James Lawton: With his usual class, Strauss proves doubters wrong

 

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The Independent Online

It's just as well Andrew Strauss isn't the kind of guy to hoard vindication. Otherwise, he might have been seriously tetchy when he was required to leave the batting crease at Trent Bridge yesterday with England just a few runs short of series victory.

The point you could hardly avoid is that Strauss, of all leading English sportsmen, is possibly in least need of the passing gratification that comes with a rush of glory. He knows what he has done, for himself as a cricketer and for the team he has nursed so successfully for so long.

This reality can be measured in every nuance of his reaction to victory and the extremely occasional defeat.

If someone like John Terry rushes to the spotlight, as he did in a way that made the flesh crawl in Munich recently, Strauss is a rather different kind of captain. He knows what he has done – and what he might just achieve again.

He wasn't thrilled of course at his premature exit, not with a mere 45 to his name – after the two centuries which have left him one short of the record 22 mark of Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott – but when he stretched out in the dressing room he could indulge in some fully fledged self-satisfaction.

Most of it, surely, had to centre on the fact that in the often treacherous business of captaincy few men have ever re-exerted themselves quite so impressively.

For some of us, it may have been a phantom threat to his leadership after the difficulties against Pakistan and Sri Lanka but undoubtedly some pressure was building. He pined for a century after 50 Test innings and nearly two years and of course he had been around cricket long enough to know that nothing feeds on itself quite so voraciously as a morsel of doubt.

At Lord's and at Trent Bridge, Strauss produced again that quality that has so distinguished his stewardship of England alongside coach Andy Flower.

He went back to the basics of his own game and got it right and perfectly so. He took nothing for granted in his own position and demanded no less of players who yesterday scored a seventh straight series win at home – and retrenched their position as the world's No 1 Test team before the coming challenge of South Africa.

You do not do this out of some knee-jerk reaction to passing crisis. You do not remake yourself under the recurring pressure of world-class sport. If you have done your work, and learned your lessons, you simply apply the values you have come to trust.

They are the ones that have informed Strauss every step of England's march from the shambles that followed the divisions which led to the resignation of Kevin Pietersen to their current position of strength.

Such details of progress tend to be lost from time to time. When Pakistan were working their resurrection in the Emirates, the achievements of Strauss since that first setback in Jamaica were suddenly lost from sight. The Ashes triumphs were of distant memory. The discarding of India suddenly meant little. But what Strauss refused to accept was that he had lost his ability to both lead a highly competitive team and score a few runs.

Once again there was little hint of triumphalism in his victory speech yesterday. He paid tribute to those pockets of real resistance which required bursts of excellence from men like Tim Bresnan, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and, not least, himself. He regretted those moments when England could have been more clinical but overall they had fought hard to inflict their No 1 status. They had been required to get a little stronger at some brittle places.

That, of course, was the least that could be said for the stylish resistance of the notorious under-achiever Marlon Samuels and the menace of Kemar Roach. Yes, it's true, the West Indians still lack so much of the old steel, the consistent ability to produce bold cricket, but there have been times when they have questioned England, not least when Samuels heaved Graeme Swann for two massive sixes yesterday morning.

The Test and the series was over then but it was a last statement that in different circumstances the West Indians might have proved more of a threat. These, though, would have involved an England team which had forgotten how to turn the screw, and one which had lost belief in the leadership of the man who had taken them to the top.

At 35, Strauss is not likely to permit such laxity any time soon. Plainly he has the stomach for a few more battles – and a sharpened hunger for at least a century or two of runs. Of course, there is more than one way of hoarding a bit of vindication.

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