Andrew Strauss retires August 29, 2012

Dignified Strauss gets his timing right

David Hopps
Andrew Strauss has faced plenty of distractions in recent weeks, but it was his own struggle for form and desire to do what is best for the team that led him to retire

Far too much will be made of the fact that Kevin Pietersen's disloyalty has hastened the retirement of one of the most successful and respected captains in England's Test history.

When the high-maintenance player you imagine you have managed so skilfully over the years sends contemptuous texts to opposing players it is liable to encourage the exhausted belief that if that is what support and admiration brings you there is little value in carrying on any more.

Perhaps Pietersen did add to the fatigue that has been creeping up on Andrew Strauss for much of the past year. He has certainly sullied the manner of his captain's departure and one hopes he feels a little guilty about that, but Strauss is not the sort to retreat from tough situations.

It should not be allowed to mask a far greater truth: this was the right time to go.

Strauss has not become an unwary victim of Pietersen's ego; he has gathered his thoughts on a holiday in Spain after a series defeat against South Africa and had the sense to recognise that, however much he wanted to survive for another 18 months and captain England in two back-to-back Ashes series, his motivation and ability was beginning to wane.

"I have run my race," he said. "It is a personal decision. You know when the time is up."

If anything, Pietersen's stand-off with England was likely to make Strauss stay for longer, against his better judgment. He would have yearned to leave a contented, successful, unified dressing room for his successor, Alastair Cook, and despite all his achievements and best intentions fate has meant he has been unable to do that.

As he ducked his head to read his prepared statement to a media conference at Lord's, confirming his retirement from all forms of professional cricket, the time felt right, and not just because his thinning hair suddenly seemed more prominent in the TV lights. It is extraordinary how the very moment a sportsman decides to go can age him automatically, as if the dam has been breached and resistance to the passage of time is no longer quite as absolute.

Befitting his traditional outlook on life when he did decide to retire, he sat down and wrote personal letters of thanks and comradeship to his England team-mates and members of the coaching staff. After the last few weeks, it was a damn sight classier than text messaging.

Push aside the vexing Pietersen question that Cook now inherits and believe Strauss when he says that the thought of retirement had been growing for the past six to 12 months and that he had seen the South Africa series as "a crossroads moment." That he became the third England captain to be forced into retirement after defeat by a South Africa Test side led by Graeme Smith was not the sunlit departure he might have wanted, but he was brave enough to recognise the realities of his situation.

Others had felt it, too. As his Test career reached its final stages, he began to seem more valuable, even if sub-consciously, for his off-the-field managerial skills than his on-the-field performances. It was hard to pin down, but his life was changing, his playing career slipping out of kilter.

His career, as another former England captain, Michael Atherton, neatly put it had been in "gentle decline." But at least his statistics could not have been left much tidier: 100 Tests, 50 as captain, and his career ending as it had begun to the applause of the Lord's crowd, his emotional home. He even finished his Middlesex career with an unbeaten hundred against Nottinghamshire at Uxbridge. The sense of order will have appealed to him.

But it not statistics for which Strauss will most be valued. It is for what Hugh Morris, England's managing director, called his "remarkable leadership and direction."

Throughout his success, as England won back-to-back Ashes series and spent a year at the top of the Test rankings, he has conducted himself with immense decency on and off the field

This accolade is far more meaningful than a stock phrase issued to any long-serving captain upon retirement. Many England captains have shown admirable qualities - the tenacity of Nasser Hussain, the tactical acuity of Michael Vaughan or Raymond Illingworth, the mystique that surrounded Mike Brearley. But perhaps none have captained England with such a broad sense of what was right and proper than Strauss.

From the moment he took over early in 2009, with England riven by a stand-off between his predecessor as captain, Pietersen, and the coach Peter Moores, which caused both men to lose their jobs, he became the acceptable face of English cricket. His relationship with Andy Flower, England's team director, was strong and productive, and it suited Flower that Strauss became the easy communicator.

Throughout his success, as England won back-to-back Ashes series and spent a year at the top of the Test rankings, he has conducted himself with immense decency on and off the field. Under his calm leadership, players discovered that unity was strength. He has consistently spread sound values: resolve, togetherness, perspective, geniality, equilibrium.

His loyalty to English cricket has come before a loyalty to himself and it has seemed a perfectly natural sense of priorities. His sense of the team ethic was outstanding. His empathy towards the players he commanded brought respect and, as his place began to be questioned, fierce loyalty.

He saw the small picture, respecting players as individuals by encouraging them to be responsible for their own actions, and he managed the big picture, giving English cricket strong moral leadership when and where he could on a range of issues affecting the game. As his authority grew, the nickname of Lord Brockett, given to him by Andrew Flintoff because of his public school upbringing, was quietly discarded.

From the moment that he experienced a Middlesex dressing room as a young professional up from Durham University "where the person who shouted the loudest normally won the argument," he sought to lead with a greater degree of thought and sensitivity. In all England's most stressful moments - debating over whether to tour Zimbabwe or to return to India to fulfil a Test series after the terrorist attack on Mumbai, or settling England with one of his four Ashes centuries - he came to the fore. His average of 40.91, signifying a decent player but not an exceptional one, is probably about right.

It is good to hear that he would like to stay in cricket. Those in cricket's top jobs must feel a little uneasy about that. "Dear Andrew," as Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB once referred to him as he was about to assume the England captaincy - a fondness that he amplified after his retirement in a strikingly tenacious tribute - can still have a role to play in English cricket.

It would be a conservative revolution, with the traditions of the game very much to the fore, but it would be one with a sense of direction where integrity, decency and the good of the game would be expected to prevail.

This piece was updated at 5.20pm on August 29 with additional information

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hiren on August 31, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    I will always remember Strauss for that 150+ score he made against India in the World Cup 2011 ! .... I was sweating bullets and chomping my nails in sheer tension till Andrew was on the crease whacking our bowlers all over the park!!! ;) Will always remember that Andy. (From an appreciative Indian Fan)

  • Randolph on August 30, 2012, 23:58 GMT

    @Hammond - first of all, welcome back, we've missed you during the entire Suoth Africa series. Secondly, leave the commentary to the experts champ, your clueless points of view serve no purpose.

  • Rahul on August 30, 2012, 18:20 GMT

    A very good decision in the end most of the overseas players(read cricketers from outside asian subcontinent) know when to hang their boots,be it strauss,steve waugh,mcgrath,cairns,astle,fleming..they retire at their prime unlike the indians make an inglorious exit to their glorious careers,be it shastri,kapil,gavaskar,sidhu in the past or dravid,laxman being the latest ones.

  • Jerry on August 30, 2012, 16:24 GMT

    @Iwerneanffontmell. The Ashes are important but Australia aren't what they used to be. I think we have a much bigger challenge coming up in India.

  • Mithun on August 30, 2012, 13:46 GMT

    Why are people bringing Sachin Tendulkar into this discussion? Strauss was compelled to retire because he was not performing well enough anymore, and perhaps he was not enjoying cricket enough anymore. But Tendulkar apparently still enjoys playing cricket, and he is still performing. Sure, he has been under-performing by his lofty standards for the past few months: but his performance even during this apparent lean period has been arguably better that Strauss's performance on an average over his entire career. Please, don't compare Strauss to Tendulkar: there is no comparison at all. Strauss served English cricket well, but it was time to move on for him. It's time for the English board to bring back their best batsman and have the best team on the field.

  • Geoffrey on August 30, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    Andrew, rest on your laurels mate, you were a great captain, better than all your contemporaries. You have eternal fans, even in Australia.

  • Andrew on August 30, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    In response to Morne Steyn Smit, the fact is that most cricket lovers in this country would trade World No.1 status for stuffing the Aussies. The fact SA are now No.1 doesn't amount to the proverbial hill of beans when we have more the important matter of back-to-back Ashes series coming up. Just like Olympic athletes who gear themselves to peak every 4 years English cricket is more concerned with peaking for the Ashes. That is why Strauss is lauded above most. SA simply do not have a natural competitor in cricket like this so you cannot really comprehend this rivalry. Had you not been banned from international cricket for so long you might understand what is was like being stuffed by Australia for 20 odd years. Being beaten by SA was obviously disappointing but arguably being beaten by Pakistan was truly appalling - but Strauss had beaten Australia so we simply didn't care.

  • Shajeev on August 30, 2012, 12:24 GMT

    A dignified exit by a dignified man. Well played, Straussy - you'll always be worth more than a hundred Pietersens in my book.

  • Randolph on August 30, 2012, 9:15 GMT

    The title is a joke right? If he got the timing right he wouldve retired 3 years ago. He never came back after Warne found him out.

  • VENKATACHALAM on August 30, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    Andrew Strauss, like most things in his career, has got the timing of his exit absolutely right. Always a dignified cricketer and leader. Wish you the very best in your future endeavours, Straussy.

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