Public schoolboy armed with the confidence to become England's next class act

Andrew Strauss is the only England player to hit a century on his Test and one-day debuts at Lord's. The opener talks to Angus Fraser before facing the West Indies at the home of cricket tomorrow
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss's public school background has made him the source of great amusement since he first walked into the Middlesex dressing-room in 1997. The county has always enjoyed the contrast between the chaps from Radley and the lads from Hackney. There is nothing that a working-class lad enjoys more than taking the mickey out of a the upper classes, particularly those who wear multi-coloured school caps on a cricket field, or jazz-hats as they are known in the dressing-room.

Andrew Strauss's public school background has made him the source of great amusement since he first walked into the Middlesex dressing-room in 1997. The county has always enjoyed the contrast between the chaps from Radley and the lads from Hackney. There is nothing that a working-class lad enjoys more than taking the mickey out of a the upper classes, particularly those who wear multi-coloured school caps on a cricket field, or jazz-hats as they are known in the dressing-room.

Strauss became aware of this on one of his first days at Lord's. During Middlesex's pre-season preparations in 1998, John Buchanan - then the club's coach, now the Australia coach - split the squad into groups of four or five and asked them to come up with plans as to how the county should play one-day cricket. Buchanan invited one member from each group to stand up and present their findings.

Strauss, already confident beyond his years, offered to be the spokesperson of his huddle - a decision which meant the squad was soon subjected to his loud posh voice. It was an opportunity not to be missed, and Strauss had only just began when chuckling was heard in the background. Paul Weekes, Jason Pooley and Keith Dutch were not laughing at the ideas expressed by Strauss, but at the way in which they were being broadcast.

On realising he had lost the focus of the squad Strauss stopped his presentation, looked at the group and said, à la Captain Mainwaring: "I see no reason for humour."

It brought the house down, and Buchanan needed a couple of minutes to restore order. Typically, Strauss was able to see the funny side and still managed to finish his presentation with admirable eloquence.

The England team were just as quick to latch on to his breeding. In his first week on tour with England last winter, Strauss was christened 'Lord Brocket', because of his resemblance to the character in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!.

"Flintoff is the worst," Strauss says, contemplating life as he sits at the front of the Lord's Pavilion with a cup of coffee in his hand. "Freddie is always taking the piss out of me. We are very different but we get on really well. He is a great bloke to have around."

The former student of Caldicott Prep School, Radley College and Durham University has spent quite a lot of time with the occasional visitor to Preston's Ribbleton Hall High School since he first joined up with the England side in Bangladesh before Christmas. There the England management took the remarkable step of making the pair training partners.

"We did not see eye to eye," a smiling Strauss remembers. "I was injuring myself attempting to lift what he lifts and when we changed the weights over it did not seem to be doing him much good. They have put him with someone more his size."

This odd couple may have jovial disagreements off the pitch but if the recent NatWest series is anything to go by - Strauss and Flintoff shared partnerships of 122 and 226 in consecutive matches against New Zealand and the West Indies - they certainly enjoy each other's company on it.

However, Flintoff was not at the crease when Strauss had his defining moment as an England player - a century on his Test debut at Lord's. The Middlesex captain became only the fourth player to achieve this feat and, as he prepares to return to Lord's in tomorrow's first Test against the West Indies, he naturally looks back on it with pride.

"I did not feel under a great deal of pressure before the game," he says, "but I was nervous as I walked through the Long Room. It was a lot fuller than it is for Middlesex games and there were a lot of members wishing me well and patting me on the back as I walked through.

"But as soon as I walked on the field I felt all right. I felt I knew about this bit. I have done this bit before. The first ball I faced was quite nerve-racking, but I got off the mark and that was a big relief. We had about 40 minutes to bat before lunch and at the end of the session I was on 15 not out. When I came back out I then thought, 'Right, now go on and post a big score.' Beforehand I was just thinking about getting in and not making a fool of myself."

In the afternoon session Strauss looked as though he had been playing Test cricket for five years and had moved on to 65 by tea. The left-hander continued to bat with aplomb until he reached the nineties and what he was about to achieve dawned on him.

"As soon as I got to 90 I became nervous again. I started thinking about what it would be like to score a hundred on debut. All the crowd were anticipating me getting there, and I got very fidgety. I wanted to get it over with and I played some shots I should not have played. I was fortunate to get away with them but the relief of getting a hundred was immense."

In the second of his partnerships with Flintoff, Strauss achieved his maiden one-day hundred for England, an achievement which allowed him to become the sole member of a very exclusive club. Twelve Englishmen have scored centuries in their first Test innings at Lord's and two have reached the same landmark in their first one-day knock at the home of cricket: but Strauss is the only Englishman to have done both.

