Strauss looks to Atherton to share burden

Captain cuts short press conference as pressure over underperformance refuses to go away

Colombo

As a truncated press briefing came to a close yesterday, a captain and a former captain of England locked knowing grins. It might have been a coincidence that Andrew Strauss glanced in the direction of Mike Atherton as he swept out of the dark room at the P Sara Stadium, five minutes and 42 seconds into discussing the state of play for the second Test against Sri Lanka starting today.

But if so, it was a heck of a one. Atherton was the only person in the place who had a directly similar experience to what Strauss has been going through: a captain fighting for his life. Strauss had just been asked more or less the same question seven times and seven times had managed to avoid answering it.

Although the issue went round the houses, it came down to this: Was he thinking of quitting after such a dire run of results? There are plenty of former captains attached to the international cricket circus but only one was there yesterday to listen to Strauss being grilled. The looks they exchanged suggested they both knew exactly what was going on here. Atherton was almost, but not quite, hounded out of the job after 12 matches in 1994 over some dirt in his pocket in a Test match at Lord's against South Africa.

 



All hell broke loose because the implication was that Atherton might have been trying to alter the condition of the ball. He survived and went on to captain England another 42 times, still a record, but the honeymoon period was definitely over and things were probably never the same again.

This is a different scenario. Strauss is under scrutiny because his team have been losing and he has not been scoring many runs. Such a combination makes for legitimate inquiry and Strauss recognises it. It is one of the reasons the press conference was curtailed. There was one topic on everybody's minds and Strauss was not keen to engage in it.

But only in Atherton could he find someone there who knew precisely what it is like. Hence the exchange. For the record, Strauss went into the match today not thinking of resignation, but then, what else could he say? "After much thought I have decided this Test will be my last. If it was good enough for a great player like Derek Underwood to have played his last match at the P Sara Stadium, it's good enough for me." Not a chance.

Strauss gave just enough away to be certain that he understands the perilous position he finds himself in after four consecutive defeats. Part of the trouble is that there is an anointed successor, in his deputy and the one-day captain, Alastair Cook, waiting in the wings. Everybody knows that.

A win here, even such a belated one, and some runs will make the issue go away. Better by far to win now at the fag end of the winter tours than to have won a match at the very start and then lost the next four. Go out on a high and, as Strauss put it, there would be momentum going into the summer. But he could not deny the difficulties of leading a losing team.

"That is one of the real challenges of leadership or captaincy," he said. "It's easy when it's going well: everyone is buoyant and happy and patting each other on the back. When times are tough, that's when it's important you stand up and lead and show people the right direction. I like that sort of challenge. It hasn't gone our way so far this winter but I retain absolute faith, in our players and the way we like to play our cricket, that it will turn round.

"You've got to stick with it. You've got to realise you're not going to win every game you play. Sometimes you'll go through patches where things don't work out your way, both individually and collectively, and if you retain faith, it will turn round, especially if you have players of real quality, which I know we do have."

With that they were away but, on reflection, it could easily have been a pitch to the selectors.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz