Why Strauss is England's greatest ever captain

His CV has Ashes wins home and away and world No 1 spot on it, but the way he saved flailing side makes opener finest leader his country has had, writes Stephen Brenkley

There can be no other job like it. Part of life as a professional sportsman is being told how to go about your business by people who claim to be experts but have never been within a light year of a changing room.

This is perfectly normal. The Prime Minister has recently had more advice than he could shake a stick at, if stick-shaking were permissible in the present climate, from thousands of observers who have never held elected office in their lives. It comes with the territory.

For Andrew Strauss it is much worse than that. Every day that he goes to work he is scrutinised, dissected and perused by most of his recent predecessors as the captain of the England cricket team, some of whom may know what they are talking about.

Last week at Edgbaston, where England, under Strauss's leadership, became the top-ranked Test team for the first time, six recent captains were on duty as commentators. They spanned the years from 1980 to 2008 and in chronological order were Ian Botham, David Gower, Alec Stewart, Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan.

If you wanted to count Geoff Boycott's four matches as caretaker he was there and Bob Willis was watching in a London studio. Graham Gooch was in the dressing room as England's batting coach. Mike Gatting was around as the England and Wales Cricket Board's managing director of cricket partnerships.

The most celebrated of all, Mike Brearley, normally rolls up on a Saturday on Sunday newspaper duty but was missing last week as England secured their series win with victory by an innings and 242 runs. Strauss could now be reasonably assessed as the best of the lot of them.

Given that he has won Ashes series home and away, has led the side to six successive Test series wins, including this crushing defeat of India, the previous top-ranked side, and has now won 20 of his 38 Tests as captain, the case is sound. Although his qualities of statesmanship and the obvious fact that he is simply a good bloke are universally accepted, appraisals of Strauss's tactical acumen by his peers, however, tend to be lukewarm.

Perhaps because he is not an attacking captain by nature, perhaps because he does not set tricksy fields, perhaps because he is not an instinctive changer of bowling, it is easy to overlook his virtues. Strauss is endlessly patient as a captain in that he allows strategies to unfold to their logical conclusion.

England have been meticulous in their planning lately – which is not to say they did not go into great detail before – and Strauss senses the reason for that. A plan that does not work within an over is not necessarily a bad plan.

It is noticeable too, or seems so, that he is doing more one-on-one talking to the bowler on the field. Several times at Edgbaston he ran from his first slip position to have a chat to the bowler in mid-over at the end of his run-up.

What Strauss may have managed above all is what all captains must try to do and, human nature being what it is, almost all fail to do. In his seminal work, The Art of Captaincy, Brearley wrote: "No captain can bring out the best in all players in the team. Temperamentally we all respond better to some than others.

"There are those who impose on us pressures that make us particularly touchy, or which arouse our anxieties unduly. But a good captain can respond to a player in enough cases for there to be significant overall improvement. The team as a whole and its atmosphere can be affected for good or ill."

Part of Brearley's reputation rests on his ability to get the absolute best out of Botham (not least 30 years ago this year), and Brearley himself mentions Hussain's skill in resurrecting the career of Andrew Caddick. Strauss seems to have defied Brearley's rationale. He is getting the best out of all of them.

Andy Flower, with whom Strauss has forged an important partnership as coach and captain, rarely omits to mention Strauss's qualities. Gradually and together they have got the men they wanted.

Along the way they have lost players to retirement and it is not too much of a stretch to think they were sorrier to lose some than others. Andrew Flintoff, for instance, may not have been as lamented as much as Paul Collingwood, simply because Flintoff, special player though he was, had too much celebrity baggage by the time Flower and Strauss took command.

After the great victory in Birmingham, Flower was asked about the evolution of the side and said: "I don't want to go into past sides and talk about what was wrong. What is right about this side at the moment is it's got an outstanding leader in Strauss. He really is a special man. And the players, after being asked to embrace responsibility, have delivered. Strauss asked that of them when he took over the captaincy a couple of years ago and they are repaying him."

The circumstances in which Strauss took over in early 2009 should never be forgotten. Almost his first act as captain was to visit a conflict resolution specialist. The team were in disarray following the breakdown of the relationship between the coach, Peter Moores, and the captain, Kevin Pietersen, which cost them both their jobs.

It is a measure of Strauss the man that when asked to be captain, and disappointed as he was to have been previously overlooked, he immediately suggested that a generation be skipped and that someone like Alastair Cook be appointed. The selectors were not taking no for answer.

That conflict expert was worth the visit as it happens. It was he who suggested assembling a code of values for the team, a charter if you like. From this emerged the request to take individual responsibility for the good of the team which has become the cornerstone of Strauss's captaincy.

It sounds so easy but it is so difficult in practice. Perhaps the most significant example is Ian Bell, now a batsman of the highest class whose talent was in danger of fizzling out. Perhaps Bell was at the right age when Strauss came along, but perhaps it would never have worked out for him.

A bowler such as Tim Bresnan has similarly responded because when he was a fringe player it was made abundantly clear that he had a part to play. The most significant of Strauss's successes has been Pietersen, the man he replaced.

It takes two to tango, of course, but Strauss has never put foot a wrong with regard to Pietersen. He backed him at the start, he backed him when he lost form and he backed him when he made an idiot of himself. The upshot is a mountain of runs and Pietersen being more at ease than he has for a long time.

Strauss's briefing after the match on Saturday was instructive. He made it clear there was to be no resting on laurels, that there were other goals and that only the collective was important.

He could do with a few more runs himself – though as captain he averages more than Vaughan, Hussain and Atherton. But he has taken English cricket to a great place. The time has not yet come but it will be fascinating to see what Strauss, now 34, does next. He could write a book on the art of captaincy and conflict resolution.

England's best test captains in terms of win percentage... and how Strauss compares

Qualification 10 Tests




Win %

W G Grace





Douglas Jardine





Mike Brearley





Percy Chapman





Andrew Strauss





Michael Vaughan





Peter May





Len Hutton





Johnny Douglas





Sir Pelham Warner





England's test calendar

February-March 2012: Three Tests v Pakistan (in Abu Dhabi and Dubai)
March-April: Two Tests in Sri Lanka
May-June: Three Tests v West Indies
August: Three Tests v South Africa
November-December: Four Tests in India

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions