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Strauss legacy marks him out as England great
Joel Lamy looks at the remarkable career of the Middlesex opener and says his career highlights mark him down as one of his country's greats...
The mark of a good Test batsman is to have averaged 40 we are regularly told, so it is fitting that Andrew Strauss retired from international cricket before his Test record dipped under that magic mark. Like all England captains before him, the burden of the top job had taken its toll on his form with a once enviable conversion record of turning 50s into 100s having taken a battering.
As Mike Brearley made mention of in his book The Art of Captaincy, it has always been the prerogative of Australian sides to pick the captain out of the best XI and for the English to always find a place for a specialist captain (Brearley himself being a prime example of the latter). This is the reason why so few Australian captains stay in the team once they are no longer in charge of the side as the captaincy is usually only conceded once the player no longer feels he is contributing enough with the bat. Ricky Ponting is an exception and his runs against India last winter have preserved his place for the time being although the current dearth of quality Australian batsmen – there used to be tons of them not long ago - is perhaps a greater reason why he is still around.
For England, Brearley was famed for his management of Ian Botham in the iconic 1981 series against Australia, but although initially picked as a batsman, it was only for his captaincy that he managed to keep his place in the side. Recent England captains Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan also found question marks over their place in the team as form deserted them, but they were retained due to their presence as leaders of the team and they went on to achieve some notable successes.
In some ways Strauss is a victim of his own success. Captaining one of the world's best teams means players struggling for form cannot be indulged. Just as Paul Collingwood realised after the Ashes success in Australia that there were now better players emerging on the scene, having a captain who was not contributing big scores with the bat could no longer be allowed if the team was to re-gain the number one Test spot.
But ignoring his recent struggles with the bat, let us bask in Strauss’ success as a captain. His partnership with Andy Flower has received hagiographical treatment from the English press and rightly so, for the transformation which followed the 51 all out in Jamaica is the stuff of fairytales: The Ashes win at home soon after, the battling draw in South Africa, the 3-1 win Down Under and the 4-0 drubbing of India which made England the number one ranked side in the world.
Yes, the team has not reached the same level since, but you have to remember this is a side lacking players who will go down as some of the greats of the game. Turning them into collective world-beaters who would bully opposition was a stunning achievement from captain and coach.
Moreover, there are numerous reasons for bemoaning Strauss' decision to retire from all forms of the game. To begin with his role as leader had been unanimously unquestioned despite the Kevin Pietersen saga and complaints that he was too negative at times on the field. The respect he received from the England players remained high even when the team was struggling. Notice how Graeme Swann accused the media of a 'witch-hunt' when some mentioned how the captain was in need of runs in Sri Lanka.
Another factor is that there are few obvious replacements as England opener and it is unlikely that the partnership between Alastair Cook and Strauss at the top of the order will be replicated so successfully. Michael Carberry is 32 now and not scoring as consistently. Joe Root has been playing second division cricket with Yorkshire and has yet to score the bulk of runs to suggest he is ready for the step up yet. And the prolific Nick Compton is best suited at number three and has been suffering with injury recently. With Flower unlikely to want to promote Trott to open the batting the best bet may be taking a punt on Alex Hales who goes against the grain of most of the top six by scoring at a quick rate but is seen as more of a one-day specialist.
Let’s not forget why Strauss was in the England team to begin with though. Typically of the man, it was he who scored those back-to-back hundreds when England last toured India, coming on the back of the terrorist attacks which horrified the world and threatened to see the Test series scrapped. It was Strauss who hit a hundred in the second innings of the first Test in Brisbane when Australia scented blood. It was Strauss who scored a hundred at Lord's which set England up for a historic victory in the 2009 Ashes. It was Strauss who scored a hundred on his debut, who made his biggest Test score when his career was in jeapordy, and who hit two hundreds against the West Indies this summer when he needed runs once again.
Speaking of the Ashes, Strauss was the only player in the 2005 series to hit two centuries including in the final Test when England needed it most. He was a man lovingly mocked by his team-mates as Lord Brocket or Posh Twit. But there was a certainly steeliness about Strauss, a determination to put the side first, protect his players and never panic when results went the wrong way. 2012 has not been a great one for England in Tests, but let that take nothing away from Strauss' record as captain. He was one of England's greats, a man who never scored the bulk of runs as some of the top batsmen of the game, but one whose achievements rank above most others. Let's be grateful that his Test record stayed above 40 for it was the least that his legacy deserves. We may never have things so good again.