almost took a wonderful low catch only for the ball to squirm loose.

Cook nudged for two to bring up the 50 partnership in the 21st over and they had eased through to 83-0 at tea off 36 overs.

Cook was the more circumspect, taking 164 balls to reach his 50 to Strauss’s 105 although only minutes separated each half-century.

Just after a drinks interval with the stand on 122, Strauss went to cut a ball from Dilshan and was caught behind for 61 but Cook continued to compile watchfully, with Jonathan Trott 15no, offering typically calm support as they closed on 154-1, 121 behind.