Strauss feels justice is done
England's captain, Andrew Strauss, has appealed to the ICC to make the hard decisions necessary to clean up the game of cricket, after his team drew a line under a fraught and emotional few days by securing a notable 3-2 series win with a 121-run victory in the fifth and final ODI at the Rose Bowl. Propelled by another fine century from Eoin Morgan, England's bowlers overcame a nervy start to seal the match with 13 overs to spare.
The victory enabled England to claim their sixth trophy in as many series this summer, but of far greater importance than the silverware was the sense of justice that the result gave to England's players. Over the weekend, they were implicated in the match-fixing scandal by the PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt, and on Monday they lost their series lead in a hard-fought 38-run defeat at Lord's that was most notable for the pre-match set-to involving Jonathan Trott and Wahab Riaz.
Under the floodlights at the Rose Bowl, however, England kept their collective cool to claim the victory they required to ensure Pakistan return home empty-handed, and at the fall of the final wicket, they celebrated with a release of emotion that, arguably, had not been matched in this country since the Ashes were reclaimed last summer. Afterwards, Strauss admitted that his team had not been short of motivation going into the season finale.
"It was a huge game of cricket really," he said. "It's been a very tough series at the end of a long summer. We've been to some pretty unpleasant places as a team over the last few days, and we've had to show a lot of unity and togetherness. We came out today determined to finish the series on a high, and you could see how much it meant to us when the final wicket went down.
"Motivation wasn't a problem for us, we were absolutely determined to win this game," he added. "The Lord's game was a tough one to play, and I thought [the guys] were tremendous to come through it in the way they did, but to have gone from 2-0 up to 2-2, we wanted to get something out of this series."
Strauss admitted that, having missed two chances to close out the series at The Oval and Lord's, he and his team had been envisaging a nightmare scenario in which Pakistan snatched the spoils at the last gasp. "It did [cross my mind] actually," he said. "Having been 2-0 up in the series, and cosy about things, it's a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly be 2-2 - especially given what went on over the last week.
"We had to switch on pretty quickly, and make sure we came out in exactly the right sort of mind-set today. It wasn't an easy game to play. Batting wasn't that easy first up. We had to get a competitive total - and for a while there, it looked like we were going to struggle to do that. But Morgs' innings was an outstanding one and put us in a good position to finish them off."
Although the over-riding emotion was one of relief that a controversy-laden tour was finally at an end - "Thank God it's finished now," was the reaction of Pakistan's captain, Shahid Afridi - Strauss did however warn the ICC that there could be no excuse for relaxing any attempts at cleaning up the sport, because without strong action now, cricket's credibility may never fully return.
"This summer has clearly demonstrated that when there's a sniff of something in the air, it devalues the game and no-one wants to play cricket in those circumstances," said Strauss. "Players from both sides have been put under a lot of stress and pressure and we don't want to be doing that, and we shouldn't be doing that.
"The ICC have to take a firm lead, and leave no stone unturned, and they need to make sure that every game of cricket from now on is not tarnished," he added. "That's a big challenge for them, no doubt, but it's easy to say that now the series is over, let's let this calm down and cricket will return to normal. If that happens, then we'll be having to contend with all this at some stage in the future instead."
Although the issue paled in significance compared to the main controversies of the tour, the umpiring during the one-day series left further scope for recrimination. Strauss, the Man of the Series after a century and two fifties in five innings, enjoyed some notable moments of good fortune in previous games, while England's main obstacle for victory in the final match, Kamran Akmal, was sawn off on 41 by an lbw decision that clearly came off the inside-edge of the bat.
"I request the ICC to bring in the referral system in one-day cricket, it's very, very important, because one decision may change the game," said Afridi. Strauss, for his part, did not disagree, but added that he had sympathy for the umpires who had to contend with some tough conditions. "I actually think there's a case for the review system in one-day cricket, but I'm not going to hold the umpires to blame for everything," he said. "It's been a very tough series to umpire, with the ball reversing. It's very easy to get decisions wrong."
On Thursday, the focus shifts away from Pakistan, and straight onto the Ashes squad announcement, which takes place at The Oval at 2.30pm. Ordinarily, Strauss might have preferred a few weeks' grace before having to put his thoughts to such a momentous tour, but right at this moment, he can't wait for the hype to get underway, and for the game to be talked about for all the right reasons.
"I am very pleased the attention will be on the Ashes squad," he said. "Clearly as a group, we're keen to move on from this series and very keen not to have a repeat of this at any time in the future - which is why it is very important the ICC take a very strong lead and don't take a breather now the series is finished.
"But also, if this series has proved anything, it's that unity and togetherness is absolutely crucial at all times. I think we can gain a little bit out of these last few games. If we can do that, it's going to stand us in very good stead for the winter.
"We're in a very good place; we've won six series out of six this summer - so there's a lot of confidence. We would have gained a hell of a lot over what has gone on in the last few weeks - bringing us closer together, and fighting our corner. That can only stand us in good stead for Australia. But going there is a big challenge, and we're going to have to start from square one all over again."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.