From start to finish dignified, decent, calm and intelligent; a man. The he-said, she-said tittle-tattle of the KP affair seemed beneath him. Surely, in Strauss’ England, this sort of thing shouldn’t happen? So it was that on Tuesday night, after a month-long furore characterised by faceless tweets and secret texts, Strauss wrote letters (pieces of paper with words written on them) to each of his players to tell them of his resignation. He is a class act.
And when drawn on the Pietersen question – it didn’t take long to come up and occupied a depressingly large chunk of the news conference – he cuffed it away backward of square. All along the floor. No fuss. He wasn’t about to sully himself with a farewell barb in anyone’s direction.
It was the lack of runs that floored him in the end. He said it was a decision he was fairly sure of privately even before the South Africa series. He has tried hard to rediscover his batting form, worked on everything he felt he could have done, but when it came down to it he didn’t quite have it in him anymore.
His 107 runs in six innings against South Africa seemed to convince him that a two-year decline with the bat would prove irreversible. “My batting hasn’t been good enough. I know with my own energy levels and motivation I wasn’t going to improve batting-wise”. In the end, he said of the decision to retire from all cricket, “you just know in your heart”.
Although the Pietersen situation was a headache and a distraction – and there are those who feel Surrey’s new run-machine has the England skipper’s blood on his hands – I’m not sure it necessarily hastened Strauss’ departure. At most, I suspect this extra complication simply made his decision that much more straightforward. It was time to go.
But it is sad that he departs in these circumstances. Sad he’s gone at all, but particularly like this. A shame that his last Test – his hundredth – wasn’t a happier one. In the fairytale version of Strauss’ career he would battle on, arrest the slump, and bow out next year in the champagne-soaked gleam of another home Ashes series win, a man fulfilled. But sport affords only a few the fairytale end.
For England captains, it usually comes after home defeats to Graeme Smith’s South Africans. Strauss though, will have few complaints. A century of Tests, 21 Test tons – one of them on debut at Lord’s in 2004, two in that 2005 Ashes series win, and another two in one match in Chennai in 2008 – Ashes wins home and away as captain, and seeing England to the top of the world rankings with a 4-0 defeat of India in 2011. It is one of the finest ever England careers.
He was a man of traditional principles and virtues, but a modern captain. Tactically conservative undoubtedly, but his tendency to eschew an easy, eye-catching option in favour of what he thought in the best interests of his side is to be applauded. He knew that in the age of Twenty20, a deep point might be just as likely to get you a wicket – by strangling the scoring rate – as a fourth slip, no matter the chuntering from the celebrated men-of-the-1970s in the commentary box.
More importantly, he knew that leadership was not about playing the tough guy, not about demonstrative arm waving and laying the law down. His was a natural authority that was not afraid of people’s individual agency and intelligence, did not see players’ desire to practise and strategise in their own way as a threat to his authority.
And this group of players unquestionably see themselves as ‘his’ team. Graeme Swann wrote in his autobiography: “Strauss is one of those guys who demands respect… He always says the right things, whether it be in team meetings or press conferences, and his word is never questioned.” His decisions were taken with clear thought processes and a calm head.
Although the news of his departure on Wednesday came – whatever the chatter – as a terrible, somewhat sudden shock to many of us, you can at least be confident that it was clearly thought out and made for the right reasons.
The world of English cricket will truly miss Andrew Strauss. We will always have the memories: the hundreds, the series wins and that ton-up grin: the uncomplicated joy of a fundamentally happy and deserving man.
But England travel to India later in the year potentially shorn not only of their best batsman, but now their leader. Suddenly, what was an almost boringly consistent, predictable and successful side a year ago is once again prey to doubts and speculation.
For so long Strauss’ has been an impressive and reassuring hand on the tiller in this world. He’s been a happy constant; one of life’s certainties. Without him, that world looks a more excitable, more uncertain and ever so slightly less decent place.
There were no tears on departure, as there were for Nasser and Vaughan – would there ever have been from stoical Strauss? – but when asked about taking the decision to call time, Strauss conceded that while he felt it was best for the team, it was still “a hugely sad moment” for him personally. He’s not the only one.
Whether you’re an armchair enthusiast or an avid player, All Out Cricket magazine is a great read for cricket fans of all ages and tastes.
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