Press conferences are, by their very nature, meant to generate hype, suspense and a palpable sense of dread, if only to encourage interest and enthuse people to sit up and pay attention. Which the entire cricketing world did yesterday, as Andrew Strauss announced that he intended to retire from all forms of cricket immediately, bringing an end to a career that began with a first class début for Middlesex County Cricket Club in 1998.
Stating that he wished to “keep things brief” at the conference, in order to avoid turning proceedings into an Oscar acceptance speech, Strauss proceeded to, with the finesse of a Hollywood star, bow out, expire, cease to perform – the curtain was being lowered, not by the stage hand, but the lead star.
Strauss pointed to his recent batting form, acknowledging that he has been far from his best, and linking this back to the role of England captain. He said: “For a captain to perform his role properly it’s important not to be a passenger and it’s important that people aren’t speculating whether you should be in the side.”
The 35-year-old continued: “I wasn’t going to improve batting-wise. I’ve run my race. It’s a gradual feeling that’s grown over the last six months. If I’m honest, I’d very much like to go out on my own terms with my head held high.” A perfectly reasonable conclusion by a man that has made 100 test appearances, and is the second most successful captain of the national side in the modern era in terms of wins, behind Michael Vaughan. Strauss even received a raucous round of applause from the assembled media following his press conference, as he exited dignified but steadfast.
A flood of tributes has poured in to Strauss’ achievements as a player and captain. Eoin Morgan called the batsman a “great leader and a pleasure to play with”, while Stuart Broad described the South Africa-born cricketer as an “awesome guy, great leader and a dependable batsman”. A bittersweet reflection was provided by the Guardian‘s Rob Smyth in his article, entitled “Strauss’s ending as England captain is a depressingly unbecoming one”. He wrote: “Strauss offered a seriously persuasive model of what 21st century man should look like: dignified, decent, proud, humble, equable, honest, fair, selfless, intelligent, inquisitive and deceptively charismatic. He was the big brother who always said the right thing, always did the right thing, and always looked after you. With him goes one of the great eras of English cricket.”
Smyth argued that the “England captaincy gets everyone in the end”, paraphrasing the words of Enoch Powell, that all careers are destined to end in failure. This is not a failed career, however. Strauss led England to successive Ashes triumphs, joining Len Hutton and Mike Brearley as the only England captains to manage this feat. Finishing up with a test batting average of 40.91 was perhaps a factor in Strauss’ decision, with the responsibilities of captaincy and leading fellow professionals inevitably taking its toll on personal success. The situation with Kevin Pietersen this summer undoubtedly hastened Strauss’ departure, but his achievements stand beyond the circumstances of what Smyth terms a “grubby ending”. With Strauss, or “Lord Brockett” as he was dubbed by team mates, having taken England to the top of the ICC test rankings and kept them there for a year, few could disagree with the assertion that he always “said the right thing, and did the right thing”. Smyth is right – there goes a great era of English cricket. Alastair Cook, his replacement as captain, has a lot to live up to.
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