August 31, 2012

England

Goodbye Strauss

Andy Zaltzman
Andrew Strauss keeps his problems behind him, England v South Africa, 1st Test, The Oval, July, 18, 2012
Andrew Strauss isn't afraid to stand blindfolded on the edge of a cliff with doom behind him, because he knows he can't be pushed  © PA Photos
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Greetings, Confectionery Stallers, to the first Confectionery Stall of the post-Strauss era. I have been on holiday in France for the last week and a half. Coverage of the England captain's resignation after a distinguished and predominantly successful reign was bafflingly minimal in the French media (particularly given that it is a nation which seems to have designed the shape of its bread explicitly to facilitate games of breakfast cricket) (and not forgetting that France are reigning Olympic silver medallists at cricket, dating back to the Paris Games of 1900) (although most French people under the age of 112 modestly tend not to bang on about it too much) (it is also fair to say that England's Strauss have emerged from his resignation with rather more dignity that France's ex-IMF boss Strauss-Kahn did from his).

The year 2012 has been strangely and unexpectedly turbulent for the England team. The first three years of the Strauss-Flower regime brought increasing and carefully managed stability and success in the Test arena, culminating in a record-shattering 2011 of phenomenal dominance. This year, like a dessert trolley laden with battered rodents after a Michelin-starred meal, has brought five defeats out of six in their two major series of the year, sub-soap-opera squabblageddon with their most influential batsman, and now the exit of the captain who had helped power the England juggernaut along that impressive upward curve.

The juggernaut reached the end of that curve, crashed into a roof it had not seen coming, and started rolling back down what has now become a downward curve. At least they are not plummeting down a downward cliff, and the vehicle retains most of the engine that had driven it upwards in the first place, but new skipper Cook will be anxious to crank the handbrake on as quickly as possible. His team is not in meltdown, but he is certainly holding a much runnier ice cream than he would have been a year ago. With a giant elephant in the room. Or at least, a giant elephant in the Surrey dressing room.

Perhaps the team had their celebratory New Year's Eve energy shakes spiked with a particularly jaunty consignment of rogue absinthe. Perhaps the coach and captain had signed a pact with the Devil to ensure success, and had not seen the three-year break clause in the small print ‒ and Dr FlowStrauss began to suffer the consequences as soon as they set foot in the UAE in January. Perhaps it was merely a result of the team having made the grave error of having too many players peaking from late 2010 to summer 2011, rather than spreading out their purple patches more wisely to cover a longer period of time. Something for the ECB backroom science wonks to apply their abacuses, test tubes, and wind tunnels to, perhaps.

Given that Strauss was not (yet) under serious pressure for his place as captain or opening batsman, it is not right to say that he jumped before he was pushed. Instead, he departed with a controlled abseil before the jump-or-push issue came to a head. He departs into the history books with the goodwill and gratitude of the entire English cricketing public, but after three years of moderate, if seldom disastrous, run-scoring. His failures have been increasingly characterised by a repeated failure to convert good starts into substantial scores, and minimal contributions in major series - since the 2009 Ashes, he has been a significant factor with the bat only in the 2010-11 Ashes and against West Indies this summer (he made more than one 50 in only three of his final ten series dating back to the 2009-10 tour of South Africa, one of which was by virtue of taking a pair of 80s off a less-than Krakatoan Bangladesh attack at Lord's in 2010).

Statistically, he was inconsistent for most of his Test batting career, but his peaks included some of England's most important and best innings of recent years. He hit centuries at crucial moments of three Ashes series, scored three hundreds in South Africa to aid one of England's best away series victories, and two magnificent hundreds in defeat in the Chennai Test of 2008-09.

Graeme "The Hit Man" Smith has thus seen off three England captains in his three Test tours as South Africa's skipper. He is young enough to be back in 2017 - perhaps to curtail Kevin Pietersen's second stint as England captain? No. No, even an entire crate of rogue absinthe forced down the gullets of the ECB could make that happen. Not even if it's from the same crate that made them appoint him in the 2008. But Cook's journey as captain will be made significantly easier if everyone involved can reach an agreement that whatever Pietersen wrote and meant in those text messages was not personal insults or tactical double-crossing, but cryptic crossword clues, coded recipes for boerewors, or mistranslated haikus about the art of basket-weaving.

