Wednesday 29 August 2012

Andrew Strauss: goodbye

 It's funny to write about this a day after yesterday's post, which, for those who didn't have a spare eight hours to read it, was a long exposition on the politics and personalities of shit level cricket, and how it can turn an average cricketer into a crap one.

Similar issues have surrounded Strauss's departure. Ok, even if we buy the argument he left because he was concerned about his form (and let's be honest, so were most England fans for the last two years), how far was this decline in performance due to the increasingly bitter goings on behind the scenes?

The answer, I suspect, is that we'll never know, and nor will he. But consider this. In 2006 Strauss was chosen to captain England. I felt, at the time, that he looked delighted to be in situ, and he eventually lead them to a win over Pakistan at home, averaging 66 in the process. He should have been chosen as captain for the 2006/7 Ashes down under. Instead - and Duncan Fletcher's motivations for this remain dubious to this day - Freddie got the job.

The feeling seemed to be that Flintoff would, if not made captain, actually present a problem to whomever got the job. Strauss went to Australia as a player only, and averaged 25. There followed a dip in form which lead to his eventual dismissal from the side - when he came back on the New Zealand tour, he was at number three, and fighting for his place. It was only in the final test of the series that he managed to make a significant score.

It's my suspicion that, just as the sense of betrayal that went with Fletcher's decision seemed to affect him adversely, so too the pressure of combining opening the innings with the job - and yes, the KP saga must have been a factor - seemed to get to him in the end, resulting in a string of 20s and 30s.

Two things about Strauss then - one, he was a team man, the very definition of such. He suffered in silence, just as he did a lot of his best work behind the scenes. Two, just as with Vaughan, his batting and captaincy can barely be considered in isolation, since his fortunes with the bat and his standing in the team seemed forever entwined.

But let's try and consider the batting on its own for a while. This means ignoring the stats, and concentrating entirely on the figure as presented at the wicket. I feel the technique rather embodied the man.

I wonder if others will feel this or think I'm forcing an analogy, but I'm going to throw it out there regardless: I always felt like Strauss played like someone less posh than he actually was. One watches top public school-educated batsmen - in recent years Nick Compton and Sam Northeast come to mind - and you can sort of pick them out. There's a certain mechanical classicism to their play. Compare their techniques with, say, Ravi Bopara or Eoin Morgan. (n.b. there are millions of exceptions to this rule, but anyway).  

So Strauss - well, dude is posh. Caldicott and Radley I believe. But rarely for him the high left elbow and classical straight or extra-cover drive one often associates with his contemporaries. He was far more pragmatic - more workmanlike. He really stuck to the three shots - hit it off the legs, square cut, pull it. He did of course drive from time to time, but you could tell his heart wasn't really in it; not like it was in those shots.

Now, we know from Strauss's autobiography that he only turned into a potential pro because, following university, he decided to give cricket a go - and headed out to Australia. Prior to that he was still looking set for a career in the City, rather than the cricket field.

One of his first memories out there is of watching Brett Lee tearing in at some guy without a helmet in a club game, in the middle of the bush. A long way from the playing fields of Radley. Strauss's game was a bouncy wicket one, and it surely must have been developed down under. When the Australians finally got to grips with him in '06, they did so by bowling a fuller, straighter length and line. More classical English players will generally be used to this, due to all those games they'll have played where even the quickest bowlers have pitched up because there's so much swing, while short balls just sit up to be hit.

So that expensive education? No doubt it helped his batting, but as he implies, he only really became a proper batsman down under, and I think his coach for much of that time was one A. Strauss. And I believe there's a clear line here between the man and his batting. As fans, we really rather warmed to Strauss from day one. That he was, if we're honest, probably posher than David Gower - that was barely-remarked upon. He just came across as a sensible, again pragmatic, and also thoroughly decent, man.

Something else about his batting. Again, we have to ignore the figures, because they don't bear us out. But I reckon that for a period there was no batsman more efficient at putting away the ball on his legs, not in the whole world. It didn't look much - not for him the wristy whip of a Kohli or Amla - but at his peak he would never miss a ball that was heading down leg. And he was also very good at cutting spinners. Neither of these are particularly pretty shots, not least the way Strauss played them, but my God are they ever difficult against really good bowlers. Especially the cut off the spinner - possibly one of the riskiest shots going if you're facing a really good one. It doesn't look it, but it is. And that's rather indicative of Strauss too I feel - much better than he looked.

