England selectors back 'aggressive' Strauss to return as one-day captain
Rampant speculation that Andrew Strauss would be ditched as England's one-day captain was kicked into the long grass yesterday. This is undoubtedly the best place for it but the seal of approval bestowed on him came hardly a moment too soon.
For weeks, fuelled largely by England's grand triumph in the World Twenty20 in which he played no part, it had been suggested that Strauss's career in the 50-over format could also be over. His recent form in one-day internationals has been patchy and an ill-informed school of thought had been formed to propose that England might be better off without him.
If the selectors had not been entirely silent on the issue they had not been definitive either. Only yesterday did the chairman, Geoff Miller, let slip that Strauss would lead England in the first set of the summer's one-day matches, which start next week.
Even then he did not give a ringing endorsement. Instead, in a statement which detailed the participation of England players for their counties in the domestic Twenty20 competition, he ruled out Strauss by saying: "We believe the best preparation for Andrew Strauss's build-up to the NatWest series does not involve the Friend's Provident t20 fixtures and as such he won't be available for these matches during this period."
That seemed to confirm that his place as captain is certain when the squad for a match against Scotland and a series of five against Australia is named on Thursday. Strauss has not passed 50 in his last 10 one-day innings, and while that is some cause for concern it fails to take account of his importance as leader and strategist. He should lead England in the World Cup next year.
Together with the coach, Andy Flower, and to a lesser extent the T20 captain, Paul Collingwood, Strauss has been instrumental in orchestrating England's changed approach in limited-overs cricket. They have been much more trenchant with bat, ball and in the field. Robustness, fearlessness and athleticism have all combined in recent months to make them much more effective. Flower recognises as much and so should others.
"He is a fine leader and a fine batsman," he said. "I think in the last 12 months he has done some really good things for us in one-day cricket. He bats aggressively up front. His specialist area is facing the quick bowling. He has been the architect of the attacking type of cricket England's one-day side has been playing. In a way, he was the catalyst for the attacking cricket we have been able to play in Twenty20 as well." So there.
The shambles of the one-day series against Australia last summer, when England lost 6-1, was followed by an unheralded advance to the Champions Trophy semi-final, a narrow but significant one-day series win in South Africa and their wholly unexpected elevation to Twenty20 world champions in the Caribbean last month.
Although Strauss voluntarily withdrew from the T20 squad because he felt he did not have the firepower necessary, he rightly sees the 50-over format as demanding slightly different skills. He has come out slugging himself recently and remains the sort of batsman who others can play around at the top of the order.
Had he been discarded it would have left England with one captain, Collingwood, in two forms of the game with Strauss left only as Test captain. This would have affected the dressing room dynamic to an unreasonable degree. Strauss would forever have been flitting in and out, never sure that he was either in charge or wanted.
It would also have conveniently overlooked his important role in England's rehabilitation. When he took over as captain in January last year the dressing room was in shock after the departures of the coach Peter Moores and Strauss's predecessor as captain, Kevin Pietersen.
Strauss had been out of one-day cricket for a year but it was immediately recognised that his calm, mature influence was needed. So it turned out, and while Collingwood was impressive in leading the team to Twenty20 glory, he has no aspirations to leadership and nor is he a natural leader.
England also revealed yesterday their player availability for imminent T20 county fixtures for the next week. Fast bowling tyro Steve Finn has been withdrawn from all matches as have Strauss and Graeme Swann. Most of the rest will be available for some matches.
Flower's empathy was obvious. "I feel for the counties when we make these decisions on players and pull them out of county games," he said. "The directors of cricket and coaches and captains are under their own pressure with results. When you pull their best players out of competitive matches it is quite a hit for them. I realise it requires a lot of understanding from them, and we very much appreciate it." But there is always a greater good, whether it be who plays when, or Strauss being made secure in his role.
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