LONDON: Composure was the hallmark of Andrew Strauss as a batsman and it was much in evidence as the England Test captain announced his retirement from all cricket on Wednesday.
Strauss’ batting didn’t excite crowds in the manner of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, two of his predecessors as England captain, but neither was as well suited to the task of leadership as the Middlesex opener.
And when going well left-hander Strauss, who announced his retirement without any of the tears that accompanied Michael Vaughan’s farewell to the captaincy, was a wonderfully re-assuring sight for his team-mates.
Strauss took to Test cricket instantly, scoring a hundred on his debut eight years ago against New Zealand at Lord’s — the ground where he started his career with Middlesex and, appropriately enough, ended it on Wednesday.
England were in turmoil when Strauss, belatedly, was given a shot at becoming full-time captain in 2009 following the resignation of Pietersen and the sacking of then coach Peter Moores.
But under Strauss and coach Andy Flower, England enjoyed a revival that eventually saw the side rise to number one in the world rankings and enjoy home and away Ashes triumphs.
A key factor in that ascent was Strauss’s form and a popularity and respect from his team-mates that trumped concerns about how someone educated at Radley boarding school would relate to players from less privileged backgrounds.
For much of Strauss’s three-and-a-half-years at the helm, Pietersen too had no problems in being skippered by the usually phlegmatic and cheerful opener, whose sympathetic handling of his predecessor kept the undeniably talented shotmaker on board.
It is this knowledge that makes the allegation the now exiled Pietersen’s “provocative” texts to South African cricketers contained criticisms of Strauss all the more alarming to England officials, players and fans alike.
Typically, Strauss refused to ‘blame’ Pietersen for his retirement at the age of 35, and insisted his mind had been made up long before the text furore.
Strauss had previously been equally certain in quitting one-day internationals following the 2011 World Cup where, belying his reputation as a ‘stodgy’ player, he made a superb 158 — the highest score by an England player in the tournament’s history — in a tie with India in Bangalore.
As a captain, he was conservative in the field but a record of 24 wins from 50 Tests in charge, with just 11 defeats, proved the wisdom of a policy of trying to frustrate batsmen into error.
But, as many recent England skippers have found, the job ‘gets’ you in the end and, confronted by a superb South Africa top order, the old plans didn’t work as the Proteas deprived Strauss’s side of top spot in the Test rankings.
Meanwhile his own form, briefly bolstered by a couple of hundreds against the West Indies, fell away to leave him with an average of just above 40 in exactly 100 Tests, although who now takes his place as a Test opener is far from clear.
Strauss has bucked a recent trend among England captains by opting for a completely clean break with professional cricket, even though new skipper Alastair Cook might well want him on board, and his recent struggles should not obscure his huge contribution to the English game.