Strauss retires from professional cricket
Former captain blames poor form with the bat and team's lack of success against South Africa
When Andrew Strauss retired from international cricket, he used the poignant phrase of a tired man: “I have run my race," he said. And he added: “It is a personal decision. You know when the time is up.”
Strauss said he had been contemplating retirement for six-12 months, but especially over the past few weeks. The South Africa series, he felt, would be the litmus test of whether he ought to carry on.
“For probably more than 12 months, I’d looked at this series as a bit of a crossroads moment. If I’d been playing really well and the team were doing really well, that might have been enough motivation to push through for the next two Ashes series.
“But I’ve not been playing well enough and the team has had some difficult moments, that helped me make my decision certainly.”
Strauss’s form with the bat slumped considerably over the past two years. From the start of 2010, he averaged around 32. Two hundreds against the West Indies hinted at a renewal of confidence, but the South African quicks dismantled his technique and confidence. His highest score in three games was 37.
“For me, the driver to it all was quite frankly, my form with the bat. In truth, I haven't batted well enough for a long period of time now and I think for a captain to perform in his role properly it’s important, firstly, you’re not a passenger in the side but also that people aren’t speculating as to whether you should be in the side or not.
“So I think that would have been a big distraction to the side going forward. I know with my own energy levels and motivation, I wasn't going to improve batting wise, I'd run my race,” he said.
There will be speculation about whether the ongoing saga with Kevin Pietersen played a role in his departure. But there is no reason to doubt Strauss when he said that it had not.
“No, not in any way. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I first spoke to Andy Flower about it prior to the whole Kevin Pietersen incident rearing its head it just hasn’t been a consideration at all,” he said.
As a batsman, Strauss will be remembered as a very fine opener of unflappable temperament, who made the most of his abilities. One of his finest qualities was his high conversion rate of fifties to hundreds. Despite a prolonged slump, he ended with 21 hundreds (and 27 fifties) in 100 Tests. This was just one short of the England record of 22.
Of course, he fell short of true greatness. He was too reliant on shots square of the wicket to be a complete batsman on all surfaces. Having said that, there are very few great opening batsman and Strauss was a very good one who played some important runs when the heat was on.
As a captain, his record will be more difficult to judge. Certainly, he restored dressing room harmony after the Peter Moores-Kevin Pietersen fall-out. And he led England to two Ashes victories and to the number one world ranking. These are proud achievements.
But in time there will be a sense of perspective on this England side. England had home advantage in almost all their series victories and the Australian side they thrashed soundly in 2010-11 was there for the taking.
In the end, the severe losses to Pakistan and South Africa will be added to the Strauss balance sheet and a more considered view of his captaincy - and of the standing of his team - will be possible.
The limitations of his methodical approach to captaincy, which relied on strangulating the opponent’s run rates, must also be part of the overall assessment.
A lack of an on-field flair for tactics – surely essential in a great captain – must be taken into account. In this regard, he falls well short of Michael Vaughan, Ray Illingworth, or Mike Brearley.
As a public persona, Strauss met the demands of the age perfectly. He was articulate, polite and diplomatic. Ever the well-groomed public schoolboy, he never put a foot wrong in press conferences. Some people, however, might have found this just a little too corporate, predictable and polished.
One of the shrewdest assessments of Strauss came from his cerebral former colleague in the Middlesex dressing room – Ed Smith, in the New Statesman.
“We talked a lot and there was a lot of common ground. But, from the outset, I realised Strauss was far happier using the language of modern management. Hearing phrases such as ‘360-degree assessment’ and ‘lines of accountability’ was enough to make me want to retreat into a dark room with a revolver.
“Strauss, however, was innately at ease with the way the role of captain had evolved. He is a natural CEO, and instinctively understands the remit of his responsibilities. Looking back over all those conversations, I can see that he was much better at understanding what wasn’t possible, what wouldn’t play in the political environment. I leapt, sometimes naively, to what I thought had to happen. Strauss had many leadership gifts, but he also grasped the limitations of what could be achieved.”
The last phrase is particularly apposite and will probably be the enduring legacy of Strauss as England captain. He had many gifts, but he also had some limitations. This, incidentally, is true of all but the very greatest leaders.