In nine dramatic months Andrew Strauss's life has changed for ever. He assumed the England captaincy on a crisp January day at Lord's after one of the most cataclysmic episodes the English game had known. He led and began to mould a bewildered team on a demanding tour of the West Indies where his batting reached new heights.
During the summer which followed he stewarded England to Ashes glory. His serene leadership and resolute construction of innings were the twin pillars on which the victory was built. Now he stands on the verge of taking England to what would be an equally remarkable achievement – victory in a major one-day competition, in this case the Champions Trophy, otherwise billed as the mini-World Cup.
To do so, Strauss and his men have first to remove Australia, the team against which they have spent the best part of four months sparring, from the semi-finals in Centurion tonight. As he imbued the Test side with the necessary resolve in the late summer, Strauss has suddenly effected a transformation of the limited-overs outfit.
Considering all this and the certainty that he is now touching greatness as player and captain, it was something of a surprise that he was overlooked last night when the World Cricketer of the Year was announced. The award went to the Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, though Claire Taylor, England's greatest female batsman was named Women's Player of the Year. Strauss and Stuart Broad were selected in the world Test team of the year, though the captaincy went to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Strauss's latest trick may be his most considerable. England were in a mess in the seemingly interminable seven-match series against Australia at the fag end of the English summer, from which there seemed to be no escape. But they arrived in South Africa and began playing a new brand of cricket, one with an element of risk but which has been unfettered by doubt or hesitancy.
It propelled them to two extraordinary wins against teams with authentic claims to be potential winners of the competition, Sri Lanka and the hosts South Africa. Although they were subsequently defeated by New Zealand, having already qualified for the semi-finals, their renewed spirit and vigour were plain.
Strauss must confront team concerns today that he could have done without. For England to have come this far without their two leading practitioners of one-day cricket, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff (both picked in the ODI team of the year last night) has been notable. There are now doubts about fast bowler Stuart Broad and wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior.
Broad has a muscle tear in his left buttock and was clearly moving gingerly in practice yesterday. Prior trained but was still debilitated by the virus which has already caused him to miss two matches. If they are missing – and coach Andy Flower seemed downbeat in both cases – England will probably recall Tim Bresnan for his first game in the tournament and ask the event technical committee to replace Prior with Steve Davies, who would be making his one-day international debut in a world semi-final. Prior, even if recovered, could not then play in the final.
There is a sprightly look to England that might have been enhanced by Australia's squeaky win against Pakistan. Suddenly, they can sense brittleness in their opponents. Flower said: "We didn't mind who we played. We would have taken on either side in exactly the same vein. We want to play aggressive cricket."
Although Flower has proved himself an estimable and approachable coach none of this would have been possible without Strauss. Just at the point he must have given up the idea of being captain he was virtually begged to take over after Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen, captain and coach respectively, were deposed in the wake of a bitter dispute between the pair that became public. Strauss was profoundly impressive from the start and, if it was not quite a seamless takeover, it pretty quickly became his team.
Flower said: "He's been a brilliant leader. He's been the rock around which our batting order has functioned. He's strong, decisive, fair and I think he's a brave and strong leader for England."
Graeme Swann, one of the team members who has benefited most under Strauss, said: "He has done everything right in his tenure. Maybe they should have made him captain five years ago." Maybe he will be captain for another five years. One more win against Australia and the Strauss legend will grow some more.
Bresnan says sorry for Twitter rant
The ubiquitous social networking site Twitter threatened to impede England's preparations for the semi-final of the Champions Trophy yesterday. Tim Bresnan, who is likely to be recalled to the side tonight, was forced to apologise for posting a message that some might construe as offensive.
It happened after Bresnan, a solid Yorkshireman, had been the butt of jokes about his weight from frequent tweeters Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson. Barely a night in South Africa has gone by, it seems, without Bresnan eating a steak.
If this was all vaguely puerile it was also good-natured until one tweeter posted on the site a grossly overweight body sporting an England shirt with Bresnan's head. Clearly angry, Bresnan wrote: "Don't mind my mates dishing it out. But who the fuck are you. Crawl back to your basement. U knob."
This did not show Bresnan in the most sympathetic light, especially since, as coach Andy Flower conceded, he has always had slight struggles with weight. "If it's a public site they should not be swearing on it," said Flower. "They're not stupid, they know it's public. He's apologised. If you are an England player there is a certain way you have to behave."
S R Watson
T D Paine (wkt)
R T Ponting (capt)
M E K Hussey
C J Ferguson
C L White
J R Hopes
M G Johnson
N M Hauritz
P M Siddle
A J Strauss (capt)
J L Denly
O A Shah
P D Collingwood
E J G Morgan
S M Davies (wkt)
L J Wright
T T Bresnan
G P Swann
R J Sidebottom
J M Anderson
TV: 13.00-22.00, Sky Sports 1, HD1
Umpires: B Bowden (NZ) & Aleem Dar (Pak)
Odds: Australia 1/2, England 6/4 (Coral)
Weather: Cool, overcast with light rain, becoming heavier in evening. Maximum temperature 19C
Pitch report: A fresh surface has been prepared after the old pitches were tired. Likely to be slow but not troublesome.Reuse content