And you can certainly apply this line to his captaincy too. Yes, he could be tactically naive. Boy, did he set some unimaginative fields at times. But just as they say you don't even notice a decent keeper, so it was very rare - never, so far as I can tell - that you'd see him make a calamitous error. As I've said before, we as spectators are wont to recognise batsman error more than excellence in the field, and it's very rare we'll say a player has been out-thought by the captain. But it happens more than we think.

And regardless of all that, one senses his impact behind the scenes - whether as captain or not - in a dressing  room which, as time has gone by, appears to have had increasingly less pleasant characters in it than many thought, would have been considerable.

The other thing I always liked about Strauss was that he wore his wedding ring around his neck when he batted. We all know how harsh a toll international cricket can take on a top player's family life - it's the subject of a thousand autobiographies - and it's nice to know that ring can now stay on his finger.

So long Mr Strauss, and thanks for everything.


  1. Nice article.
    Why do you think he has given the game up completely, instead of just test cricket?
    What about K.P., will this decession reflect on him in a bad light, will the other players hold it against him?

  2. Thanks - I think the all forms thing is quite standard, he wasn't great at the shorter versions, and I don't think he'd get much of a buzz from county cricket now, hence he probably wouldn't do that well, plus there are easier ways for an ex Eng captain to make a living that don't involve travelling round the country every week.

    As to KP-it's probably another post. I guess it's a lot like the stuff I wrote about in my last one. You look at things that were said and done in isolation and you say, 'bastards', but the point is that when emotions are high everyone thinks they're being badly treated and everyone's convinced what they're doing is best for the team. You don't really heal those wounds without talking face to face, a lot, I don't think. Clearly KP has done plenty wrong, but I'm certain the ECB has a case to answer too (which it won't), and some of the other players too. And actually a lot of journalists have let the side down too I think - some of them have been little more than glorified press officers.

  3. How much of Strauss, both batting and general, do you see in your own play?

    1. First you have to take the fact that his base level of talent is approximately 100x more than mine. Then you have to look at the fact that he played top level youth cricket for England the entire time he was growing up whereas I just about kept my place in my school team. Then you have to look at the fact that he played top level cricket throughout adulthood, which involved training and/or exercising every day, as opposed to me playing once or twice a week and my definition of fitness being not drinking too much before a game. If you take all of that into account then yup, significant similarities there.

    2. Having watched you from the non-striker's end, there are significant similarities. Exemplar concentration, deadly off the legs, limiting your stroke play till you are in and your feet are moving, and an under-rated cover drive.

      You are more similar than you give yourself credit for. And by no means is he 100x more talented, he just used his a little bit better.

    3. Cheque's in the post. V nice of you, but the only player I've ever tried to copy is Lord Trescothick (There was a period aged 14 where I tried to copy Brian Lara's bat lift and generally got bowled second ball for none, or six).
      I remember the first time I saw video footage of myself playing cricket. It's never quite as you imagine, is it (i.e. horrific)?

    4. "I remember the first time I saw video footage of myself playing cricket. It's never quite as you imagine"

      Yes, having watched first hand it would seem you are very lucky to play for a club that tolerates* cricket spastics


  4. Nick the scribbler31 August 2012 at 03:24

    Interesting observations. I can't help feel he created his own 'not good enough anymore' line because he just ran out of steam mentally. He could still play - he kept getting to 20 or 30 while playing fine and then got out to an aberration of a shot. For me, this points to mental tiredness rather than lack of form/ability/reflexes etc.

  5. Really good, CC.

    In particular I think you're right to point to Fletcher's choice of Flintoff as captain for Australia in '06-7 as a source of a lot of Strauss's subsequent form problems. I remember seeing him make a fine hundred at Lord's against Pakistan in his first Test as captain in July 2006 (batting for a time with KP on a dominant Sunday afternoon); a quick glance at Wisden reveals that he made another at Headingley two Tests later. So, by the end of that summer he probably felt he'd done enough to establish himself and would have expected to remain in charge for Australia. There was doubtless a very strong sense of disappointment (even, as you say, betrayal).

    Another factor which affected him around this time was the permanent loss of Marcus as his partner, the result of which was a feeling that he needed to score more quickly earlier than he was used to, or suited him.

    Napier was one of the great career saving knocks. Without that he would have been consigned to the wilderness at 31 and may never have come again.

  6. Did you see this Simon Hughes piece?

  7. Brian - v.g. point on Marcus, I think you're spot on. Took the run rate pressure away, quite often he and Cook could get through the first hour but the game wouldn't have gone anywhere.

    Damo - yes, that was the best piece I thought.