Strauss leads England back from brink to promised land

Captain wins ultimate prize after making players responsible for their actions
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The Independent Online

Everything seems different when the Ashes have come home. The world, or at least the English part of it, is somehow a much happier, sprightlier place. Presumably, in the Australian part of it at present, the reverse is true.

Quite how England managed to reclaim the trophy in the summer of 2009 continues to be something of a mystery. Theses may come to be written on it. Australia's batsmen scored more runs and their bowlers took more wickets, but it was England who won the moments that mattered, and in defying tradition at Lord's by winning for the first time in 75 years and coming back remarkably at The Oval following a shambolic defeat in Leeds they exhibited the virtues of team spirit.

No praise should be too high for the England captain, Andrew Strauss. In January he took over a team that were befuddled if not in disarray after the coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen were both deposed.

Those early days of the year formed an unsavoury episode in English cricket. It has still not been fully explained how Pietersen and Moores came to be so far apart and how the relationship and therefore the team were allowed to disintegrate so far.

Strauss, in sporting parlance, was handed the hospital pass and dealt with it deftly. It was immediately evident that he had statesmanlike qualities: when he speaks he commands trust and respect. He and his estimable new coach, Andy Flower, insisted on making the players responsible for their own actions and were repaid by a collective spirit which has been rare in England teams. The Ashes were marked by this and by the departure (from Tests but possibly from all cricket) of a titan. Andrew Flintoff was right to choose this as his time to go. His big-hearted spell of fast bowling at Lord's on the fifth morning was a perfect valediction.

Some observers were slightly sniffy about it, estimating that since England led by 521, they were bound to win at some point. They were wrong then and they will stay wrong. Fred demonstrated that he was a player of the moment, as he did in the clinching victory at The Oval when his run-out of Ricky Ponting with a direct throw was a sublime intervention.

The Ashes were not alone in supplying ballast to the season after a disappointing winter when Strauss's new England failed to come back against West Indies after being bowled out for 51 in Jamaica. They duly gained vengeance at home, winning two Tests that should not have been played, in bitterly cold conditions. Administrators continue to show, as the vogue phrase goes, that they don't get it.

They certainly got it with the World Twenty20, a triumph for all concerned but above all for Pakistan, who somehow won it despite being the pariahs (next to Zimbabwe) of planet cricket following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in March.

Who would have thought that the team beaten by Holland in the World Twenty20 would go on to win the Ashes? That is England for you.

The England women's team prevailed on every front – World Cup and Twenty20 champions – and must have won over the sceptics by now.

Durham won the County Championship for the second time in succession, this time by a country mile, and have their own production line of bowlers. But county cricketers are too well rewarded for the game's good.

However, that is the way of it. Lurking everywhere insidiously was the Indian Premier League, a ubiquitous Twenty20 franchise tournament. Whether a force for good or evil, it is the ruler of all it surveys.

Three to watch

Adrian Barath: When he scored a hundred against England in a tour match in St Kitts last February, it was clear he had something. When he scored a hundred against Australia this month in his second Test he confirmed it. The 18-year-old Trinidadian opener could help to lead the renaissance of West Indies cricket.

Graeme Swann: Has taken to Test cricket with zeal and aplomb. Beneath the jocular exterior is a serious player.

James Taylor: Important second season for the diminutive Leicestershire batsman after scoring 1,184 runs at an average of 65 with three hundreds last summer. Has real style and if he does it again, much is possible.

Stephen Brenkley

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