March 15, 2013

'I enjoyed working out the best way to motivate each player'

While trying to come to terms with the end of his playing days, Andrew Strauss tries to see if his interests lie in administration, media, or marathon-running

Have you picked up a bat since you retired?
I have, but only for a couple of corporate net sessions. I felt rusty but it was funny: even hitting those part-time bowlers around reminded me how much I love batting. It's very much part of who I am. There's no reason why I won't play the odd charity match in the future, but all those endless nights and all those days worrying about how I was going to perform are in the past. I won't miss that.

You must have considered continuing to play county cricket as a senior pro?
I did, yes. But in the end I concluded that I wouldn't have had the motivation to play properly. Other people may be able to go back into the game and fulfil a valuable role, but it is a personal thing and I decided it wasn't for me. I wouldn't have been in the best position to play well. I would always have been thinking about what I was going to be doing next - how I would set up a business or whatever it might be - and wouldn't have had the motivation.

There is a persistent rumour about you entering politics…
There is, but I don't know where it came from. It's not a route I'm considering at this stage. I suppose I am quite interested in politics, but you would have to be so committed to it to consider it as a career. It's not on my mind, really.

No doubt you've had the usual offers from the likes of Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Get me Out Of Here?
Yes, I had some polite enquiries from those sorts of shows. They got a pretty short answer in return. That's not the way I'll be going.

Was it frustrating to retire on the back of the defeat against South Africa? They were a very good side, but England didn't really do themselves justice, did they?
There is a sense of frustration. You're right: we didn't do ourselves justice as a team. We should have scored far more runs in that first innings at The Oval and made that game safe. It wasn't an easy time for the team. There were a lot of things going on and we came unstuck against a very, very good South Africa side. So yes, on the surface, that is a frustrating way to finish, but hopefully there were enough smiles and good memories along the way to outweigh any regrets.

When did you know it was time to retire? Can you explain a little about that process?
There wasn't a moment when I knew. It was something that dawned fairly gradually. It wasn't really a very healthy frame of mind to be in: I suppose I knew in the back of my mind for a while that my time was up, but I was trying to stop the thought taking root. Eventually it just became obvious.

I suppose it was probably halfway through the South Africa series when I decided: "This is definitely it. It's time to go." It had been on my mind for about six months, but only during the last three or four weeks did it come to the forefront.

I batted okay in that final season. I scored a couple of centuries against West Indies. But the combination of the batting and the captaincy was feeling more and more difficult and the team weren't playing as well as they had. I just felt the team needed refreshing. It needed a restart. And I didn't think I had the energy to lead it. In those situations, a new captain can sometimes come in and refresh things, and I think that's what we've seen happen. Alastair Cook has taken over and he has done fantastically well. That made it easier, as it vindicated the decision.

A lot of players struggle for equilibrium when they finish playing. How has it been for you?
It's not easy. I suppose there is an element of anti-climax about it. It's almost like going through a grieving process. You wake up in the morning wanting to do something important. And you're not. That can take time to get used to. I've given up something up that has been very important to me for a long time; for most of my life, really. Being a cricketer has been my identity for 15 years and now I've got to find something else. It's not easy to replace that. It's not easy to replicate that passion. I've told myself to relax. I've told myself I'll be doing important things again in the future.

Presumably you're still in touch with various members of the team?
Yes, but the nature of the relationship changes. It has to change. I have had to let go, really, and I know that. I've had my time. My journey is over, but it's just starting for Nick Compton and Joe Root and Alastair Cook as leader.

So what have you been doing?
Well, I'm writing my autobiography, which has taken a lot of time, I've been working for the ECB a little bit. And I've been running a lot. Running has been very good. It has forced me to retain a bit of fitness and it has forced me out of the house. I've been training to do the London marathon, which I'm running with my wife, Ruth, to raise funds for the Lord's Taverners. It's a special charity that does wonderful work helping disadvantaged people and I'm delighted to be able to support them. As a player most of the fitness work you do is about sprint and weights. I don't think I ever ran more than about five or six miles. I did 21 miles yesterday.

Are you looking to beat Andy Flower's time - four hours and 45 minutes - from last year?
I might have a bit of an eye on that, yes. I'd like to beat four hours, but it's probably unwise to make too many bold predictions.

"Being a cricketer has been my identity for 15 years and now I've got to find something else. It's not easy to replace that. It's not easy to replicate that passion. I've told myself to relax. I've told myself I'll be doing important things again in the future"

Can you tell us a little more about the ECB role?
Yes. It's a very broad consultancy role. It's involved a bit of marketing, a bit of time with young players and a bit of strategy and planning to help ensure there is a structure in place to help England enjoy sustained success. I'm being used in any way that Hugh Morris sees fit, really. He is giving me a flavour of what it is like to be involved in cricket administration. The majority of my input has involved the England side. Hugh deals with the day-to-day England stuff that no one really sees but is so important in ensuring that things run smoothly.

