Is Strauss truly still captain of England?
Middlesex man in charge for Thursday's First Test with Bangladesh – but he walks back into a dressing room full of world champions
Until Andrew Strauss walks out at Lord's this week, he will not know. He may suspect he has a good idea, he will trust to his own leadership skills and to the indubitable esteem in which he is held by his players.
But he cannot be certain that he is still truly the captain of England. Since Strauss last did the job (defeat by an innings and 74 runs to South Africa, since you ask), England have played 14 international matches, won 11 and lost only two, both Twenty20, one of them in a reduced-over piece of silliness. Other men, first Alastair Cook and then Paul Collingwood, have led the team.
It is possible, just, that the team whose method he helped to craft have learned to do without him. Sport is like that, perpetually moving on. Strauss took a rest from the tour of Bangladesh in March because he had had a tiring year after taking over with disharmony all around following the deposal of Kevin Pietersen and the coach, Peter Moores.
Then he took no part in the glorious triumph that was the World Twenty20 because he has resigned from that form of the game, acknowledging that he cannot give the ball a sufficient clout. Now Bangladesh are here to start the English international summer, to be followed by Pakistan, with five one-day matches against Australia in between which lack any sort of context. Thereafter come the Ashes, which have context galore, and the World Cup.
"It was very, very important," said Strauss. "I feel refreshed and excited about coming back into the England team. Ultimately, it was done for long-term and not short-term reasons. It was done with the Ashes in mind because that six months of cricket is going to be really important for the England cricket team."
He did not take time out without long, detailed conversations with the coach, Andy Flower, and the selectors. It was agreed that although he was fresh enough to make the Bangladesh trip, the effects down the line could be damaging. A jaded man might have been going to Australia.
"You never know for certain how things are going to be until you see the players again," he said. "I can understand the argument that the captain should always be there to lead from the front. That was something we thought long and hard about before we made this decision but the principle for us was to give ourselves the best chance of winning in Australia and in the World Cup.
"What is the best way to do that? To have a fresh side led by a captain who is not tired and who is energetic and motivated and to give strong leadership. If that's the principle then we had to put up with the short-term downside – which was me not being in Bangladesh and, to a certain extent, me not captaining for a time, and that's fine, you can't have it both ways.
"You will get criticism but if I've learned one thing about this job it is that you have to do what you feel is right and not worry about what people say about it."
So to Bangladesh at home, the lowest-key of resumptions. There is a chance the tourists could lose in three days, even though the Lord's pitch will be flat, as they did in 2005 when they were bowled out for 108 and 159 and England scored 528 for 3 at five runs an over. Strauss and Ian Bell will be England's only survivors.
Bangladesh have not improved enough since then and if they are without their admirable captain, Shakib al Hasan, and their best batsman, Tamim Iqbal, with chicken pox and hand injury respectively, they will be in no state to play a Test match. That they detained England so long in March was down partially to a more patient approach, but mostly to pitches designed to drive bowlers to contemplate an easier life digging ditches.
England, whose squad of 12 will be named today, may decide to rest some players, while showing respect to brittle opponents. Stuart Broad and Paul Collingwood, who play in all forms, are two who would benefit from rest. So might Graeme Swann, who is far and away the best spinner now and is expected to perform in all forms.
There is the usual conundrum of whether to have six batsmen or five bowlers. The latter is the probable course. In which case, Collingwood may have to play unless they think of opening the way for the immensely gifted Eoin Morgan, who was so dramatically impressive in the shorter forms, or a maturing Andrew Gale, the captain of Yorkshire, who has had a wonderful start to the season. Either way, England should not be detained beyond Sunday.
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