Andrew Strauss’s retirement from cricket has rightly prompted an abundance of glowing eulogies. It’s fitting to herald a man with 100 Test caps for England, with 50 coming as captain. He leaves the crease for the last time with a batting average over 40 and Ashes wins home and away. He brought regal authority to the position of captain, alongside his characteristic level-headedness and even-handedness. His place in the pantheon of great English Test captains, alongside Mike Brearley, MP Vaughan, Len Hutton and Peter May, is assured.
Though born in South Africa, Straussy moved to the UK at the age of six. He is, in the words of one Australian blogger, “as English as Marmite on crumpets”. One of his nicknames is Lord Brocket, which speaks volumes about his aristocratic upbringing. As does the fact he has eight spare monikers in total. If it’s true that you can judge the popularity of a man by counting his nicknames, then his peers hold him in very high esteem indeed.
Jazzer (perhaps my favourite of his pseudonyms) took over the reins full-time after the Peter Moores-KP fiasco in early 2009, and it’s tempting to try to bookend his captaincy by linking his departure to the latest antics of his fellow SA-native. That would be to neglect the downward trend in his batting statistics which can be traced back as far as the victorious Ashes campaign in 2010/11. After belting a hundred at Brisbane in the first test, he waited another 16 months for the lacklustre Windies to arrive in England before posting his next two. They took him to a total of 21, which has left him only one behind Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott in the list of top English centurions.
Doubtless he would have loved to have stayed on for the 2013 back-to-back Ashes series. The battles with the Aussies have dotted his career with some of its highlights: the stunning catch at second slip to remove Gilchrist at Trent Bridge in 2005, dodging the captaincy bullet as Freddie led the troops to humiliation in 2006/07, his series momentum-stealing hundred at Lord’s on the first morning of the second Test in 2009, and the this-is-how-we-do-things-nowadays ton at Brisbane in 2010.
Whereas Ponting held on to the captaincy too long and was a broken figure by the end of 2010, Strauss has gone at the right time. While the Barmy Army dearly hope Ponting is still the glue on the Australian middle order next year, Aussie fans had seen Strauss’s recent travails with the bat and were beginning to hope he would be at the top of England’s order for their Ashes defence.
How England shuffle their pack now will be intriguing, not just to see if KP is invited back into the fold. Strauss and Cook have opened the batting for so long that it will be a mild shock when the England team next stroll out in their whites to face India to see a fresh face alongside the new captain.
Except, of course, that face may not be so fresh at all. Trott can open the batting and Bell could be promoted to first wicket down. Bairstow and/or Taylor (depending on KP) can then be drafted in. Or England could be really bold and give Joe Root a taste of Test cricket on the most gruelling tour of all. Whatever the line-up, senior players will have to take on more responsibility within the new group. Ali Cook has a very hard act to follow.