Sri Lanka v England 2011-12 March 30, 2012

Strauss braced for dog days

Despite the England captain's poor form with the bat his influence extends beyond the middle - when he goes it should be on his own terms

Just as the time comes when a much loved but ailing family dog must be taken to the vet, so the time has come to make difficult decisions about the future of Andrew Strauss. The signs can no longer be avoided: Strauss, metaphorically at least, is off his food. His tail has stopped wagging and he can no longer be bothered to chase the postman.

It is not beyond possibility that he could make a full recovery. His current form is a concern, certainly, but he has been down before. It pays not to write him off.

It is worth looking at the statistics. Strauss has not scored a Test century since November 2010 - 16 Tests ago - and has made only one in his last 48 innings stretching back to July 2009. In the last calendar year he has averaged only 25.50 and any suggestion he is surviving on his captaincy record is undermined by the fact that England have lost four Tests in a row. He has passed 50 only twice in 18 innings and England have recorded an opening stand above 31 only three times in the last 17 innings. Nine times they have failed to pass ten.

It looks grim. In a different era - an era of weak management and fickle selectors - you can bet that Strauss would have been axed already. But we live in more enlightened times. These days the selectors take a longer term view. They appreciate that even the best players suffer dips in form and they appreciate that continuity of selection is a key to coaxing the best out of players. The carrot tends to work much better than the stick.

But there is only so long even the most patient selectors can be expected to wait. Strauss' form is, unpalatable though it may be to some ears, compromising England's hopes of competing. Time is running out for him.

That is not to say he is about to be dropped. He will certainly captain at Colombo and, if he goes ahead of the West Indies series in England, it is likely to be his own decision. It may also be worth remembering that the last two permanently appointed England captains - Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan - were both casualties of South African home series. England entertain South Africa again this summer. Might lightning strike for a third time?

It would be wrong to judge Strauss purely by his batting statistics. While he may not be the best tactician, captaincy is about far more than that: it is about leadership, inspiration and unification. In those regards Strauss is exceptionally good and his role in the resurgence of England's cricket cannot be overstated. Besides, he has been in a similar position once before: on the tour to New Zealand in 2008 he had gone 15 Tests without a century and looked almost unrecognisable from the pleasing left-hand batsman who had scored a century on debut. He was probably within one innings of being dropped when he responded with a century in Napier that revitalised his career. If England persist with him, he may well repay their investment.

After all, his long-term record remains good. Unlike Mike Brearley, who failed to score a century in a 39-Test career, only five men (Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, Geoffrey Boycott, Ken Barrington and Graham Gooch) have scored more than Strauss' 19 Test centuries. But Jack Hobbs' past record is excellent, too: it hardly guarantees his performance in the next Test. The concern is that Strauss' run of poor form has been so prolonged that it represents a terminal decline.

There is no obvious reason that should be the case. He is 35 and remains fit. It is not as if he is suffering abject failure, more that he is struggling to translate those good starts into meaningful contributions. And he is not the only man struggling: Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have endured even more grisly Test tours.

"Strauss is not the only man struggling: Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have endured even more grisly Test tours"

England should not stick with Strauss simply because they are unsure of their alternatives, however. There are other options. Jonathan Trott could shuffle a place up the order - he has, in effect, been opening the innings anyway - allowing England to draft any one of several contenders into the middle order. Opening candidates are less obvious, but Hampshire's Michael Carberry, who is now restored to health and scoring runs by the bucket load, and Varun Chopra, who has scored three first-class double-centuries in the last calendar year, including one in Sri Lanka, are viable options.

Captaincy alternatives now exist, too. The way Alastair Cook grew into the role in the UAE was immensely encouraging and suggested that, when the transition comes, it need not be as painful as it might have seemed only a few months ago.

That is not to say that Cook will be vying for the role. The respect with which Strauss is held by his team borders on the reverential: personal ambition does not come into this.

Indeed, no-one wants to stick the knife into Strauss. No-one wants him to fail or depart the international game under a cloud. Not even his opponents, who recognise the dignity with which he has led and the control he has exerted over a team that can, at times, become somewhat excitable.

