England v SA, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 5th day August 20, 2012

Strauss has cause for self-reflection

As Andrew Strauss outlined the reasons England had lost the series, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that to some extent he was talking about himself

Sometimes it is the words that are left unsaid that say more than those we hear. As Andrew Strauss spoke at the end of the series against South Africa, it was noticeable that he at no stage provided a categorical statement to confirm that he had the inclination to continue as England captain. "We'll see how things go," was as definitive as he wanted to be.

More than that, as Strauss outlined the reasons England had lost the series - poor catching and flimsy top-order batting - it was hard to avoid the conclusion that to some extent he was talking about himself.

It is true that none of England's top-order have covered themselves with glory against South Africa, but none have endured the grim run of form of England's captain. In six innings, Strauss scored 107 runs at an average of 17.83 with a top score of 37. He also dropped Hashim Amla early on in his triple century at The Oval.

Such form could be ignored if it was a one-off, but there is growing evidence to suggest it is not. Since the start of 2011, Strauss is averaging just 31.65 in 19 Tests, with only a fine series against West Indies - a series in which he made two centuries - glossing over an uncomfortably grim personal record. In that period, he has also averaged just 17.62 in five Tests - home and away - against Sri Lanka and 25 in three Tests against Pakistan.

In this series, it never appeared that Strauss would make runs. With feet of iron and confidence so drained that he left a straight ball in his final innings of the series, Strauss looked a shadow of the man who made 10 centuries in his first 30 Tests.

Any other 35-year-old batsman with such a record would surely have been dropped already, but such is the respect in which Strauss is held and the contribution that he has made to England's success, that he has been provided every opportunity to rediscover his form.

Strauss' age may be a key factor. While England's selectors have been vindicated in the past for their faith in the likes of Alastair Cook or Stuart Broad, they were players at different stages of their development: young men of obvious talent who the selectors believed would grow into the role. Strauss is a man trying to recapture former glories. It is not the same thing at all.

It was probably fitting that England's last realistic hope at Lord's departed with a run out. England's cricket in this series has been littered with self-inflicted injuries: the nine dropped catches, the pushes at wide balls that resulted in edges to the slips, the decision to drop Graeme Swann at Leeds and, whoever is at fault, a situation whereby the team's best batsman finds himself a pariah in the dressing room.

Even without those issues, South Africa would have proven hard to beat. With them, it is remarkable that England went into the last session of the series with a chance of retaining their No.1 ranking.

That they did suggests, perhaps, that Strauss remains on the right track. So, too, did the obvious spirit which England showed on the last day of this series. Confronted by superior opposition, England continued to attack with admirable pluck and eventually succumbed with just a little bit of their pride restored.

As Strauss put it: "Spirit is not shown by people clapping on the balcony necessarily, it's everything that goes with performing: how people look after each other; the language that is used in the dressing room."

But England's record of six losses in 11 Tests and only one win in four series this year tells a different story. Failure can no longer be dismissed as an aberration. It has become the norm.

The situation provides a new challenge for Andy Flower. Strauss and Flower have worked as a partnership since inheriting their roles in the aftermath of the Pietersen-Moores sackings in early 2009. In many ways, Strauss has become the public face of the partnership and is the more sympathetic man manager; the smooth PR man who provides an acceptable shop window for the harshness of the factory beyond. Without the soft skills of Strauss, Flower could look dauntingly hard and inflexible.

Flower may now be entering new territory. He has to decide whether to remain loyal to Strauss - admirable only if he really believes that Strauss can consistently score runs at the top of the order in Test cricket - or whether he can start again and rebuild a new team.

It is the challenge that befell Duncan Fletcher who, in remaining loyal to the team who served England so well in the 2005 Ashes, failed to regenerate the side as was required and oversaw a sad decline. Flower cannot allow sentiment to cloud his judgement.

For the first time in three Test tours of England, the South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, did not see the demise of an England captain in the middle of the series. The difference, perhaps, was that this time the teams were scheduled to play only three games. But, in the days ahead, it remains quite possible that Smith may yet claim his third England captain.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mathew on August 22, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    Most fans giving Strauss alot of leway which is good. I for one want to see him captain for the next Ashes. He has runs left in him im sure. Another couple of good knocks in Ind will sort his head out. As for the Ind fans quoting history, it is true we haven't won in Ind for a long time. But this CURRENT team is 4-0 up! "Only fools fight future wars with weapons of the past". One thing is for sure if we don't beat Ind we certainly won't lose (unless Trott runs every1 out).

