Strauss brightens the mood

England's cricketers may be in disarray, but their new captain made an assured start as he was introduced to the public at Lord's yesterday
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The Independent Online

If the first public appearance is any measure, everything should be all right. It was tempting at times to think that in these hands the Ashes could indeed come home again.

Andrew Strauss was mightily impressive as he was paraded yesterday as England's new captain barely 24 hours after being appointed in the least propitious of circumstances – in what was no more or no less than a shabby mess.

Yet for nigh on 20 minutes Strauss spoke with eloquence, sense and generosity. He did not duck any questions, he was as frank as the situation and probably the law allowed. It was refreshing. Sport is like this, of course. It moves on quickly because there is always another game to be played.

Strauss seemed to recognise this above all and if he was not consigning to history the stupendously stupid events of the past few days which had ended in Kevin Pietersen resigning as captain and Peter Moores being sacked as coach, he was already looking to the future.

"The reality is that it's going to take some effort on the part of everybody," he said. "You're not going to just walk in and find everything is going to be hunky-dory but if you look at it from the point of view that this England team has got to go out and perform and perform well, and you've got a duty to do that, I'm sure the players will come together."

What everybody wanted to know was how the new captain was going to heal the split in the England dressing room and how he was going to accommodate the man who may or may not might not have provoked it and whom he had just replaced as captain, Kevin Pietersen. Strauss was ready.

"I think maybe that you believe the rifts in the England dressing room are greater than they are," he said. "Clearly, from the point of view of the players and some members of the management we need to chat and get things sorted out. I have spoken to Kevin a couple of times already. It has been a very tough situation and he has got some stuff to deal with at the moment. I fully believe that everything he did he thought was the best thing for the England cricket team."

Strauss might have brought the house down when he said that "Kevin has been very supportive so far". It was a slip of the tongue, of course, but it conjured dreadful visions of what might happen.

The new captain, who has done the job on two occasions before as a stand-in covering five matches, was not about to give away any dressing-room secrets. But nor did he try to conceal the fact that there have obviously been difficulties.

"Towards the back end of the India tour there were signs that Kevin and Peter weren't getting on as well as they possibly could do," he said. "You have got to remember that the cricketers themselves were concentrating on trying to play two Test matches in two weeks and also getting back to India after the terrorist attacks, so there was a lot on our minds apart from the dressing-room situation. But there certainly were signs that their relationship was strained."

While Strauss was attempting to begin his repair of the soul of the England team it became clear that the manwho should have known what was happening did not. Geoff Miller, England’s National Selector, said last night: “I didn’t realise there were deep-seated problems in the dressing room.”

Strauss, who in the opinion of many sound judges might have been given the job on at least two previous occasions, said he had a vision for the side. In the next fortnight before the squad leaves to play four Test matches, five one-day internationals and one Twenty20 in the West Indies he intends to talk collectively and individually to the players.

For the moment he is not in the one-day side and has not played an ODI since April 2007 in the last World Cup. That exile is likely to end today when his status as captain in all forms of the game is presumably formalised. Strauss wanted to dwell on the future but it was natural that he was continually dragged back to the recent past.

"Kevin Pietersen is a very strong-willed person," he said and found nobody shaking their heads in disagreement. "That was one of his great strengths as England captain. He wasn't worried about upsetting people and in one way that's a very positive trait to have but in another it's going to create confrontation at times and that's how it has worked out.

"You need those sort of people in your team. That was how he tried to run his captaincy and things were difficult, there was no other way to describe it. I am looking forward to him going out and scoring runs which I know he will do."

Strauss revealed that he did not automatically take the job. Given the shambles, he could have been easily forgiven for turning it down, but he adopted the sensible approach. "I certainly had to think about it carefully. The reality is that someone has got to captain the side. I believe I can do the job and am the right person to do the job at this stage. It's important at this stage more than any that there's leadership in the England side. That was my primary reason for taking the job."

It needed a measured voice of sanity after the shenanigans of the past week. There is a long, long way to go but out of the madness England might have found their man.

2009 and all that: England's year ahead

January-April England in West Indies: (Four Tests, one Twenty20 match, five one-day internationals).

May West Indies in England: (Two Tests, three one-day internationals).

June ICC World Twenty20 (hosted by England): Pakistan and Netherlands make up England's group.

July-September Australia in England (Five Tests, two Twenty20s, seven one-day internationals)

November-December England in South Africa (provisional, four Tests, five one-day internationals)

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