Andrew Strauss’ decision to call it a day came at a good time

Paul Newman
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
4:07 PM

Andrew Strauss ended his professional cricket career – and with it his reign as England captain – much as he performed his job as player and skipper, with the minimum of fuss.

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Unlike some of his predecessors and former team-mates, he has never tried to cultivate the celebrity image, so while his cricketing achievements have been immense, he isn’t the household name outside the game that players like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen have become.

We don’t always appreciate people until they are gone and when the dust has settled on a sometimes difficult year for England, we can properly assess Strauss’s enormous contribution to the national team as player and captain.

As a batsman, he finished with 21 Test centuries, level with Pietersen and just one behind the England record of 22 shared by Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott.

His record as captain, winning 24 out of 50 Tests, was better than any England skipper to take charge in 40 matches or more, with the exception of Michael Vaughan, who finished with 26 wins in 51.

Strauss is also only the third England captain, after Len Hutton and Mike Brearley, to win an Ashes series at home and away. Quite simply, his record speaks for itself.

It always seems like a bit of a shock when the England captain goes, but on reflection it is not a total surprise. Unless you are behind the scenes, you never really know what’s going on in the England camp, but Strauss is an honest sort of guy and he knew when it was time to go.

He had clearly been thinking about stepping down for a while, and admitted he viewed the South Africa series as a crossroads. You can’t really explain it, but you just know when the time is right, as did Nasser Hussain and Vaughan before him.

None of these three chose to play on as long as another ex-England skipper, Alec Stewart, who played his last Test at the age of 40, four years after he lost the captaincy.

Had Strauss stayed on he could have broken all sorts of records, but he’s gone out at a good time. He did not have a great series against South Africa, but he’s been able to go out on his own terms. He was never going to stay on in county cricket so he went out at the top.

Strauss was fortunate in one sense to come into the England job in an era when everything was in place in terms of central contracts and backroom support, a benefit most of his predecessors did not enjoy, but he didn’t ask for that – it was a legacy of the Fletcher-Hussain reign and the current squad have reason to be grateful for what they established. The partnership between Andy Flower and Strauss was also a fantastic one for England.

Though the captaincy was eventually split between the three England teams, the bond in the dressing room is very strong and there were certainly no issues between Strauss and his long-term opening partner and successor, Alastair Cook, who already has 20 Test centuries to his name and has all those batting records in his sights.

We will never really know for certain whether the Pietersen text message affair influenced Strauss’s decision to retire – he says not, but if you are already considering your position and something happens that you simply don’t want or don’t need, it can play a part. He no longer has to deal with the fall-out and I can’t say I blame him.

Pietersen has upset the apple cart nearly everywhere he has played and he has been stupid in this instance – the question now is how much does he really want to play for England again and is he prepared to eat a huge portion of humble pie?

Whether he gets one more chance depends on how much he wants it and whether he can curb his rebellious nature.

• SWARDESTON ARE MASTERS OF THEIR OWN DESTINY IN TITLE RACE

Swardeston may have one hand on the East Anglian Premier League trophy after taking maximum points once again when they beat Saffron Walden last weekend.

Another 30-point haul at Copdock & Old Ipswichian on Saturday would clinch the title, but failure to win would mean the champagne stays on ice and the race will keep going until the final day – provided Horsford and Vauxhall Mallards, the only sides who can catch them, win their respective home games against Sudbury and Burwell this weekend.

The weather forecast looks decent so, if only for the excitement factor, it would be good if the title race went to the last day. In the final round of EAPL fixtures, Swardeston play host to Mallards and Horsford visit Great Witchingham. It would be a fitting finale to the season if three of the four Norfolk sides were still in the hunt, with two huge matches taking place in the county.

There is certainly a crunch match in prospect at Postwick on Saturday when Norwich entertain Fakenham in the game that could decide the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division title. Points in the bag are important and the six-point lead Norwich have could yet prove vital, allied to the fact that Fakenham have to play four-times former champions Downham on the last day, whereas Norwich’s final match is against Old Buckenham.

At the bottom of the Premier, Sprowston and Lowestoft are still sweating on survival as second-from-bottom Ashmanhaugh & Barton Wanderers continue to close the gap in their bid to stay up – thanks almost entirely to overseas player Hendro Puchert. Their last two games are against Stow and Diss and they will consider them winnable.

Cromer duly booked their place in the Premier Division with victory in the Division One title decider at Manor Park over Horsford A. It’s unusual for a team to win a division after suffering five defeats, but it has been a very tight contest this year with only 46 points – just a couple of wins, really – between the top six.

Congratulations to Cromer, but a word of warning – I believe they will need to recruit a very good overseas player if they are not to suffer the same fate as Acle in their first season back in the Premier.

• PROGRESSIVE SELECTION POLICY HAS BORNE FRUIT

After losing the Test series to South Africa and suffering a heavy defeat in the first one-day international, it has been encouraging to see the way England fought back at The Oval and Lord’s.

There has been a lot of energy and pride in the last two performances and although today’s final match at Trent Bridge will decide whether they win the series or share it, they will definitely retain their world number one ranking until the one-day series in India early in 2013.

I have been one of the biggest critics of England’s one-day side over the years but the determination to top the rankings in all forms of the game has brought a shift in selection policy that has meant picking specialist bowlers rather than trying to fudge the issue with all-rounders who might chip in with 20 or 30 runs but are not quite good enough at international level.

While bowlers win Test matches, it is batsmen who win one-day games if you let them, so you need to pick your best bowlers to nullify their contribution and to knock them over at important times – not just try to contain them.

As for the batsmen, Jonny Bairstow will be itching to get into the side after the way he performed in the third Test, but Ravi Bopara is hanging on to his place at the moment by virtue of his medium-pace bowling – taking some key wickets, including that of Hashim Amla at Lord’s.

The key man for England, though, is currently Eoin Morgan, who now looks a world-class performer in limited-overs cricket.

He has made a few technical adjustments to his game since a poor run in the Test side against Pakistan in the winter, but he now looks as if he really belongs at this level.

All his Test appearances have come against teams from the sub-continent, and he will be hoping to add to his 16 caps in India later this year.

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