England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's August 15, 2012

Strauss reasserts authority in landmark Test

Under normal circumstances, the camera crews crowding around Andrew Strauss might have been at Lord's to ask him about becoming only the ninth England player to appear in 100 Tests. In normal circumstances, Strauss might have expected to be asked to reflect on his career, his achievements and, perhaps his future.

But these are not normal circumstances. Instead Strauss has spent the run-up to an important game that will settle, for now, the title of the best Test team in the world, embroiled in an increasingly unseemly dispute between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen.

Strauss would not claim to be the most talented man to have played for England. He would not claim to be the most inventive of captains, either. But, through a long and successful career, he has, as John Betjeman put it, never cheated, never doubted. He has displayed the timeless virtues of decency, honesty and modesty. If captaincy is about inspiring by individual performance and tactical brilliance, then Strauss is an also-ran. But if it is about leadership and uniting and instilling common values and goals, he has been excellent.

He is an old-fashioned cricketer; a cricketer who soon abandoned any pretence at brilliance in T20 and who plays for honour and pride. But now he finds himself in a brave new world of texts and tweets, of PR and positioning, of multi-million dollar IPL deals and score-settling books. A world not short of cliques and arrogance. Strauss is a decent man in an increasingly indecent world.

But, in time, it may be reflected that the Lord's Test was the moment that Strauss reclaimed control of his England team. This was, after all, a team he inherited at a low-ebb for English cricket - the captain and coach had been fired and they were bowled out in a session Jamaica - and guided to the top of the world rankings. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Kevin Pietersen affair - and there have been faults on both sides and an apology on only one - Strauss' only fault has been an inability to unite the two warring parties.

Strauss has been impressive in the run-up to this game. He has made it clear that he will not tolerate selfishness in his team and explained how he was dragged into the situation by a need to protect the dressing room environment that had contributed to England's success.

But he also admitted that Pietersen was not the only one who might do well to reflect on their actions. It was the performance of a natural leader. When his playing career finishes, a role in cricket administration or even politics is surely on offer should he desire it.

"I feel a little bit let down by Kevin," Strauss said. "It's not a personal thing. I've always got on very well with Kevin. This had been a dispute between Kevin and the board over his availability for the IPL and a number of other points. But once the players became involved, I certainly become very protective of that environment; the values by which we live and treat each other. And I'm willing to remain vigilant about that going forward because I think it's central to why we've become a very good side.

"But I think if we are going to resolve these issues everyone's got to take a bit of a long hard look at how things have developed over the last couple of weeks and say: 'have we all done everything we can to avoid this happening?' We're all going to be required to look at it that way."

It now appears most unlikely that Pietersen will play in World T20. The squad was selected at Edgbaston last week and will be named on Saturday. There is now precious little opportunity for Pietersen to persuade his way back into the fold especially as Strauss has insisted that his focus will be entirely on the Test for the next five days.

It has been enlightening to read the comments on this situation from Pietersen's friends and family. Their loyalty is admirable and their words no doubt well-intentioned. But a little restraint would have been even more welcome and every rant from Bryan Pietersen, his brother, and Piers Morgan drives another nail into the coffin of Kevin Pietersen's international career. One lesson of this episode is that he needs to surround himself with fewer sycophants and one or two calmer, wiser heads.

"Cricketers are a pretty forgiving bunch. But we need to bring stuff out in the open. We can't just have it swept under the carpet and I've no idea at this stage how that's going to work out."

Amid the Pietersen soap opera, it could be overlooked that England must win this Test to retain their No.1 ranking. It appears highly likely they will recall Graeme Swann, with Graham Onions also vying for selection ahead of Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn.

The Lord's pitch contains, perhaps, just a touch more green than normal and the outfield bears deeper scars than anticipated from the Olympics. But this will, doubtless, prove another decent pitch and England will have to drastically improve their performances in the first two Tests if they are to pull-off a series-levelling victory.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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