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By Sunil Gavaskar
There is a shelf life for everything. The problem for most is knowing what it is. Andrew Strauss realized that his time as an international player was up when he failed with the bat and England under his captaincy not only lost the Test series against South Africa, but with it also the number one ranking. There were murmurs about a year or so ago, about his place in the team as a player, but those got a bit louder when he didn’t score in the just concluded series against South Africa.
England have for long been big on having a skipper for his so-called leadership qualities even if he doesn’t bring any other cricketing expertise to the table. There are innumerable instances of players, who wouldn’t find a place in most county teams other than the one that they were playing for, who have been appointed skippers much to the annoyance of those who have fought hard to earn a Test cap. This is probably a remnant of the era when there were two clear divisions in English cricket. There were the professionals, who played for wages while there were amateurs who played for allowances which sometimes were higher than the wages that the pros were paid. The amateurs always captained the county teams and so also England and it was only in 1953 that Len Hutton became the first professional to captain England. Remember those were also the days when England played as England only at home, but were called MCC when they went overseas.
England and tradition go hand in hand and they have always wanted players who can handle the tricky situations and be diplomatic and give a warm feeling all round. They do not want the rebel or one of the boys kind and the flashy guy to lead them as some may have found out when they strayed away from the expected norms for the captain.
Strauss had had a tough time off the field recently with the Kevin Pietersen texts saga and while that is yet to be solved and meetings are scheduled over the next few weeks, Strauss cleared the air and emphatically said that it had no bearing in his decision to retire from all forms of the game and not just Test cricket. The British media did try to hint that it did have an influence on the decision simply because Pietersen is not the flavour of the year now that England have surrendered the number one ranking and will be the scapegoat for some time more.
The 100th Tests for the rival skippers happened in the same series and were contrasting personally as for the team fortunes as Graeme Smith, who played his 100th Test at the Oval got a century and South Africa won, while Strauss’ 100th Test was the last Test of the series at Lords and not only did he fail with the bat, but England lost the game. Such is the cruelty of the game of cricket.
England are lucky that they have in Alastair Cook a readymade skipper, who has done exceedingly well as the captain of their one-day team and with his huge appetite for runs in Tests he will be a performing skipper and not just there to present a good face to the cricketing world. Not that Strauss wasn’t a good player, for he had begun his career with a century and but for a horrible mix up which led to his run out in the second innings he would have been the third cricketer to debut with a century in each innings. He has a good record and with over 7000 runs and 21 hundreds his performance is pretty much on par with England’s best batsmen. It was just that he had dropped a few catches recently that he normally would have taken and also didn’t score as many as the team needed that would have led to his decision to quit. It is a brave decision and one that needs to be applauded because it is never easy to leave the sport that gives you so much and especially when you are in a position to call the shots.
He will leave the game satisfied that he led England to Ashes wins especially the one in Australia, a team that is pretty much invincible at home.
You can be certain that he won’t be too far away from the game and after a few years will be associated with it in an administrative capacity and if he brings the same man management skills to the job then the game of cricket will be the gainer.