Andrew Strauss: An England hero reaches his Test century
In the week of Andrew Strauss's 100th cap, Angus Fraser pays tribute to his former team-mate, a tough player with a brilliant work ethic who will not have enjoyed the Pietersen saga
When Kevin Pietersen sits down to reflect on what has taken place over the last couple of weeks he will probably realise that his biggest error was to allow his actions to completely overshadow one of England's greatest cricketers reaching the historic landmark of 100 Test appearances.
With what has taken place in the past week or so, Andrew Strauss will not be too fussed about the milestone he will reach tomorrow when England take on South Africa at Lord's. And that is sad, even though he has never really been that interested in personal landmarks. Ever since joining Middlesex County Cricket Club from Durham University in the mid-1990s he has always put the team first and gained greater satisfaction from seeing it rather than himself succeed.
But, sadly, Pietersen's recent behaviour, and the subsequent action taken by the England selectors, has turned what should have been a special week for Strauss into a week of justification. Recent events will continue to prevent Strauss from enjoying the honour of becoming the ninth England cricketer to make 100 Test appearances. All the past few days have done is left everyone involved in the decision of dropping Pietersen wondering and hoping that the call they made will prove to be correct. Really, they need not worry. Deep down everyone with true standards and values knows they have made the correct decision.
When Strauss first arrived at Lord's Cricket Ground as a naive, disorganised 19-year-old student in 1996, nobody at Middlesex would have contemplated him becoming the club's most successful cricketer. Yes, it was clear he had some talent and gumption but initially it was questionable whether he would pursue cricket as a career or go in to the City of London.
Strauss has the happy habit of making a positive early impression, and he did this with Middlesex, scoring 64 and 98 in his first two 2nd XI games for the club. He scored 87 on his first-class debut too. Even so, comparisons to Middlesex greats like Denis Compton, Mike Gatting and Mark Ramprakash were nowhere to be seen.
His breakthrough season was in 2001 when he passed 1,000 first-class runs for the first time. As I think back now, he didn't play innings that led you to believe he would score 21 Test hundreds. The only shot from his youth I remember is when he pulled Australia's Glenn McGrath on to the dressing-room balcony at Worcester. I remember a Devon Malcolm bouncer missing his grill and cutting his eye badly at Northampton. Off he went to hospital for stitches and within a couple of hours he was back out there batting with a white bloodied bandage on his forehead. He is a tough so and so.
That Strauss has surpassed everything almost everyone would have expected is essentially down to one person – himself. Others have played important roles, not least his parents and wife Ruth. That he returned from Sydney one winter with Ruth was a major surprise to everyone at Middlesex. We had never seen him talk to a member of the opposite sex before let alone convince them that it would be a good idea to become an item.
In the past 17 seasons there have been many more gifted and elegant cricketers to play for Middlesex and England than Strauss. There have been more instinctive captains too. But if you want a person who is prepared to commit to achieving or producing something, then work tirelessly until that goal is achieved, then he is your man. Strauss does not suffer fools, idlers or people who don't commit and contribute to a team. He has always known where he wanted to go and has had a good idea of how to get there. Strauss can be tough but there is a tolerant and understanding side to him too. He is happy to laugh at himself.
As the person who made him my vice-captain at Middlesex when I was in charge – and then recommended him to captain the club when I retired in 2002 – I would like to take some credit for what has subsequently taken place, but it would be wrong.
Even so there have been many times when I believe the impact he has had and what he has achieved has been undervalued. This may be because much of his best work has taken place behind the scenes. There are, of course, innings he played that stand out, but there are several more that have been overshadowed by the performances of team-mates or other uncontrollable events. Two matches in Ashes contests stand out to me. The first was at The Oval in 2005 in the match where Pietersen scored a brilliant 158. It is forgotten that Strauss scored a crucial 129 in England's first innings. It was the same at Lord's in 2009, in the match where Andrew Flintoff announced his retirement and took a five-wicket haul to win the game. In England's first innings Strauss set the tone with a superb 161. He scored a hundred in each innings against India in Chennai, but Sachin Tendulkar stole the show.
Yet these are things that do not really bother Strauss. He has never been a seeker of limelight or wanted to be the star of the show. What gives him greater satisfaction is contributing to the production of something that is successful and good, which is exactly what he and Andy Flower, the England coach, have managed to achieve over the past four years.
English cricket is getting a lot of things right at the moment, which is the main reason why they are regarded as the best all-round team in the world. This was not always the case. Two of the biggest blunders the ECB has made were not making Strauss captain when the opportunity was there. Andrew Flintoff and Pietersen were both invited to lead England before Strauss, and it would be fair to say each of their reigns did not work out.