Is that an indication of your future career plans?
It might be. The idea, really, is to dip my toe in various things and see what I enjoy and what I'm good at. I know it's going to be hard to find something that I'm as passionate about as I was about playing, so the aim in this 12-month period is to give myself a broad range of pursuits and options.

Is media work among the options?
Yes. I would like to do some media work this summer. If nothing else, it will just be a fantastic way to get a front-row seat at the Ashes. It's the same thing, really. I want to dip my toe in the water of the media world and see if I enjoy it.

How about following Ashley Giles' route into coaching, maybe as a director of cricket at a county?
I wouldn't rule that out, but now isn't the time for me to do that. I'd like to think it was always an option for me to work within the game, but I'd like to explore possibilities outside the game as well. It's interesting you use the example of Ash: he's demonstrated the possibilities and made it look like a great route to go down.

Do you have a view on splitting the coaching role?
Yes, I think it's a great idea. Andy Flower's role had just become too big. He has done a fantastic job but there are real benefits in getting someone else to come in and ensuring that you're concentrating equally on Test and limited-overs cricket. It's so important to do the research and the planning, but it can be impossible to do that if you're in the middle of a Test and the one-day games are the following week. The challenge is ensuring that the personalities involved are right, but it's okay if there are different views. The coaches don't have to see eye to eye on everything, but they do have to be able to work together when required. England have got a really good combination at the moment.

Are you grateful for that period where you went to university before becoming a professional player? I mean in terms of coping with the ups and downs of life in professional sport and being able to make the transition afterwards.
Interesting. I've not really thought about that. I suppose that when you're playing for England, you are in a bubble. You really do become divorced from the real world. I'd like to think that by the time I left uni, I was a bit more mature and prepared for the challenges ahead. But it's hard to draw conclusions because, at the same time, young players have to commit to the game very early if they are going to get to the top. Not many come all the way through if they start late, as I did.

As for preparing me for life after cricket… it's hard to say. I'm not at the stage where I'm getting my CV out and going to interviews, but I appreciate the idea that studying for a degree gave me some sort of perspective and discipline.

You were at the other end when Alastair Cook made his Test debut. When did you know that he was going to be special?
Oh, pretty early. He turned up on that tour and I didn't know him from a bar of soap. But he hooked his third or fourth ball [actually his fifth] for four, and I remember thinking, "Hello, what have we got here?" It was his clarity of mind and method that struck me. He knew what he was doing; he was confident in what he was doing. He has gone through some ups and downs in his career but he is in a great place now technically and in terms of his confidence. He has a huge weight of runs behind him, and in terms of his age, his experience and his leadership, he is probably at his peak.

Did you permit yourself a wry smile when you heard the news of the Australian players being dropped?
(Laughs) It's hard to know what to make of that, isn't it? All I'd say is that if you take disciplinary action like that, there is always a danger that you create a bigger problem than you had in the first place. It clearly wasn't a one-off incident, but without being inside the dressing room, it's hard to understand what is going on.

When you hear about such things, are you relieved that you are no longer in a captaincy position?
No, not at all. I enjoyed that side of things. I always enjoyed the challenge of trying to work out the best way to motivate each different player. It was a non-stop journey and it never stopped to be a challenge or to be enjoyable. It's not as if you can have one chat with a player and think, "That's them sorted." Things are always changing. But, as I say, I enjoyed the leadership challenges and I continue to enjoy finding out more about leadership.

I like to think I learned quite a few lessons in sport that can be applied to business. That is part of the reasoning behind developing my consultancy business.

Okay, I want to try some quickfire questions. Feel free to give a longer answer if you like, but one or two words will do. Who is the best player you opened the batting with?
Alastair Cook.

Who is the most talented player you captained?
Kevin Pietersen.

Who is the most reassuring man to have in a team?
Jonathan Trott.

Who bowled the best spell of bowling you faced?
It was from Shoaib Akhtar in Pakistan in 2006.

Who was the most reliable bowler you captained?
Bowlers are never reliable! (Long pause) In terms of knowing what you were going to get from them, James Anderson was the most reliable.

What do you look back upon as your best innings?
It was probably the 129 I scored against Australia at The Oval.

When you retired you mentioned you might try to get your golf handicap down. How is that going?
It was four when I retired and it's still four now. I really haven't had as much time to play as I thought and the weather has been terrible.

Andrew Strauss will be running the London Marathon to help raise awareness and funds for The Lord's Taverners, the UK's leading youth and disability cricket charity. More information here

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo