James Lawton: Be careful what you wish for. Why Strauss is still the man for the job

England’s selectors have to ask themselves if the captain is the problem or part of the solution

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The Independent Online

With all the pressure now building around Andrew Strauss it is maybe a useful exercise to trawl back through his career and isolate all those occasions when he has comported himself as anything other than someone born to captain England.

You know the kind of thing: soil in the pocket, tears in the dressing room, catastrophic tactical lunges, ill-considered pedalo rides, self-serving platitudes. But nope, the pickings are slim to the point of non-existence.

Indeed, the whole futile exercise reminds you of a scene in All The King's Men, that great old movie on the theme of political corruption in the American south.

A young reporter is sent out to uncover some dirt on a fast-rising demagogue. After quite some time he calls in to tell his editor: "The guy's clean."

The editor replies: "Keep digging, kid – nobody's clean."

The thing is, Strauss is, but for a recently thin time in the company of his bat.

Given his current cares of stewardship of a team which seems so hell-bent on proving that despite conquering the world it remains as palsied as any of its predecessors when the action moves to the subcontinent, this is perhaps not the greatest surprise.

Certainly it must be rated less so than the current critical bloodlust for Strauss's head on a silver platter.

Even if we allow that the shot this week which deprived the captain of his wicket in the second innings of England's fourth straight Test defeat was somewhat injudicious, two other points surely need to be made.

One is that there is nothing fundamentally so wrong with Strauss's technique that a little serious time and reflection in the nets is not likely to solve. The other is that removing him from the captaincy, or pushing him towards resignation, would surely stand out as remarkable folly even by the old standards of English cricket.

And none of this is to mention ingratitude. Omitted from the equation, thus far at least, is a capacity to look back from the current crisis and gauge quite the scale of Strauss's contribution to the renaissance of the England team – or quite the extent of the leadership vacuum he would leave in his wake.

The only credible alternative at this point is Alastair Cook, who after the bountiful run-hoarding that rescued his Test career before the last Ashes series is now looking rather less a masterful craftsman, with an average over the losing run which is less than Strauss's modest 25.4.

Ian Bell's 14.5 hardly reflects his recently acquired status as one of the hottest batting talents in the world game and at 12.5 Kevin Pietersen, Strauss's brief and profoundly miscast predecessor, has lurched to the worst figures of the front-line batsmen.

Take away Strauss and then see what is left. It is Jonathan Trott and a bowling attack which, for all its resources, is carrying an unacceptable burden.

England's selectors have to ask themselves if the captain is the problem or surely part of the most coherent solution. His achievements with coach Andy Flower over the last three years provoke only one possible answer.

If Strauss's demeanour was more strained than usual during the latest debacle in Galle, he remained that rare thing in professional sport's more pressurised situations, a pillar of rationality. Yes of course, he said, he was gravely disappointed by his own performance and that of the team but it was hardly the time to discuss his own future.

Work had to be done and atonement made and then there might be the occasion for some kind of discussion. Meanwhile, he would battle on.

It is an approach that has served him well since he took up the challenge amid the chaos that followed Pietersen's resignation and an instant Test defeat inflicted on his partnership with Flower on a Caribbean tour. The team have travelled so far, and mostly with much competitive assurance, it is not easy to believe that the foundations of the team were put in place as recently as 2009.

Strauss, whose frustrations at being overlooked in favour of Pietersen when Andrew Flintoff's captaincy ran its riotous course were never publicly aired, did his work with the under-stated confidence of a man who opened his Test career with a century at Lord's. As calling cards go, this one was embossed in gold – and of course he scored another there while leading England to the first of two Ashes triumphs.

It is now a sumptuous portfolio which speaks of a constant grounding in the realities of world-class competition. The high point is perhaps his and Flower's approach to the brilliant Ashes victory in Australia.

It was one of great authority and based on the most rigorous professional standards. There was some objection, not least from Pietersen, when the leadership declared a ban on the cricketing WAGs in the formative stages of that triumphant tour, but it was dismissed with some force.

The effects of that stance were inevitably cited when England's rugby union team collapsed in what seemed like a frenzy of indiscipline during the World Cup in New Zealand. England's cricketers, it had never been more evident, had set a rare standard of application and excellence.

None of this should be discounted because of Strauss's almost certainly passing problems at the batting crease – or another chapter in England's historic failure to come to terms with conditions in places like India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It could be that these factors combine to represent the last challenge of Andrew Strauss's still deeply impressive career. If this is so, the least he might reasonably expect now is a little time and space. It is not so much to ask for the cleanest guy on the block.

Rugby justice is too often a law unto itself

There are many problems in the world of sports justice, many incongruities and shaky attempts to make some level field of consistent judgement.

This will probably always be so, as it is beyond the boundaries of the games we play, but one mystery remains more impenetrable than most. It is the way rugby union journeys through its own bizarre version of the moral maze.

How else can we react to the news that the Northampton forward, Calum Clark, is banned for 32 weeks – a curiously arbitrary amount of time – following the allegation that he hyper-extended the arm of his Leicester opponent Rob Hawkins? The consequence was Hawkins' need for surgery on a broken elbow. Clark, who was suspended by his club indefinitely, has the right of appeal.

Such incidents inevitably provoke a leading question, especially with the reports that Dean Richards, author of Bloodgate, is shortly to return to a senior position with a Premiership club.

The question: what do you have to do before being told that you really ought to try another game?

A Chisora-Haye fight is fit only for a back alley

Promoter Frank Warren says that one result of a successful appeal by his fighter Dereck Chisora might be a contest with David Haye.

Chisora, who was banned by the British Boxing Board of Control following his squalid post-fight collision with Haye in Munich, is challenging the board's handling of his hearing, including the right to examine evidence.

That which has been available to most of us, painted a rather damning picture of events in Munich. Indeed, there was surely enough of it to make Warren's project seem most guaranteed to further damage the image of heavyweight boxing.

"Whatever people say," declares Warren, "this a real fight and I want to put it in a proper forum."

Proper forum? Such is the certainty of vast hype, it is reasonable to see one of the bigger venues full and a TV contract in place. But proper forum is not quite the same thing, is it? One possibility might be a back alley with an audience composed exclusively of junkyard dogs.

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