Why Strauss is right to put his family before country
Angus Fraser would have missed the births of his children to play county cricket, but now thinks he was wrong and times have changed for the better
Saturday 26 November 2005
Andrew Strauss. A softie who does not know how lucky he is to be playing cricket for England? Or a caring, loving husband who is perfectly entitled to share a special moment in his life with his wife?
Views on Strauss's return to England at the conclusion of Thursday's drawn second Test, to be present at the birth of his first child, vary. There are many who feel the England opener should remain with his teammates and help them level a series in Pakistan. Many others believe he is right to return home.
In some ways it is a strange controversy. Strauss has a responsible job and is an integral member of the England cricket team. But if he was doing anything but representing his country at sport nobody would give the decision a second thought. It would be obvious, and he would be encouraged to join his wife, Ruth, and help her through a traumatic and stressful period of her life. Nobody would even mind if he took a couple of weeks off on paternity leave too.
My views on the subject have changed since I retired from cricket in 2002. I was lucky because I did not have to make such a decision. Both my children, who are now 12 and 10, were born during the cricket season yet my wife, Denise, gave birth on days when I was not playing. If Middlesex had had a game the club would have expected me to play for them.
Undoubtedly, I would have.
Yet I am glad I did not miss the births of Alexander and Bethan. I am pleased I was there for many reasons, but mainly because my wife wanted me to be there. Denise did not want her mother or her mother-in-law by her side, she wanted her husband.
If I had not been present I am sure it would have been held against me, and I still think about this issue every time the debate raises its head. What weight would my opinion carry if a disagreement about what is right or wrong for one of our children took place?
It would only be a matter of time before the cutting and argument-ending remark, "Well, you showed how much you care about him/her, you couldn't even be bothered to attend the birth", was uttered. I am thankful the line has never been, and will never be, thrown in my direction.
Strauss will probably play more than 250 games of cricket for England. The game will reward him and his family well for his service, and should England carry on winning he could be set up for life when he retires in seven or eight years.
He is aware that he is in a privileged position, and that by going home he could jeopardise his place in the side. But he does not owe anybody anything, and choosing to miss one or two games in a 10-year career can hardly be described as a dereliction of duty.
Those of us who played for England for a reasonable period of time know how fortunate we have been, but it does not mean that we have not made sacrifices along the way. And the demands on the players keep rising as boards attempt to raise more and more money.
The players selected for both the Test and one-day squads in Pakistan will not see any member of their family for eight weeks, and most will be away for the same period of time in February, March and April when England tour India. How many people are prepared to spend that much time away from their loved ones each winter? Some - Mark Butcher - enjoy touring; others - Stephen Harmison - count down the days.
Touring, however, is much easier for the players than the partners they leave behind. International cricketers, quite rightly, get well looked after. In fact, they get spoilt rotten. Everything is done for them.
The wife/girlfriend/partner is aware of this as they sit at home on their own raising a family. They have experienced the five-star hotels, the decent expenses, the eating out at a fancy restaurant, or room service brought to your door every evening. And naturally they envy it. They watch you on television and everything looks very exotic. The cameras zoom in on pretty girls in the crowd and they wonder what you are up to in the evenings while they do the ironing and try to get the children to complete their homework.
Thankfully, the England and Wales Cricket Board is far more sympathetic to these issues than it used to be, and families are welcomed. When I first toured with England, the ECB did very little for a player's family. Medha Laud, the England team administrator - there would have been anarchy without her during the Nineties - did what she could for us but she was given little scope.
On each tour, there was a two-week period where families were invited to travel. In Australia and South Africa it was over the Christmas and new year period, and in the West Indies it was during the Barbados and Antigua Test matches. And, for reasons that escape me, the girls tended to stay at home when England toured Asia. But to visit during any other period than those mentioned was generally frowned upon.
Flying your partner was an expensive adventure because all the travelling supporters wanted to be at the same destination, and the players shared rooms. If your partner visited you during the three months you were away from home, you had to pay their air fare and fork out for an extra room for the team-mate.
This all changed on England's 1996-97 tour of Zimbabwe. Lord Maclaurin, the then chairman of the ECB, travelled to Harare to talk to the players about the way they were presenting themselves on what had become a pretty acrimonious tour. But on his arrival he was appalled to see the living conditions of the players, who were packed like sardines into twin rooms with all their kit and clothing. From that moment on, the England players were given single rooms and the general attitude towards them, and their families, is continually improving.
There are those who say that partners should not go on tour - you don't take your wife to work with you is the general gist of their argument. But if England were to adopt this stance, they would never field their best team while abroad.
It is in England's interest to ensure the players have a happy and settled home life, and one only has to look at the career of Graham Thorpe to see this. Duncan Fletcher is absolutely right to allow Strauss to return home and this sensitive approach has played its part in the development of the team. Strauss appreciates it and in the long term it will benefit England.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Others who made tough choice
* MARTIN ALLEN
In March 1989 on the eve of an away game at Newcastle, the QPR midfielder Allen was told by phone that his wife was about to give birth. Allen immedietely rushed to her side, but was fined two weeks' wages by the then QPR manager, Trevor Francis. Francis has since said he would not do the same now.
* DAVID BECKHAM
Beckham missed a training session with Manchester United in February 2000, in order to look after his son Brooklyn, who had gastroenteritis. However, Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly furious after discovering that Beckham's wife had been photographed shopping that day and Beckham was fined the maximum two weeks' wages and dropped.
* MICHAEL VAUGHAN
While playing in the second day of a Test against New Zealand at Headingley in 4 June 2004, Vaughan left an hour before the close to witness the birth of his first child, Tallulah Grace. Vaughan returned the next morning to continue captaining the team.
* MARTIN CORRY AND WILL GREENWOOD
Corry left the England camp during the World Cup in Australia in 2003 to be present at the birth of his daughter but returned to play in his side's annihilation of Uruguay. Greenwood also returned home during the 2003 World Cup due to problems with his wife's pregnancy, but returned to play in England's toughest tests, including in the winning final side.
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