Some stats Whilst in France, I had hoped to become the first person to compose an article devoted entirely to Test cricket statistics that had been written entirely on a campsite in Brittany. Sadly, baguettes and batting averages did not co-exist harmoniously. Croissants and cricket were not compatible. And the internet wasn't working. And my wife and kids wanted to aller à la piscine rather than parler avec Monsieur Statsguru. Not unreasonably. However, I can now tell you that:

● The Lord's Test was the first Test match since March 2001, and just the 18th of all time, in which the openers of both sides had all been out for less than 25 in both innings.

● England's first wicket has fallen in single figures in 13 of their 30 innings since the 2010-11 Ashes. They have reached 50 for 0 in only five of those 30 stands. Cook and Strauss ended up averaging 40 per partnership. Strauss and Trescothick averaged 52 together. When Strauss opened with Trescothick, he averaged 47. When he opened with Cook, he has averaged 37. Is this because he played with Trescothick when at his peak as a batsman, or because the more aggressive Trescothick suited him better as a partner? Or a bit of both? Or neither?

● This was only the second series of three or more Tests since 1986 in which England's openers have passed 50 only once.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Mani Sekaran on (September 3, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

May be it is not an on the spot decision as England is going to INdia and Strauss might have thouth that may be they will get the taste of what they had given to India in England last time.

So not to leave in a much sorry state, he strategically announced the retirement??????

Also what I can't understand is that when India wins in India it is home advantage. But when England wins In England, it is a great success but not home advantage!!!

If India cannot win in England then England can also not win in India. So that means, England is also a tiger in their home stretch only

Posted by Split Infinitive on (August 31, 2012, 16:29 GMT)

and my dream of a Strauss b Wagner scorecard entry will remain forever unfulfilled... I think Strauss retired just so he could deny me this one small pleasure... damn!

Posted by Narayan on (August 31, 2012, 11:46 GMT)

Surely the caption for that picture should read 'Pietersen admires the knife he has struck into an unsuspecting Strauss' back'

Posted by Karan Bhandari on (August 31, 2012, 11:22 GMT)

Well, England can still take solace from the fact that they are the reigning Gold Medalist Olympians of Cricket!

Posted by Vivek on (August 31, 2012, 11:15 GMT)

I thought it was going to a be a tribute to teh captain, but however didnt meet that expectation. Something of a serious article that you wrote last month about Pietersen.

Posted by david on (August 31, 2012, 10:59 GMT)

So SA are coming back that soon? Wow, the cricket authorities are really spoiling us. Surely one glimpse of that premier cricket nation per decade is enough, lest we get over-excited? btw, May I suggest a Mini-Belle tiny individual cheese-ette for the ball in breakfast cricket? Perfect colour, easy to shine, (if slightly the wrong shape).

Posted by Gonzo on (August 31, 2012, 10:11 GMT)

Enjoyable article, but all it lacked was the usual Zaltzman appreciation for the aesthetic delights of Graeme Smith's batting. This legend may not be back in England again (at least the Little Chef hopes so), so we should appreciate the beauty while we can and give thanks to the game of cricket.

Posted by Francis Tuohy on (August 31, 2012, 9:38 GMT)

Ps. I would rate the England team of '05 as much better than this one. Jones, Harmison, Flintof...much more impressive. Now that's a mystery, how the wheels of that team fell off so dramatically. Injury for some I guess

Posted by Francis Tuohy on (August 31, 2012, 9:35 GMT)

There is no mystery as to England's "fall," fact is they were never as good as you lot were making out. Sure they are a good team, and at home really good. But away from home they have been ordinary. Home dominance does not a great team make. So please stop musing over the mystery of the early demise of the "great" England team. It's simple, they were never great!

Posted by Anon on (August 31, 2012, 8:53 GMT)

Poor straussy came with a boom and departed with a kaboom lol...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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