England news September 13, 2013

Strauss the perfect fit for ECB

With a complicated web to weave, the ECB may have identified the ultimate company man in charming, soothing Andrew Strauss

Ever since he became captain of the England cricket team, there has been a sense of entitlement about Andrew Strauss. Suggestions he would be fast-tracked as a Conservative MP have so far proved unfounded, but whether it be as a summariser on Sky Sports, a motivational speaker, or, the role in sharpest focus, the next managing director of England cricket, he has no shortage of admirers.

Bright, diplomatic and persuasive, you could also envisage him as a British High Commissioner in one of the nicer, trouble-free parts of the world, discussing trade deals and educational opportunities and slipping into the conversation at an appropriate time how something really must be done about this immigration problem. That Strauss will charm and soothe in whatever he commits the next phase of his life to is rather taken for granted.

There will be other candidates, naturally, when the deadline for applications closes on September 25: Nasser Hussain, another former England captain, would keep the role focused and demanding; Clare Connor, former captain of the England women's team and head of England women's cricket, is mulling over whether to apply; and Angus Fraser, managing director of cricket at Middlesex and a former England stalwart, would also be an obvious fit if he moved offices across Lord's.

To further complicate matters, Andy Flower's future as England team director remains uncertain, perhaps even to him. England split the coaching role to accommodate Flower's wish to spend more time with his family, putting Ashley Giles in charge of the one-day set-up, but ESPNcricinfo first indicated last month that Flower's appetite to remain as coach of the Test side might not extend beyond this winter's Ashes series in Australia.

In the middle of it all, Strauss had the luxury this summer of shadowing the former managing director of the England team, Hugh Morris, as he goes about his job. It has been quite a privilege, an invitation into the inner sanctum if ever there was one. There is no doubt who is seducing whom. It would be no surprise to find that the ECB quietly slipped a few of Strauss's favourite wines into the office.

The ECB has a complicated web to weave and, not for the first time, there is the danger of adding to an ever-growing bureaucracy. The more Flower retreats from day-to-day coaching, the more his role begins to overlap with that of MD of England cricket. A structure that has done much to improve the performance of the England cricket team is in danger of becoming bloated and confused to satisfy the individual aspirations of talented individuals.

Senior officials have been known to disappear for years within the offices of the ECB - and that includes Morris, whose role became increasingly hard to define and who certainly distanced himself from media responsibilities as Flower asserted his own, highly-disciplined and protective approach. Quite what does the MD of England cricket do? This is a chance to re-examine demarcation lines.

Strauss has been suitably discreet about his potential job application. "I'm looking into it," he said. "But they're decisions that need to be made over the next couple of weeks and I'll think quite long and hard about whether it's the right time and the right job for me. I haven't decided one way or another but I'm certainly looking at it, as will a lot of other people be.

"I'm very passionate about the game of cricket and want to contribute to it. In exactly what way that is, that kind of remains to be seen."

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that when it comes to the ECB, Strauss is the ultimate company man. He does not as much tick the boxes as employ others to tick them for him.

Not to be too distasteful, because Strauss would have politer sensibilities, but there is also the issue of money. Morris's salary is thought to have been around £150,000, which for most of us would be nice if you can get it, but so soon after retirement Strauss can command considerably higher figures in other areas. Since retirement, he has also been in demand as a "brand ambassador", and although anybody with a real desire to achieve can surely not feel satisfied with such a superficial existence for long, he has felt the attraction of easy money. Perhaps at the moment he is simply not affordable?

It was intriguing to Strauss's approach to his role for Sky Sports during the Ashes series. "I really enjoyed doing the Sky stuff," he said, but at times he seemed cautious in the role - uneasy even - as his fellow commentators gently tried to tease out opinions about a dressing room of which he had so recently been such a dominant part.

Every former England captain faces a difficult transition in moving to the commentary box. As a captain, the protection of team unity is essential. A successful captain builds a strong sense of loyalty and mutual support. Then comes the switch to the commentary box where tactics are debated, techniques are dismantled and strong opinions demanded.

Time soon makes that transition more comfortable. Dressing rooms evolve, ties weaken, loyalties are no longer as strong. But some make the shift more quickly than others. For Michael Atherton, it was merely part of the intellectual process; his move from captain to analyst, whether on TV or in the written word, has been hugely successful. Hussain, driven by a wish to express strong, honest opinions, also benefited from an independent spirit.

But there were times, when Strauss's discomfort seemed to have a deeper source; the discomfort of a man born not to debate but to lead. Insights were hard to find, presumably because he did not always wish to offer them. His belief in the England project seemed absolute, his unwillingness to undermine it apparent. To some extent, he was still acting as a brand ambassador - for English cricket.

His autobiography comes out next month and it is hoped that it is more deep and meaningful than many, but if it reads more like a job application than a dismantling of the system, nobody will be overly surprised.

If Strauss and the ECB demur, what then? While the job specification requires "international playing experience", David Collier, the chief executive of the ECB, has indicated that such experience need not necessarily be in cricket. Collier also went on to suggest that while "playing at international level is strongly preferred, consideration could be given to someone who has outstanding international cricket management experience with the senior national team."

That encourages all manner of names to be conjured up: Sir Clive Woodward, the former England rugby coach or Peter Moores, Lancashire and former England coach, would both qualify for consideration. According to the most informed sports gossip column around, Darren Gough and Nick Knight are also expected to be among the applicants.

But it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that when it comes to the ECB, Strauss is the ultimate company man. He does not as much tick the boxes as employ others to tick them for him. One senior official has even been known to refer to him at times as "Dear Andrew". Flower's future massively complicates the issue. But we may be about to find out whether Dear Andrew is ready to answer the call.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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