Strauss laments England's 'horror show'
On a sun-kissed afternoon in south London, a capacity Oval crowd and a rapturous nation celebrated with rare fervour as Andrew Strauss held aloft the Ashes urn for the first time as England captain. Twenty-five days later, on a frigid evening in Nottingham, the same man was booed by the few spectators who had bothered to remain at Trent Bridge for the closing stages of England's sixth consecutive one-day defeat to Australia, this by an embarrassing 111-run margin. Even Ashes goodwill has its limits.
Few sportsmen experience their career zenith and nadir inside a month, but such is Strauss's lot at present. England's turgid one-day form has ensured the euphoric memories of The Oval have been relegated to the deep recesses of the mind for now, and the heckling of Strauss at the post-match presentation at Trent Bridge demonstrated just how dramatically the nation's mood had swung.
In fairness, Strauss is the last England player deserving of spectator vitriol. Too often this series he has been the sole batsman to show backbone in an otherwise invertebrate England line-up, and his series record of 220 runs at 36.66 would make for even better reading were it not for the incorrect decisions levelled against him in the last two matches. Still, as the frontman of a team facing an unprecedented 7-0 series defeat, the slings and arrows were always going to fly in his direction. And Strauss was not shirking the issue on Tuesday.
Disconsolate, grave and more than a little humiliated, Strauss stood upon the dais to a chorus of jeers and described his side's batting capitulation as a "horror show." The sugar-coating of the opening week of the campaign was over. Brutal truths were being addressed.
"I can understand the frustration of the crowd," Strauss continued at the post-match media conference. "It was a very poor performance tonight. Certainly, we were never in the hunt with the bat and we made a huge number of mistakes certainly with our batting performance. It's been something that's been building over the course of the six games we've played.
"I'm not going to sit here and make any excuses. What we have shown so far in this series hasn't been good enough, and far from it. As a group of players and as individuals we need to stand up and show some character now. It's as simple as that.
"It's a very simple process. Sitting around in a team room having a chat about it is not going to solve anything. What is going to solve it is a couple of guys standing up and showing the necessary character to go out and turn things around. That's the only way it can happen and our players have got to do it. It's as simple as that."
Given the parlous state of England's limited-overs game, it is difficult to envisage Strauss's men making an impact at the Champions Trophy from next week. Meek batting, muddle-headed running between the wickets and indisciplined fielding have all contributed to England's depressing decline against an Australian side soundly defeated by South Africa earlier this year.
Redemption is clearly out of the question, however there remains one last chance for England to restore a modicum of limited-overs pride ahead of their departure for South Africa on Monday. Staving off an historic whitewash by a driven Australian side at Chester-le-Street would be a worthy effort in the circumstances, and one Strauss has yet to give up on.
"Six-nil is bad enough to be honest with you," he said. "We've got one more opportunity to show our calibre as a side. We need to take that opportunity.
"This has been damaging for the one-day unit because confidence has become increasingly frail. That takes some getting from. It's not impossible to get back from it. I remember in Australia in 2006-07 we were in a similar state and Paul Collingwood got a couple of hundreds and things turned around.
"I don't think it affects our Test prospects particularly. I've been around plenty of the times when the one-day team hasn't performed well and the Test team has performed very well and adequately. It's important to compartmentalise this, but in this one-day compartment no one likes to be losing six games in a row. The simple fact of the matter is we need to improve and we need to do it quickly."
If nothing else, England's embattled limited-overs players can take heart from the fact that their leader is not set to abandon them anytime in the near future. Despite his descent from Test conqueror to one-day pariah, Strauss reaffirmed his desire to continue captaining England's 50-over side irrespective of whether the role might tarnish his over all legacy.
"If anything it makes me more determined to make a very, very strong effort to turn things around," he said. "I'm more motivated by that than ever right at the moment."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo