Calm captain who provided backbone for fractured side

Ashes victory shows Strauss as the commanding presence who dealt with January's crisis
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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss reckoned that reaching 5,000 Test runs was nothing too much to shout about. "It seems like you are just out of nappies if you look at someone like Ricky Ponting with 11,000," he said a few weeks ago. Well, maybe, but when it comes to captaincy England's leader has had to be a big strong man from the very start.

Although Strauss always wanted the job, and was bitterly disappointed not to be given it for the Ashes tour of 2006-07, the circumstances behind his promotion in January would have tempted most people to say "thanks, but no thanks."

England had sacked Peter Moores and effectively done the same to Kevin Pietersen, creating a situation which looked likely to split the dressing room with some players sympathetic to the former coach and others siding with the deposed captain.

Strauss was probably the only candidate who could have kept the squad together and it is a measure of his success since that night of the long knives in January that the Pietersen-Moores fall-out has already found its way to the back of most memory banks.

It is one thing being a popular force for unity, however, and quite another showing yourself to be a captain strong enough to withstand an Ashes series, especially when you are up against such a vastly-experienced opponent as Ponting.

Strauss had a decent "net" right at the start of his reign. When England were bowled out for 51 in Jamaica to lose his first Test as full-time skipper by an innings there was not much point the Middlesex man being everyone's best friend – he and new coach Andy Flower undoubtedly told a few home truths.

At least the response was promising. Strauss's side were not able to square that series against West Indies but they racked up big totals and showed signs of the hardness needed this summer.

It was when England went back to being brittle that the 32-year-old showed his mettle. They were pretty hopeless in Cardiff at the start of the series and fortunate to escape with a draw. But Strauss called for calm, promised a big improvement and scored the century at Lord's that put his team on the road to victory.

As for the Headingley horror show, many people would have thrown out the bath, never mind the baby and the water, following an innings and 80-run walloping in the fourth Test. Whatever ranting the captain did in private, though, he remained composed for public consumption, then stayed commendably cool here while Australia stubbornly refused to disintegrate in the face of an imposing target of 546.

"Captaincy is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill, but don't try it without the 10 per cent," is the view of that great Australian Richie Benaud. And you know what he means, even if the figures are open to debate. Strauss' moments of good fortune yesterday were perfectly timed. Andrew Flintoff's run-out of Ponting came when England were wondering where another wicket would come from. Just to confirm that good things come in pairs, the skipper himself threw down Michael Clarke's stumps.

Throughout this series, Ponting has tried every fair and above-board trick in the book to try to undermine England's self-belief and, at the same time, gnaw away at Strauss's confidence. But it has not worked and, far from looking strained, the home captain appears to have enjoyed every minute – even yesterday when the tension was mounting.