Strauss comes out slugging to hit one-day doubters down the ground

England captain's place is supposedly under threat ahead of the World Cup but his tactical nous and remodelled game mean it should not even be an issue
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The Independent Online

At the fag end of the 2009 season, Andrew Strauss met some cricket writers for dinner in a Nottingham restaurant. It was fewer than three weeks since Strauss, as the captain of England, had engineered the recapture of the Ashes, barely eight since he had played a key role in the series' most seminal victory.

Nobody asked for an autograph, nobody craned their neck, nobody so much as smiled in his direction and murmured a quiet word of appreciation. This says something about the courtesy of East Midlands diners, about the recognition factor of famous cricketers and about Strauss's understated manner. It seemed somehow less than he deserved, as does the suddenly topical issue of whether he merits his place in England's one-day team.

The small, convivial occasion during the one-day series against Australia was by way of saying thanks for his help and co-operation throughout a memorable season. Perhaps it went beyond that, perhaps it was also to express an unspoken but deeply felt gratitude for what Strauss had done in salvaging English cricket.

In any estimation of Strauss the player – and he has been considerable – that should never be forgotten. The early days of January 2009 were dark in every way. The nights were still long and for the game in this country it looked as though they may be everlasting. England were a laughing stock, the team's most prized asset was in chaos and the idea of winning the Ashes faintly ridiculous.

Kevin Pietersen, his predecessor, and Peter Moores, the coach from whom Pietersen had split irrevocably, had both been deposed at the end of a tumultuous week. Strauss, who had twice been overlooked for the captaincy, was asked to sort out the mess.

He did so with a reassuring composure, clarity and vision. Quite early in the piece, he set out his objectives and how he expected his players to achieve them. Strauss prized the virtues of hard work, personal freedom and the need for players to take responsibility.

The Ashes was an early and unexpected reward and gradually Strauss began to lay down the plans for the future after that: the retention of the Ashes in Australia, but beyond even that the renovation of England's limited-over sides, and the lofty ambition to become the No 1 ranked side in all forms of cricket.

Suddenly, Strauss finds his position in the 50-over side questioned if not yet threatened. In recent days advocates for him to be replaced as captain, before the World Cup in the sub-continent next year, have been sprouting like greenfly on roses.

The case against Strauss is that he no longer cuts it as an opening batsman in 50-over cricket, if he ever did. This is buttressed by the fact that Strauss himself voluntarily withdrew from international Twenty20, citing as the reason that he did not consider himself to be one of the best 11 players in the country.

It was left unstated, though it may also have been pertinent, that something had to give, that he could not possibly do it all, as Ricky Ponting of Australia conceded last year. The mutterings about Strauss have been exacerbated in the past few days.

As a one-day player, he has limitations and it is to these that the latest set of bandwagon jumpers are pointing as their vessel speeds on its treacherous way. Its wheels were oiled by a panel discussion during England's one-day victory against Pakistan at Headingley last Sunday, when Strauss made his fifth one-day international hundred, rendering the argument stagnant. But it has refused to disappear and is in danger of being given credence.

Strauss's range of shots against the new ball is said to be inadequate, as is the ferocity with which he hits it. On the pitches of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan next spring the fear is that this will leave England denuded. This argument is complicated further by the present No 3, Jonathan Trott, whose progress rarely goes beyond the stately, though presumably the selectors have both Ian Bell and Pietersen up their sleeves.

This ignores the clear evidence that Strauss has refashioned himself as a limited-over batsman. Recognising both the specific and general need to take advantage of the initial 10-over power play when the most draconian fielding restrictions apply, he has persuaded himself to come out slugging.

The sight of Strauss charging down the wicket and hitting straight down the ground still takes some believing. But he can and does do it. Strauss's one-day career had seemed over when he had a moderate time of it in the 2007 World Cup, though he was not exactly isolated in that in the England party.

It was resumed when he was, at last, invited to be captain. Such was the turmoil that England needed one man to lead in all forms. Up to 2007 Strauss played 77 ODI innings for England for an average of 31.99, making his runs at 4.55 an over and striking 237 fours, or 3.1 per innings, and eight sixes.

Since his career restarted early last year, he has batted 32 times at an average of 42.03, scoring those runs at 5.19 an over, hitting 145 fours, 4.5 an innings, and 13 sixes. The increased aggression and its results are plain.

But there is much more to Strauss's place in the team than that. He is the captain and his importance in that role cannot be underestimated. There can be no room for sentiment in selecting sporting teams (although, on the other hand if there is no room for it in sport, where is there?) but Strauss's position embraces a great deal more.

He is the first captain in ages (with apologies to both Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain) to lay down a proper one-day strategy, to find the players and see where it might lead. The hope grows that it might lead all the way to the 2011 World Cup Final.

Strauss might have been fortunate to find a like-minded coach in Andy Flower (as Hussain and Vaughan were lucky to find Duncan Fletcher) but it works the other way, too. There have been more astute captains, those who were quicker to respond, of whom Hussain was one, but it is Strauss's undemonstrative approach that makes him so indispensable, his recognition of how and why game plans work.

He has the backing of his team, of the coach and of the selection panel. He is in eminently solid form, he remains an outstanding fielder, quick with a safe pair of hands. There is not a replacement in sight, except for Paul Collingwood, and magnificent though it was when he led the Twenty20 team to world glory last May, it is not possible to envisage his resuming a job he could hardly wait to shed the first time.

Strauss should and will go to the World Cup and those arguing otherwise are looking at a very small picture. In the bigger one, Strauss can be seen hoisting aloft the World Cup, with the Ashes urn sticking out of his pocket.

How Strauss became a power player

Andrew Strauss made his international one-day debut in November 2003 in the 10-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka at Dambulla. He was dropped after a poor World Cup in 2007, with England selector David Graveney saying he "needed to rediscover his best form" after failing to hit a one-day century in two years.

November 2003 to April 2007

Matches/Runs/Average

78/2239/31.99

March 2009 to today

32/1303/42.03

Strauss returned to the one-day side as captain in March 2009 and has scored two centuries in his last three matches.

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