FOR a man who will go down as one of England’s greatest captains, Andrew Strauss’ exit from cricket was refreshingly free of pomp and ceremony.
Few can match his achievements in the role, which include home and away Ashes victories and taking the side to No 1 in the ICC’s Test rankings. But there was no grandstanding about those efforts at Lord’s yesterday. No Michael Vaughan-style tears either. Indeed Strauss, as composed and forthright as ever, was scarcely more emotional than when declaring a minor change to the first XI. It was a measured and occasionally light-hearted performance entirely in keeping with Strauss’ three-and-a-half year reign, which has been a triumph of collective responsibility and teamwork.
Strauss, who departs at the age of 35 with exactly 100 Test caps, had to wait his turn for the chance to lead his country, overlooked first in favour of Andrew Flintoff and then Kevin Pietersen. Both of those men ascended to the captaincy based on their performances – crowd-pleasing, bar emptying, six-hitting exploits that turned them into celebrity sportsmen. But neither showed even a fraction of the aptitude for the job that Strauss did.
Although unlikely to go down as one the game’s greatest innovators, his strengths heavily outweighed any such conservative leanings. He exuded statesmanlike authority, held the game in a healthy perspective and demanded the highest standards of those around him. It was a recipe that saw him, alongside team director Andy Flower, fashion the finest England side in at least a generation from the rubble of a side that were in the doldrums and going nowhere fast. His final analysis as Test skipper reads handsomely – played 50, won 24, lost 11 – and makes him the second most successful England captain, in terms of victories, after Vaughan. Throw in 7,037 Test runs, 21 centuries and 4,205 one-day runs and you have the basis of an iconic individual. Yet there is no masking the frustration he will feel at leaving his post before the back-to-back Ashes series that take place in 2013/14.
The second of those had long been his preferred departure point but he decided he could not reasonably expect to continue that long and has given Alastair Cook as long as possible to get his feet under the table. If there is another gnawing regret for Strauss it will be that, for all the success, the familiar problem of Pietersen has played a role in his departure. He will deny that his star batsman’s recent dramas contributed and is too level-headed to charge into the sunset on a knee-jerk reaction, but Strauss has been drained by recent events.
Pietersen’s “provocative” texts to members of the South Africa team, understood to refer to Strauss, must surely have hurt him. Equally, the stressful process of attempting to play peacemaker between a high-maintenance player and an unrelenting board have been a clear distraction.
Of course, Strauss would not have been made England captain had Pietersen not made his own position untenable by calling for the sacking of former coach Peter Moores (and, lest we forget, his right-hand man – Flower).
Some may see it as a failure of man-management that such a volatile but talented player has not been more successfully integrated in the last couple of years but even a cursory canvassing of opinions around the England dressing room would absolve Strauss of any blame.
England may not immediately miss Strauss’ presence at the top of the order – he has, in truth, been an inconsistent batsman for some time – but the loss of his unflappable leadership, both on and off the field, will leave a void that takes some filling.