James Lawton: Andrew Strauss delivered a masterclass in values but will Kevin Pietersen even care to listen?

The loss was of a captain who knew so well the nature of England's challenge

No one was going to let Andrew Strauss forget about the elephant – or was it a buffoon? – sharing the room but he had nothing to say about the egregious behaviour of Kevin Pietersen.

Not in so many words, at least. In fact, had he launched into some Shakespearean denouncement of the man who had plunged the last days of his quite brilliant stewardship of the England team into the shadows he could hardly have done it more eloquently.

For all his frequently sublime ability, Pietersen has always presented a huge challenge to anyone attempting to inflict the concept of a team.

It is to persuade him that he does not occupy the very centre of the universe and, for so much of his reign as England captain, Strauss had performed the trick admirably.

He did it most conspicuously well while shaping the historic achievement of Ashes victory on Australian soil – and yesterday we had more than an echo of that performance.

No, Strauss insisted brusquely, KP's messy, adolescent fingerprints had no place on his decision to retire that ushers in a new era of the England game.

At 35, he had consulted those instincts which had served him so well through 100 Test matches, 21 centuries and a climactic, if brief, visit to the top of the world Test rankings. Those instincts spoke of a critical fall in levels of energy and ambition. He had run his course, he announced with great though lightly styled dignity, and he knew what he had to do.

But then what did English cricket do with Pietersen?

The new captain, Alastair Cook, and England and Wales Cricket Board managing director, Hugh Morris, said it was a situation which had to be dealt with behind closed doors.

You could hope that when the decision was reached it would be done in the full light of the time since 2009 in which Strauss had worked so closely with team director Andy Flower – and the manner of the old captain's departure.

Sport, like most other things in life, Strauss, suggested, is never fixed in a set pattern, it flows and it ebbs, and always there is a new dynamic to consider. In his own case it was the powerful sense that already he had done his best work.

Certainly, he could not be confident about turning back the run of disappointing form that had brought such hard personal pressure at the end of the triumphant years.

Plainly, Strauss had taken a long and penetrating look in the mirror, an example which only extreme optimism might persuade us that Pietersen is likely to follow.

More relevantly, can Pietersen convince Morris and Cook that he has indeed reflected on his unspeakable decision to provide aid and comfort to South Africa during the course of the recent Test series?

Can he can convince anyone beyond the celebrity Twitterati that, at the age of 32, even his extraordinary natural gifts are enough to justify the possibility of still more poisoning of the team ethic which Strauss and Flower cultivated so relentlessly after Pietersen's own aborted captaincy?

It is, surely, the key to England's ability to find again under Cook the kind of consistent effort – and communal trust – which carried England so high, so quickly from such a fractured point in their history.

For the England hierarchy the choice could hardly be starker. On one hand they have in Pietersen the kind of ability which so recently made nonsense of Dale Steyn's status as the world's No 1 bowler. On the other they have an ego so uncontrollable that now nothing too outrageous in the context of high-level team sport can be comfortably put beyond it.

There is, of course, another factor and it was one that was played out before our eyes one last time at Lord's yesterday.

It was the value system which Strauss, shrugging off the witlessness of those decisions to place first Andrew Flintoff, then Pietersen ahead of him when the captaincy passed from Michael Vaughan, had held to so unflinchingly from that first discouraging defeat in the West Indies.

Yesterday he was emphatic that he had been thinking resignation for some time and that the KP episode was not a consideration. "You know when the time is right," he said, adding that if the job had brought a terror it was only the one that he might outstay his welcome.

Cook spoke of the sadness that had come to the dressing room when the team heard the decision and it was not hard to imagine the points of greatest regret. They did not include regrets that England had just lost a leader of brilliant forensic powers, or a clinical manipulator of the order of Ray Illingworth, another Ashes conqueror in Australia. No, the loss was of a captain who understood so well the nature of their common challenge, who had an even temperament and a nature equable enough in the most pressing circumstances.

Strauss forged with Flower a partnership that produced an environment in which complacency was dispatched as briskly as the worst of individual foibles – and for a little while it seemed that even the great Pietersen believed. After a dream-like double century in Adelaide on the way to the Ashes triumph, it seemed that nothing short of a gag could stop his praise of the culture imposed by Strauss – or the supreme value of genuine team spirit.

Yet in a little more than two years the hero of Adelaide is performing as the most shameless of fifth columnists. He is disparaging his team-mates for the psychological and, we are told, perhaps even the tactical benefit of his opponents in one of the most important Test series of his career.

It is reasonable to believe that there can be no way back from such mind-numbing treachery. It mocked not only the point of Pietersen's most brilliant service for his adopted country but also the spirit displayed by a kid like Jonny Bairstow, when he fell five runs short of his maiden century in a performance that reminded us of the best of England in the Strauss years.

Quite correctly, and hardly surprisingly, Strauss did not leave his public marker on the Pietersen issue when he made his farewell. Rather, he underlined the kernel of his decision to walk away. It had concerned simply his ability to bring value to the team. Of course, he had moments of individual pride, most notably those centuries which started with his first Test appearance at Lord's. But nothing compared to the moment when the Ashes urn was returned to him on Australian soil. That, you have to believe, was the meaning of a natural-born captain, and it is one that England may have reason to mourn soon enough.

Much depends, of course, on what happens behind those closed doors. Yesterday, out in the open, it didn't seem so hard to distinguish between what was right and wrong – and, not least, unforgivable.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit