Taunton: Andrew Strauss warmed up for next week's first Test by taking the early honours at the start of the head-to-head with Zaheer Khan on his guest appearance for Somerset and Arul Suppiah hit an unbeaten 145 as India were made to toil at Taunton. He and Suppiah added 101 for the first wicket before Suppiah and Nick Compton put on 223 between two stoppages for rain to take the home side to an imposing 329 for 2.
Strauss struck 11 boundaries in bringing up his half century from a sprightly 63 balls. All his shots were in good working order as he drove, pulled and glanced his way into form ahead of Lord's next week. He did have a couple of close shaves; firstly on 20 when Zaheer had a big lbw shout turned down by Graham Lloyd and then on 64 when Wriddhiman Saha, the reserve wicketkeeper playing in place of the rested MS Dhoni, dropped an edge off Amit Mishra. However, the keeper took the next chance when an edge bobbled off the pad and looped in the air as Strauss departed for 78. In the context of the runs that followed he missed out.
The loan deal for Strauss has provoked debate, both about the whether the structure of domestic cricket does all it can to help the England team, and also what Somerset are gaining from the move. Despite coming off a four-day Championship match the county fielded a number of first-team regulars, including England Lions captain James Hildreth, and somebody has sat out to let Strauss play. However, he received a warm ovation as he left the field following his innings and, wearing his Somerset kit, appeared to have been adopted at least for the day.
"He looked very good, he was moving his feet very well and striking the ball out of the middle," Suppiah said of Strauss. "It's just a shame he got out, he probably could have got a hundred but he played really well. He looks hungry for runs, left the ball well and played straight which is the main thing for an opener."
The battle with Zaheer was a gentle precursor of what will follow in the Tests as the bowler eased himself back into action after a lengthy lay-off following the IPL. The initial overs of Zaheer's first spell were friendly, but he started to generate a touch more pace and find some swing later in an eight-over burst.
Zaheer is the only one of this India attack certain to play at Lord's next week with Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar rested following their workload in the Caribbean. It meant a chance for Sreesanth and Munaf Patel to stake a claim for the third seamer's slot, although neither made a compelling case to replace Kumar. The attack actually looked toothless - Suresh Raina's late wicket of Compton came when the batsman reverse-swept to short third man - but India will back themselves to lift for the major challenge.
Sreesanth was tight to begin with but Strauss started to take to him with three boundaries in an over as he moved to his half-century. Patel, meanwhile, was steady but didn't provide much threat. Mishra began with three no-balls in his first three overs and Strauss picked off the legspinner with ease, pulling him over midwicket and driving through the off side, before the bowler struck back.
While Strauss's runs will be welcome, he'll know that they don't guarantee a successful start to the Tests. Ahead of the Sri Lanka series he scored two hundreds - one of them against the visitors at Uxbridge - but then struggled to convert that when the internationals began and ended with 27 runs from four innings.
With the focus understandably on Strauss, Suppiah was a quiet partner in every sense at the other end. He didn't register a boundary until the start of the second hour when he played a lovely straight drive, but a sign of the gentle nature of the surface was that he, too, didn't have many alarms.
Rain brought a lengthy stoppage shortly after lunch but when the skies cleared Suppiah and Compton made positive progress as India found wickets elusive. Suppiah became increasingly positive on either side of his half century, but India missed a chance to break the partnership when Compton, on 24, was dropped at square by Sachin Tendulkar when he pulled Sreesanth.
Compton cashed in on his chance with a series of well-timed boundaries, one of which was a stand-and-deliver cover drive off Zaheer who was the pick of a disappointing seam attack, as he reached a half century from 74 deliveries. Mishra was taken at more than four-an-over and also dropped a tough caught-and-bowled chance off Suppiah, who was on 71. Mishra was forced him to leave the field mid-over for treatment on his finger but was said to be fine. The 17 overs shared by the part-time spinners, Raina and Yuvraj Singh, cost 110 runs including 18 off one Yuvraj over.
The resumption after tea was delayed by further rain, but the final hour was possible which gave Suppiah the chance to register his sixth first-class hundred from 179 balls, and he is closing in a new career-best. It's been a good time for Suppiah recently because he registered world record Twenty20 figures for 6 for 5 last week. And it won't have done him any harm to score runs in front of the England captain.