Angus Fraser: Andrew Strauss never ducked an issue and bows out at the right time
He wanted to be in control of his destiny rather than be hounded out
Thursday 30 August 2012
It may not be the story many people choose to believe or the headline writers want to print but Andrew Strauss's decision to retire from cricket had nothing to do with the controversy involving Kevin Pietersen. Those who believe it did do not know – or completely underestimate – the man. Strauss is not the sort of person to duck issues. He meets them head on and deals with them. In the past three weeks Pietersen's behaviour will have been an unwelcome distraction but it would never have prevented him from achieving his goals.
Strauss has retired because he truly believes he has run his race. He has achieved all he wanted to achieve with England as a captain and cricketer. The desire to keep pushing the England side forward has faded and he believes the team will benefit from a new voice and fresh ideas. Since taking over as England captain in January 2009 he has thrown everything at the cause. In the past three and a half years most of his waking hours have been spent working out how to make the England team better. His pursuit of excellence has been obsessive and it has taken its toll. He is tired.
As the captain of the England team, every decision he made was scrutinised and commented on. Top men in business have big decisions to make but they do not appear every day on television channels dedicated to sport. These pressures wear you down.
I believe Strauss has not only been fatigued by the constant demands of making important decisions but by the scrutiny his batting has come under. He is an incredibly proud man and, as he said at his press conference, would never want to be viewed as a passenger. Strauss will not have enjoyed the fact that at times the performance of the England team seemed of secondary importance to his batting.
That team-mates have consistently jumped to his defence created minor issues too. It is reassuring and satisfying when those close to you speak positively about the contribution you make to the team and that you can return to the levels of performance previously occupied. But it can also be slightly humiliating. Characters like Strauss do not want to find themselves in these positions. They want to lead from the front and by example too.
Strauss did not enjoy the furore that surrounded his position in the team when England lost a Test series 3-0 to Pakistan in UAE. And the same headlines and questions would have raised their head when England leave for their four-Test series in India in October. Strauss will have been aware of this and it would have potentially taken him back to a place he would not have wanted to revisit.
Following the media coverage of Strauss's reign it has been interesting to notice the different attitudes of the differing groups. Surprisingly, the written media have been largely more supportive than TV or radio. Some of this may have had something to do with former England captains, who rarely have a good word to say about their predecessors or successors. It may be because he did not play the game. Strauss was not all chummy with ex-England players out in the middle before the toss. He treated all sections of the media the same. He did not favour some because it could be worth his while further down the line.
And the way in which the last 36 hours have been conducted tells you an enormous amount about the dignity and quality of the man. Unlike some players who deliberately announced their retirement at the start of a series in order to get as much publicity as they could, Strauss did not want the news that he was contemplating retirement to come out until after the South Africa series had finished. Initially, he did not want the news to be made public until after England's one-day series, so that it did not deflect attention for how Alastair Cook's side were performing.
Strauss wanted to be in control of his destiny rather than be hounded out and to achieve that goal he almost had to catch people by surprise. The fact that it is thought he still had credit will have pleased him. He would not have wanted to outstay his welcome.
The decision to retire is not something Strauss will have taken lightly. I know, having spent a couple of evenings chatting with him at a pub in Denham in Buckinghamshire earlier this summer, that retirement had been on his mind. At the press conference he said he had been questioning his motivation for longer and, again, that is true. Winning the Ashes in Australia was the highlight of his career. It would be the pinnacle of any England captain's career. Winning those Ashes was a triumph for Strauss and Andy Flower's planning and desire. The pair had worked tirelessly towards that moment for two years. But when something as big as an Ashes victory in Australia comes off, where do you then go?
Unlike Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher's England team, who came off the rails after their 2005 Ashes triumph, Strauss and Flower managed to maintain the focus of the side with another goal. That aim, to become the No 1 Test side in the world, was achieved when England defeated India 4-0 last year. That achievement, and the two months' rest for the players that followed, seems to have been the moment when the focus of the team wavered.
Strauss's value to the England team will not be noticed immediately by those in the dressing room as the culture that he and Flower created will naturally continue for some time.
Strauss and Flower are, essentially, two of a kind. I am sure they had the occasional disagreement but they seemed to be working to the same ethos. All that changes with Cook coming in, as he will want to do things in a slightly different way to Strauss. The culture in the England dressing-room is a strong and good one and it will continue to run naturally. This gives Cook and Flower breathing space to construct a new culture built around their particular standards and values.
The challenge for Cook and Flower is to find the levels of desire that were present when Strauss and Flower took charge in 2009. Whether Pietersen is part of their plans remains to be seen. Flower will have a big say in this decision and Cook may want to start with a clean piece of paper rather than one with graffiti all over it.
Timeline: How Strauss and England soared
2004: Perfect debut and first tour
Strauss made his Test debut at 27 against New Zealand at Lord's, scoring 112 and 83. On the South Africa tour that winter he scored three centuries in England's 2-1 triumph.
2005: Role in famous Ashes win
After hitting 106 at Old Trafford, Strauss scored a nerveless 129 on the first day of the Oval Test. England drew the game, won the series 2-1 and regained the Ashes after 16 years.
2006: First taste of the captaincy
With Michael Vaughan injured, Strauss led England in the home Test series against Pakistan, which they won 3-0. But he was passed over for the Ashes, as Andrew Flintoff led a side which was hammered 5-0.
2007-08: Dip and recovery
Poor form saw Strauss dropped for the tour of Sri Lanka but after his recall he made 177 at No 3 in Napier in March 2008 and saved his Test career, leading to an upturn in his England form.
2009: The captaincy returns
Handed the captaincy after Kevin Pietersen's departure, he oversaw an unlucky defeat in the West Indies before regaining the Ashes at home with a 2-1 win, in which he was leading run-scorer with 474 at 52.66.
2010: Hitting new heights
England drew in South Africa before beating Bangladesh and Pakistan to reach the peak of modern English cricket: a crushing 3-1 win in Australia, their first triumph Down Under for 24 years, retaining the Ashes.
2011: Reaching the summit
After their Ashes success England confirmed their place as the world's No 1 Test side with a 4-0 defeat of India at home. Strauss was presented with the ICC Test Mace at The Oval.
2012: Decline and fall
Going to the UAE to face Pakistan as world No 1, England were whitewashed 3-0 before drawing 1-1 in Sri Lanka. Then they lost 2-0 to South Africa, costing them the No 1 status, with Strauss's top score just 37.
Strauss in figures
21 Test tons for Strauss - only three English-men have hit more.
100 Test matches for Strauss, after his 2004 debut v New Zealand.
3 England captains seen off by Graeme Smith, after Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan.
177 Strauss's highest Test score, made against New Zealand in Napier in 2008.
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