By Devarchit Varma
These are testing times for English cricket. Just days after being toppled from the top spot in International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings, they have lost their captain and one of their mainstays in the batting.
The media and cricket fraternity may go speculating the reasons for Andrew Strauss’ sudden retirement and some link it to the Kevin Pietersen row. Whatever be the reasons, here is no doubt that Strauss’ decision has put England in bit of a bother.
England weren’t doing that bad under him and they would have surely got back to winning ways, given the fact that they consider Test cricket as the pinnacle and do all the necessary things to make sure things fall in place for them.
Being toppled from the top spot would have indeed been one of the low points in Strauss’ otherwise glorious career, but it also presented him yet another chance to prove his mettle and restore the pride of English cricket.
Strauss’ next assignment as skipper would have been in November-December 2012 for a four-match series in India. He had ample amount time to chalk out the plans and be fully prepared for it.
Strauss was gifted with leadership qualities, and was respected not only by his teammates but by the opposition as well. England have lost a leader who took them to become potent force in world cricket.
Despite announcing retirement from one-day and Twenty20 cricket, Strauss was at times seen in the England dressing room during their limited-overs clashes, perhaps keeping a sharp eye on developments and performances.
Strauss was more a leader, less a captain. He took the baton and responsibility from where Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher left, and took English cricket to unprecedented heights along with coach Andy Flower. It was a winning chemistry – something that England will be hard-pressed to find.
As a captain, Strauss ended his tenure with 24 wins in 50 Test matches, second highest after Michael Vaughan in England’s history. Vaughan had 26 wins in 51 Tests as England captain, and three more Test wins would have made Strauss the most successful England captain ever.
Strauss’ struggle with the bat was one possible factor in his retirement. Strauss’ last hundred came against a lowly West Indies at Nottingham in May 2012, a series wherein he hit one more century. Strauss also had a poor 2011 with no Test century to his name.
But such run-famine never affected Strauss the captain, as he remained calm and in control on the field. In fact, he led England to a memorable 4-0 rout of India in 2011 to help England climb the summit of Test cricket.
Looking at the challenges ahead, England selectors and management would have liked to have someone with Strauss’ calibre and experience in their ranks. He could have continued as a batsman, with important tours of India and New Zealand ahead and the Ashes series in 2013. England would have liked to have a settled opening pair in Strauss and Alastair Cook.
The 35-years-old Strauss hadn’t had too many fitness issues and could have continued as a batsman. Sadly, that was not to be.
The truth may never be known, but the Pietersen saga probably hurt and drained Strauss out. It is disheartening for any leader to discover that one of his troops not only dislikes him, but also discusses his team with the opponents.
Strauss belonged to the rare league of England captains – to have won the Ashes Down Under as well at home. Strauss led England to Ashes wins in 2009 and 2010, and provided significant contribution as a batsman in 2005.
His triumphs as a captain in the most anticipated Test cricket contests put him in the league of Sir Leonard Hutton and Mike Brearley – who won the Ashes both at home and in Australia.
With more than 7,000 runs in 100 Tests and 4,200 runs in 127 One-Day Internationals, Strauss was one of England’s most successful players in both the formats.
England may not miss Strauss the batsman or Strauss the cricketer, but they’ll surely rue the absence of Strauss the leader.
(Devarchit Varma is a cricket fanatic who finds nothing more exciting to do than to write, watch or talk about the sport. Having played the game at club and college level, he now pursues his passion as a scribe)