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July 28, 2010
Andrew Strauss's captaincy career comes full circle when the first Test gets underway on Thursday morning, as he resumes his rivalry with the team he took on while standing in for Andrew Flintoff in the tempestuous summer of 2006.
And yet, when asked to recall his first series in charge, Strauss's initial reaction was to draw a blank. "My memories were that … I can't remember," he said - a curious yet understandable response to a series that ought, by rights, to have been one of the proudest moments of his career, but instead was marred by controversy and later overshadowed by personal disappointment.
"It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me," he said. "We played the better cricket throughout the series and deserved to win, but no-one wanted to see the way it finished. We obviously played very well at Old Trafford to win by an innings, and we fought hard at Headingley to get another victory, but it was all over-ridden by what happened at The Oval."
The Oval flashpoint came on the third afternoon, when umpire Darrell Hair awarded England five penalty runs after inspecting the ball and inferring that Pakistan were guilty of ball-tampering. Inzamam-ul-Haq's reaction was to keep his team in the dressing-room after the tea interval, a decision that prompted the umpires to award the match to England.
"If I had been the full-time captain of England at the time, maybe I would have been a bit more pro-active about talking to Inzamam about whether we could get back on the pitch," said Strauss. "By the time I did have the opportunity to sit down with them, Inzamam and the umpires were so firmly entrenched in their points of view that it became very clear very quickly that there was no way to get back on that field."
Aside from a one-off reappearance as Michael Vaughan's deputy the following summer, that would prove to be Strauss's last taste of the captaincy for two-and-a-half years. For the Ashes campaign later that year, Flintoff was reinstated after recovering from an ankle injury, but it would prove to be a disastrous appointment, with England crashing to a 5-0 defeat - the first Ashes whitewash for 86 years.
"It was only a week before the Pakistan series started that it became clear that Flintoff wasn't going to be fit for that series," said Strauss. "So I was thrust into it pretty much at the last minute and all I was trying to do was do as good a job as I could while he was recovering from his injury.
"I suppose because we won the series there was talk about who should be captain on the back of that, but I said at the time and I still maintain, Flintoff was the next guy in line to captain the side. He deserved his chance, and though we got heavily beaten in Australia, that would have happened whoever was captain."
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