By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It has been a tumultuous period for English cricket in which the Kevin Pietersen saga has dominated headlines even as they gear up to defend their crown against South Africa at the Mecca of cricket – Lord’s. It has been a controversy drama that has shaken English cricket at its roots and divided opinions. Amid all the upheaval, Andrew Strauss is on the threshold of playing his hundredth Test match.
Strauss announced his arrival on the biggest stage with a hundred on Test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s. If that wasn’t enough, he followed it up with a solid 83 in the second innings to set-up England’s successful run-chase. Since then, the venue has been his happy hunting ground as five of his 21 Test hundreds have come there. He also averages a fantastic 55.03 at Lord’s – almost 14 notches more than his career figures of 41.27. It is only too appropriate that he would make his hundredth appearance at the hallowed venue – one that has seen him touch many other milestones in the past.
Looking back at Strauss’ career, one can say that he hasn’t been as prolific as he was in his first year at the highest level. He started off with a bang – completing 1000 Test runs in only 10 matches. Since then, he hasn’t maintained the same level of consistency – barring a few purple patches. When compared to an Alastair Cook, he isn’t as prolific. However, he has the ability to script solid knocks at crucial junctures to set the platform for England’s success. He isn’t a game changer like Pietersen, but can lay solid foundations and produce gritty knocks in the hour of need. Interestingly, his away-average is higher (44.40) than at home (40.24).
In the first three years of his career, Strauss scored 10 Test hundreds before running into an indifferent run in 2007. The runs just didn’t seem to come and the England selectors took the brave move of dropping him from the team for the tour to Sri Lanka. However, England recalled Strauss recalled for the tour to New Zealand early next year (2008). His response was magnificent as his knock of 177 in the final Test helped England seal a 2-1 series victory.
If the year 2007 saw him average a modest 28.80, he bounced back strongly in 2008 with four hundreds – averaging 48.60. His twin hundreds at Chennai against India in December 2008 were a major highlight and put him in the company of some of the greatest players in history. Unfortunately, the formidable Indian batting line-up denied him the taste of victory there, but the two efforts were a huge lesson to his team-mates. For a team that isn’t exactly known for its performances in the subcontinent, Strauss’ vigils battled the conditions to script epics.
His cool temperament and ever-smiling face, Strauss has always been popular – something that worked for him when England looked to appoint a new captain in the aftermath of the Pietersen- Peter Moores dispute. The year 2009 heralded a new era for Strauss as he took on the mantle of leadership. He had led England in the past, but was a makeshift option. The appointment saw him make a comeback to the one-day fold after a gap of nearly two years.
If there ever was a horrific beginning to a new phase, it was this – England were bowled out for 51 against West Indies at Kingston and ended up losing the game comprehensively – which was Strauss’s first Test in charge. The captain then rose to the occasion with three hundreds in the remainder of the series and helped England turn things around. They lost the series 1-0, but it set the tone for the Strauss-Andy Flower partnership – one that has helped England surge to the top of the Test tables. It has been a remarkable journey – where England clinched two Ashes series. However, the recent battering at the hands of Pakistan in the Middle East and the shaky defence of the top spot against the challengers South Africa has presented a new challenge before them.
A striking feature of Strauss’ performance in the recent past had been his transformation into an effective and free-flowing one-day batsman. He wasn’t exactly renowned in the shorter format, but made a remarkable turnaround after he took up the mantle in 2009. While withdrawing from the T20 internationals, Strauss focused on One-Day Internationals (ODIs) with a reignited approach. His most memorable knock in the blues came during the 2011 World Cup – a thunderous 158 which nearly took England to a target of 339 against India.
As Strauss walks into a new phase of his career, his first aim would be to hold on to the No 1 spot. With the emergence of more prolific batsmen such as Cook and Jonathan Trott, Strauss’ role with the bat has been eclipsed somewhat and the burden on his shoulders is a relatively lighter. However, as a leader, he has to rise to the occasion and script an epic at his favourite venue as that would give England a good chance to win the third Test against South Africa. What a moment it would be if he celebrates the milestone with a ton and a win for his country.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)