"You try and look for reasons why it has happened, but they are hard to come by. I have been very fortunate, in that I batted on a good pitch and made my debut at my home ground. This allowed me to feel very comfortable. The hundreds have given me contrasting emotions. The one-day hundred was very satisfying because it had been such hard work to begin with.

"The Test innings was more about me. It was more about me showing I could play Test cricket. The situation of the game meant that we had to get runs but the responsibility for this was not on my shoulders. My innings was not as important to the team but it was for me."

Strauss does not have to look far to see what an impression he has made. Under the Compton and Edrich Stands at Lord's there are huge posters of cricketing legends who have performed great deeds at the ground. But the images of Gooch, McGrath, Tendulkar, Richards and Bradman are nowhere near as big as the billboard of Strauss.

"I know, it's the biggest poster in the world," he says bashfully. "That Sachin Tendulkar has a little one and I have a big one - it doesn't seem right. You think, 'What have I done to deserve all this?"'

There are many more gifted batsmen than Strauss plying their trade in county cricket - Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick to name but two - but why is it that the he made an immediate impact and it took these two 38 and 22 Test innings respectively to perform.

"It is hard to work out why," says Strauss. "They had to deal with the weight of expectation. They were billed as the next big thing, players who were going to go on and average 40 or 50 for England. I didn't have that. I was plucked out of county cricket when I was doing really well and was never built up to be an amazing player.

"I was 27 when I made my Test debut, and I felt comfortable about my game. I knew what my game was about and I wasn't searching for anything or trying to do things I would not normally do in the county game."

Such attitudes stand in stark contrast to those of other players in the England dressing-room. Batsmen, in particular, become very technical and analytical when they play international cricket for the first time. Up until this moment most will have seen very little of themselves on television or had Geoffrey Boycott pulling apart their technique.

The better cricketers can cope with this, but others get so wrapped up in what their feet and head are doing that they forget to do the most important thing - watch and hit the ball.

Strauss is confident enough to back his own judgement and very little appears to perturb him - not even an irate Philip Tufnell. In 2000, Middlesex were playing Gloucestershire at Lord's and Tufnell was not having a particularly rewarding day.

Kim Barnett's shuffle across the crease made him one of the hardest men in the game to bowl at. It was like hitting a moving target and his actions, along with the fact that he kept chipping the ball just out of Strauss's reach at short extra cover, were driving the Middlesex spinner mad.

Eventually, Barnett hit one straight at Strauss, who spilled his fourth catch of the session. Tufnell went berserk.

"Get him out of there," he yelled at Justin Langer, the Middlesex captain, "he's fucking useless."

Strauss is one of the best fielders in England, and Langer did not want to move him but he went over to have a chat. Rather than apologise, Strauss told Langer, "I do not appreciate being spoken to like that - especially by him - when I am fielding in a position I am not too familiar with."

Strauss, it is clear, is not easily overawed. "I try not to let things affect me too much. I am quite good at clearing my mind and focusing on what is in front of me rather than dwelling on what has happened. Technique is overrated. It is an accessory. You have to have a defensive game, that can keep out the good balls, and areas where you feel comfortable hitting the ball.

"But there are times when people over-analyse the technical aspect of the game. The most important thing is I hit the ball with the middle of my bat."

Not that Strauss is satisfied with his lot. He is an ambitious and highly motivated young man. Much of this comes from his father, David, a former chief executive at Sedgwicks in the City. Andrew is very close to his father, and the two agreed that if his cricket career failed to take off he would not hang around the county game waiting for a benefit - but leave cricket and begin using his degree in the City.

After the last two months it would be fair to say that this plan has been put on hold. Strauss's new father figure is Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, a man who is constantly giving him tips on how to improve his game.

"I need to work on my shot selection and trying to score in different areas in one-day cricket," he admits. "But the main area I need to improve on is how I play different bowlers in different conditions. In county cricket you don't get many guys who bowl with real pace, or who turn the ball square and it is going to be a challenge to adapt my game when they come along.

"I am realistic about the fact that I am not going to score a hundred every time I walk out to bat. The challenge for me is to stop a bad run becoming a slump, but until you experience it in international cricket you do not know how you will react to it.

"I have had a honeymoon period, I suppose, and now I have to learn how to eke out these scores consistently. It is what separates the great players from those that have been a bit streaky and have the odd good run before they return to being mere mortals. This is the next big thing for me to try and achieve."

Comments