Being overlooked hurt Strauss more than he will admit. Nobody likes rejection, especially when you have helped out in testing situations. But rather than mope around and moan about the injustice, he rolled his sleeves up, supported those in charge and performed to the best of his ability.
The last 12 months or so have been tough for him. The media's reaction to his lack of runs and the constant questioning of his tactics by former players will have hurt him. Although it was nice of the England players to publicly give him their support, he would not have enjoyed it. As a proud man he always wants to be pulling his weight.
Strauss will not have enjoyed the past week either. He does not enjoy or go out looking for confrontation but that is what it seems he is having to deal with. In this week of all weeks he deserved better.
As Pietersen is finding out, nobody in a team is irreplaceable, but when Strauss leaves the England dressing room for the final time there will be a huge and unenviable vacuum for someone to fill.
Captain's log: Highlights of a remarkable career
Five of his finest knocks
1. v New Zealand, Lord's, May 2004
His debut came on his county's ground and he looked instantly at home, making 112 in his first innings. He was on course to make history in the second innings when he was by Nasser Hussain for 83. Hussain went on to win the match for England with an unbeaten ton and promptly retired as a player.
2. v South Africa, Port Elizabeth, December 2004
The hosts were dogged by selection problems in the first Test and Strauss hit a superb 126 in the first innings and then backed it up with an unbeaten 94 to set up a seven-wicket victory. The result set England on their way to a 2-1 series win.
3. v Australia, The Oval, September 2005
Strauss had already made a significant century at Old Trafford, which was a brave knock after he had received a fearful clang on the helmet from a Brett Lee bouncer. In the final Test of a famous series, with England needing a draw to regain the Ashes after almost two decades, he cracked a priceless first-innings century (129) as England won back the Urn.
4. v New Zealand, Napier, March 2008
After a meteoric start to his Test career, Strauss had crashed down to earth. He had been dropped, and had also slipped down the order to No 3 for this series. After a first-innings duck, his Test future was on the line, but he responded in magnificent fashion, racking up a second-innings 177 as England won the Test and went on to win the series.
5. v India, Chennai, December 2008
A losing cause, but Strauss scored centuries in both innings (123 and 108). Kevin Pietersen was captain at the time and he was powerless to prevent Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar knocking off a mammoth fourth-innings run chase of 387. Coming shortly after the Mumbai bombings, Tendulkar's heroics had never been more apt.
Five memorable moments as captain
1. v Pakistan, The Oval, August, 2006
Handed the reins because of injury to Michael Vaughan, Strauss was immediately forced to show his diplomatic skills – when Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq orchestrated a sit-in after the tourists had been accused of ball-tampering. England were awarded the Test (and won the series 3-0) and Strauss had to deal with the fall-out. He was then replaced by Andrew Flintoff for the Ashes with disastrous consequences.
2. v West Indies, Jamaica, February 2009
They eventually ended up as a "dream team" but the first outing of Strauss as captain and Andy Flower as coach was an outright disaster. After the first innings of the first Test in Jamaica, England were trailing by just 74 runs but were then skittled for a barely believable 51 all out.
3. v Australia, The Oval, August 2009
A topsy-turvy Ashes series, which began with a nerve-jangling draw at Cardiff, was followed by an England win at Lord's where Strauss scored a majestic 161. England were then walloped at Headingley before winning the decider in south London. Strauss produced two valuable knocks but he also seemed to make all the right calls in terms of strategy.
4. v Australia away, 2010/11
An incredible series which finally laid to rest the ghost of Mike Gatting's 1986-7 side. Strauss's men started with a hard-fought draw at Brisbane before producing a textbook performance at Adelaide. A major blip at Perth was followed by some of the best Test cricket ever produced by an England side as Australia were put to the sword at their own citadels – the MCG and SCG.
5. v India home, 2011
England picked up where they had left off in Australia and, in the battle to replace India as the world's No 1 Test side, thrashed the opposition, winning by huge margins with Alastair Cook in particular at his ravenous run-hungry best.
Strauss in figures
27 The age of Strauss when he made his Test debut in 2004.
7,016 test runs.
48.97% His win percentage as captain, third best in England's history.
177 Highest Test score, against New Zealand in 2008 at Napier.
21 Test match hundreds, joint fourth on the England all time list.
England cricketers with 100 caps
Alec Stewart 133
Graham Gooch 118
David Gower 117
Michael Atherton 115
Colin Cowdrey 114
Geoff Boycott 108
Ian Botham 102
Graham Thorpe 100
(Andrew Strauss 99)
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