  • James on August 22, 2012, 1:10 GMT

    Lessons need to be learned but I don't think dropping a whole host of players is the answer. Resting Broad is one answer; don't know if it is the correct one, could he do with more bowling in ODIs - arguably his favourite format - to build rhythm?. The KP issue needs to be sorted - maybe we are underestimating the effect disharmony has on the team. But I think an issue not raised is England's ill-discipline while fielding (e.g. sledging, tutting, chuntering). Perhaps they have focused too much on aspects like this rather than catching well?

  • ranganathan on August 22, 2012, 0:52 GMT

    Strauss must go without any further extension with grace !! He overstayed thanks to his captaincy, like old days English cricket !!! He is the main cause for top order pressure with his consistent batting failure. Andy and Strauss could have swallowed pride waited for 5 days more and played with Kevin and retain their ranking and later sorted out their ego clash with him instead of losing the position which they earned fighting well together.Poor timing !!! The tour ahead is going to be further disaster for this team. already Pakistan and Srilanka showed the limitations of their batting quality and India will dominate with their own local conditions and take revenge. It was Monty and not Swann who performed better and the rest played below par in bowling department. Only Cook and Kevin play well in India and it is going to be another low for England if the same team is retained.

  • Stephen on August 21, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    @loudmouth - yes, I like that one! As an England fan in those days you never knew who was going to be picked/dropped/recalled or even made captain...was it Gower who had to admit that he'd never seen one of the fast bowlers selected for one of his teams bowl before? As for Strauss, I think that he should be given time to make his own decision, personally I think that he should lead the team in India and beyond, if only to give @RandyOZ a good reason for posting.

  • Keith on August 21, 2012, 19:31 GMT

    Mr Dobell lays out a somber tale with admirable balance and restraint. Andy Flower's position appears to be the most delicate and decisive. The comparison with Duncan Fletcher is quite apt. Perhaps the saving grace for Flower and England is that he presides over defeat, while Fletcher basked in success. It is much easier to make changes after the former than the latter. Whether Flower will do so remains to be seen. The tour of India actually offers good cover, since conditions and Indian expectations do not favour England. Cook first made his name as a batsman literally soaring into the subcontinent from Windies. He could become captain of an English flying squadron that could make a cricketing raid on Old Duncker's new backyard. Pietersen would make an excellent wingman, in the circumstances. As with Cook in his time, the tour could offer a chance to blood new talent. A series draw would be an unexpected but welcome triumph, laying the foundation for future greatness.

  • Jem on August 21, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    @FrAnKsTeR_007 - mickey76 mentioned India because that is where the England team go next! He wasn't being one-eyed and derogatory about the Indian team - unlike all the disgraceful bias and scorn that is poured over England every time they lose - or indeed win! Real cricket lovers make rational, intelligent comments not act like schoolboys laughing at a child for wearing glasses. England, as they have acknowledged to a man, have certainly had a wake-up call by an excellent SA team, who were definitely superior in all departments. Aside from the first Test however, England showed they CAN compete but need to sort out a few technical issues with regard to their sudden loss of form in catching and the top order batsmen's concentration in leaving wide balls outside off stump. I also agree that the KP issue must be sorted by BOTH sides - he's too important a player to leave out of a tour of the subcontinent!

  • Tanmay on August 21, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    So mikey76 thinks England can beat India in India...they haven't done that since 1984 to be precise.........India went onto win in England in 1986 & 2007....now England fans will say 4-0...India too whitewashed England in India in 1993...3-0 it was to be precise !

  • Damon on August 21, 2012, 13:47 GMT

    As an Australian fan I'd like to see Strauss dropped / KP brought back as coach and captain / recall Geraint Jones to keep wicket / drop Swan every other game until his confidence is gone and generally run the quicks into the ground. Shame Flower and co have wised up and stuck to the same winning formula. Still I miss the old days when the England team consisted of 40 players on permanent rotation! Congrats Smith & co. A well earned Numero Uno!

  • Randolph on August 21, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    Would have to be the worst captain and worst batsman in World Cricket today. How bad is England's depth?

  • ajith on August 21, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    How things change. Strange the way admin and fans react when the team loses. I see parallels with the Indian tour when all and sundry were talking of India needing wholesale changes. Anyway, I feel the series in the SC will be interesting. Indian batting does have a fraility to it now, with RD and VVS gone.

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