Five cricketers of the year, 2005

Andrew Strauss

Jon Henderson

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An England batsman who scores a hundred in his first Test is not necessarily signing on for a long and elevated career. Six men did so between the end of the Second World War and the start of 2004 - Billy Griffith, Peter May, Arthur Milton, John Hampshire, Frank Hayes and Graham Thorpe. But only the two Surrey men, May and Thorpe, went on to play more than ten Tests. All the more impressive, then, that Andrew Strauss, who made 112 in his maiden Test innings against New Zealand at Lord's last May, should advance from tyro to stalwart in the space of one English summer.

He had the cricketing advantage of a public-school education like May, and Ted Dexter, who preceded Strauss to Radley College. The England team of 2004 christened him Lord Brocket (a cocksure scapegrace of a celebrity aristocrat whose personality bears little resemblance to Strauss's). But his batting does not have the hauteur associated with May and Dexter. Without their tall, angular build, Strauss has developed a more utilitarian approach, which may be one reason why the selectors did not trust him with a Test cap until he was 27.

But left-handers often make effective batsmen without looking pretty, and Strauss soon made himself indispensable. Having helped to launch England's summer so successfully, he was at the wicket when they completed their seventh win out of seven, against West Indies at The Oval in August. In his first 14 Test innings, he made 590 runs - including another Lord's century, against West Indies - at an average of 45. He kept going in South Africa, where he often sustained an out-of-form England line-up almost single-handed.

That indispensability went beyond the Test team. His ability to accumulate quickly, through working rather than belting the ball, made him an ideal No. 4 in the one-day side. After watching that hundred against New Zealand, the former England captain Mike Brearley noted: "He is well organised, busy, plays very straight and scores runs in the right areas." Also on the credit side, Strauss, who shone as a fly-half at school and Durham University (fleetingly, he was tempted to pursue a career in rugby union) has good hands. As a schoolboy he kept wicket.

ANDREW JOHN STRAUSS was born on March 2, 1977 in Johannesburg, a son for sports-loving parents who already had three daughters. There is no known kinship with the composers (Johann the elder, Johann the younger, or Richard), but he accepts his surname will forever be accompanied in headlines by the word waltz. The family left South Africa when he was only six, in search of a less politically charged environment. Unlike other South African-born players who have come to England, no trace of accent or sentiment remains. The Stausses spent 18 months in Melbourne before settling in England in time for Strauss to be packed off to Caldicott, a preparatory school with a strong games-playing tradition.

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As a schoolboy cricketer, he was constrained by remaining small for his age well into his teens, but established a pattern that defined his career until his call-up to the Test side: an instantly recognisable talent who always commanded attention, did not necessarily deliver spectacular results straight away, but came good eventually because of his diligence. "I suppose I was good but not out of the ordinary," he says. "I scored quickly without being stylish or flamboyant. My technique was what mattered."

Bert Robinson, Radley's veteran coach, taught both Dexter (although he admits that this was like trying to teach Einstein maths) and Strauss, who he describes as one of his most industrious pupils, always wanting just a little longer than anyone else against the bowling machine. At Durham University, another coach, the former England opener Graeme Fowler, is credited by Strauss with turning him into a player with an appreciation of what was required physically and technically to succeed in the first-class game, which he has done with gathering authority at Middlesex.

Strauss likes the Brearley assessment of him as a well-organised batsman. "For me, it's not about having big shots, it's about developing a game that works for me, knowing that, if a guy bowls in a certain area, I can hit it; otherwise I defend or leave it." He says he understands what Graham Gooch was getting at when he spoke about scoring 40,000 runs with three shots, twice as many as he would have made with six shots.

Test selection at the age of 27 was not, he reckons, yet another instance of England's selectors acting with exaggerated caution. "I wouldn't have been ready even two years ago. I've only been playing professional cricket since I was 21, whereas others started at 17." Nor does he underestimate the part luck played in his promotion to the Test side. An injury to Michael Vaughan offered the opening for the Lord's Test against New Zealand; then Nasser Hussain's impromptu retirement ended any doubt that he would be retained, although Hussain admits that Strauss's confident arrival led directly to his departure.

Luck is one thing, making the most of it is quite another. Over the past 12 months, Strauss wrung every last drop from his.

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