By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It is the end of a glorious career – one that has given English cricket a number of memorable moments. As a batsman, he would set the foundation for England to build an advantage. As a leader, he inspired a side to embark on a journey that saw them clinch the numero uno status in Test cricket. Andrew Strauss’ contribution to England cricket cannot be measured by mere statistics or victories – one has to go beyond numbers to know the real value of his time at the highest level. While there were murmurs that he would quit captaincy or even retire from the highest level, his decision to quit from all levels of the game is certainly a shocker.
The fact that Strauss has quit from all levels tells you that it would have been something that he would have contemplated for some time. In his statement he emphasised that the Kevin Pietersen saga wasn’t a major factor although some may speculate that it did unsettle the England dressing room. Strauss did mention that he had thought about it prior to the South Africa series and that his indifferent form had played a part in the ultimate decision. Losing the series to South Africa 0-2 and the coveted crown on the occasion of his 100th Test is certainly not the best way to leave the stage for a career that has been largely successful.
The last three years of his career have largely been about Strauss the leader. In 2009, he took over the reins of captaincy after the Pietersen-Peter Moores drama. Earlier, he had led England on a few occasions – but mainly because some of the other preferred choices weren’t available. He began his journey in a sunny and beautiful setting in the Caribbean. It was a disastrous start, however, as England were comprehensively beaten in the first Test at Jamaica after being bowled out for 51. But Strauss’ individual performance in the coming games sparked a comeback of sorts as England lifted themselves from the muddle. They may not have won the series, but it did set the tone for the months ahead.
In partnership with Andy Flower, Strauss gradually started building a team – one that saw the rise of players such as Jonathan Trott, Tim Bresnan, Steve Finn, to name a few. What is remarkable is that after the loss in the Caribbean in early 2009, England didn’t concede a Test series until the drubbing they received at the hands of Pakistan earlier this year. In that interval, England drew a series in South Africa, but more importantly won two Ashes series – one on home soil and the other Down Under. The latter certainly places him as a historical figure in the annals of English cricket as it broke a two decade long deadlock for them in Australia.
The summit was conquered in 2011 as the holders of the number one ranking were bullied and robbed off their crown. The 4-0 drubbing of India may have come on English soil, but the performance was undoubtedly powerful – one that didn’t give India any chance of a revival at any stage. In a package, it signified England’s development under Strauss and how different players would rise to the occasion and make their performances count. The crowning glory promised an era of domination, but sadly that dream was to turn awry in the months to come. The defeat to Pakistan in the Middle East shook their confidence and the coup de grace was South Africa’s recent triumph at Lord’s.
While Strauss the batsman may not have been as prolific as someone like an Alastair Cook or a Jonathan Trott, he had this tendency to produce knocks that were monumental in terms of effort. On Test debut, he recorded a hundred in the first innings and followed it up with a fifty in the second to set up a successful run-chase. It took him only 10 games to complete 1000 runs as he quickly established himself in the England team. Since then he hasn’t maintained the same level of consistency apart from a few purple patches. In fact, he was dropped for the tour to Sri Lanka in 2007 after modest returns.
In 2008, Strauss bounced back with a bang by scoring his Test best 177 that all but assured England of a Test series win in New Zealand. In India – a place that has always been an ultimate test for the English players - later that year he stroked two fantastic hundreds in the two innings of the Chennai Test. Sadly for him, the strong Indian batting overhauled England’s mammoth challenge in the fourth innings.
Through all that Strauss would be remembered for the roles he played in England’s Ashes triumphs. In 2005 – just a year old at the Test level – he stroked two hundreds in the heart-stopping series in England which they won 2-1. Four years down the line, he contributed both as captain and player to inflict the same result at home. His 161 at Lord’s helped England win the game and he continued to show consistency during their charge. However, it was under his leadership that England exorcised the ghosts Down Under and clinched the Ashes with a convincing 3-1 margin. Undoubtedly, these are the highlights of his career.
As Strauss moves into sunset, England find themselves in an eerily similar position they were in when he took over the captaincy. There is another Pietersen drama that is doing the rounds and England is coming to terms with their latest defeat to South Africa. It is time for Alastair Cook to take over – who would have learnt a lot being a deputy to Strauss for a few years. Strauss’s exit leaves behind a legacy and the baton passes on to Cook who is now has to regain lost the lost English pride.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )