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