Andy Flower, England's coach, recognises the qualities of Strauss, but Flower did not reach the top through a surfeit of sentiment. He will not be afraid to take a tough decision if he thinks the time is right.

My view? I would stick with him and allow him to go on his own terms. He knows the situation. He knows his stats and he knows that the team need him to contribute more. He is a fellow abounding with positive qualities and is surely wise enough and selfless enough to recognise when the time comes to step down. I fear it may be soon, but I hope I'm wrong.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on April 2, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    Very good analysis on Strauss. He is by no means either a great opening batsmen or a great tactical captain (too defensive IMO), however he is a great leader. It is tricky as I don't think England are overflowing with top order options, I'd be loathe to move Trott up the order in case it stuffs him up (not likely but possible). I think it would not be good for England to blood a new captain v The Saffas - they're hard enough to beat with that distraction. He has got to retire/or be sacked (assuming no batting improvement) before the WIndies series - or after the Saffa series. Cook has to be the man to take on the job, probably with Prior as vice captain.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2012, 15:08 GMT

    In 7 out of the last 10 times that they have opened together, Strauss has outscored Cook. End of story.

  • Randolph on April 1, 2012, 11:05 GMT

    Strauss is to England what Tendulkar is to India - washed up and playing for records. Give up the ghost and give a young guy a go. I like the look of Taylor myself.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2012, 9:14 GMT

    let's be fair,those opening stands also count for Cook too...Who is often out cheaply...Either that or he gets 200! ;) Danger mouse isn't finished yet. Cook will be next captain, but i'd give Andrew another yr minimum-hope i'm right!;)

  • kieran on April 1, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    Drop him. He's not scoring runs, he's not tactically astute, and he's little more than competent in the slips. So he's inspirational and a great motivator? Then drop him and hire him on in the support staff; he can do the pep talks before the games. Prior is good enough to keep batting at 6, bring in Bresnan.

  • vic tor on April 1, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    @kriskingle...agree with your have made a very valid point. England were indeed very good in their own backyard and also in Australia which also had fast tracks, but unfortunately have been found wanting in the subcontinent against good spin. @lord.emworth....I feel too, that Strauss is due a big innings, and when that happens, he will get the critics off his back, at least for another few months. He has led admirably over the last couple of years, and has taken England to the top, and I feel he deserves a little bit of leeway. Though, I would like him to succeed in the second test against SL, I feel he may not do too well, but will certainly come into his own against WI and SA. Strauss, give it your best shot, before you hang up your boots.

  • David on April 1, 2012, 1:52 GMT

    England have severe problems with their batting, which have been exposed by Pakistan and to a lesser extent Sri Lanka and which were only hidden earlier by the frailty of the appalling Indian and Australian "attacks". Pietersen and Bell's technical and mental flaws respectively are plain to see. Strass is in the same irreversible decline as Laxman and Tendulkar and Sehwag: you can't hold back the advance of time forever, and Strauss was never as good as those three in the first place. England will have to go back to basics v South Africa: use Prior, Bresnan and Broad as all-rounders at 6, 7 and 8 and just play five specialist batsmen (Cook, Trott, Bell, Pietersen and Bopara) on the basis that they haven't got a sixth Test-standard batsman anyway. I can't see an additional mediocre batsman being much use v Steyn / Morkel / Philander anyway, so they might as well just play more all-rounders.

  • Pushkar on April 1, 2012, 0:40 GMT

    Maybe England needs someone like a Collwingwood back. Despite a lack of obvious batting talent, you could be sure of some steel in the middle. Although having said that, the English have actually got some real batting talent right now and rather than a major overhaul, they might be better served to get their batsmen to work facing of spin bowling. If they do manage that, they might just become the legends they can be.

  • Pratik on March 31, 2012, 19:54 GMT

    Feeling pity of those english fans who wer shouting they r d no. 1 side aftr beating india...u can't play spin got white washd against india n pak n nw on path of defeat frm sri lanka

  • Jurie on March 31, 2012, 18:35 GMT

    All set up beautifully for smith to eliminate his 3rd england captain! Steyn, morkel, philander so excited for a cheap early wicket

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