Evening Standard

Taking a lead: Andrew Strauss may be confident about England's future on the field but he is deeply concerned over corruption in the game. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

There is one thing Andrew Strauss is determined not to become. England’s Ashes triumph has made him much sought after as a celebrity. But, mention the word, and he recoils and says: “No, no that’s not my style.”

A few days before we met, Strauss had been guest of honour at a ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

As Eric Clapton, Sir Tim Rice, Bill Wyman and Dennis Waterman told their cricketing tales, Andrew Flintoff, raised money for his charity. Strauss almost had to be dragged on to the stage by Rory Bremner.

“That side of things is uncomfortable for me,” he adds. “I have never been the sort of character that likes to be the centre of attention. I just prefer playing and going home. You have to do promotional stuff but I wouldn’t pose naked and I’d be very disappointed if I am ever on a reality TV show.”

Indeed, he averted his eyes when Paul Collingwood streaked at the Adelaide Oval after England’s victory in the Second Ashes Test. “It wasn’t a real streak,” says Strauss, trying to preserve Collingwood’s dignity. “He did have an item of clothing on, he wasn’t quite starkers.”

Strauss may never make Big Brother but, in becoming the first captain to inflict three innings defeats in a series on the Baggy Greens on their home turf (and only the third Englishman, along with Len Hutton and Mike Brearley, to win back-to-back Ashes series), his perception has changed.

In 2009, after his first Ashes victory as skipper, his book launch was a media frenzy in a Park Lane Hotel. Now, to publicise Winning the Ashes Down Under, Strauss is holding court at The Compleat Angler in Marlow, which is so near his home that he can almost see the sheep, a present from Alastair Cook’s fiancee, Alice, in his paddock about to be sheared.

“We’ve never been entirely comfortable with the idea that everything is going swimmingly well and life is great,” he says of the current England team. “The great sides are always incredibly confident and feel they should annihilate the opposition.

“That is the mindset we need to move into now. I thought we saw some really good signs of it in Australia. Character was the key to our success in Australia, not preparation.”

The build-up did include an unusual boot camp in a Bavarian woodland but, Strauss insists: “All the preparation in the world cannot get you ready for being out there in the middle, on your own, having to do your job for the side. That takes a lot of character. All the 14 players who played constantly stood up when it mattered. It’s not often you can say that about any side.”

His own character was tested when he was out for a duck to the third ball of the series in Brisbane. It did cross his mind then that this might be the equivalent of the Steve Harmison opening ball wide in the 2006-07 series which England lost 5-0.

“I was horribly concerned that my duck was going to be the precursor to a below-par performance from us,” he reveals. “If we’d lost in Brisbane it would have been hard to come back. But it was in my grasp.”

Strauss made so sure of not letting go that his follow-up knock of 110 was part of a record England second innings score in Australia of 517 for one. “That gave me most pleasure. As a captain in an Ashes series you want to lead from the front. It was a huge turning point.”

So huge, in fact, that Strauss believes the series may have led to a fundamental change in Australia. “Australians are very confident people,” he argues. “It is part of what makes them a great sporting nation. By the time the series ended they were far less confident.

“We have to focus on trying to become number one in the world. Potentially, at number three, we’re pretty close. I wouldn’t underestimate either Sri Lanka or India. But, if we can replicate the levels that we achieved in the Ashes, then we are going to be a very hard side to beat.

“No England side have been world number one for any length of time. You can only be the undisputed number one if you occupy that place in the rankings for a decent length of time and win series away from home. We’ve got a huge amount of work to do.”

England begin their attempt to become the best nation in the world on Thursday when they take on Sri Lanka in Cardiff in the first Test of the summer. Strauss hopes that the talk will be all about the game and not the scandal that engulfed last year’s series with Pakistan but the England captain is worried that the game’s administrators are not spending enough money to tackle cricket corruption.

“Clearly most of the betting seems to go on in the sub-continent but I wouldn’t say it was just sub-continental players that are involved,” he tells me. “My gut feeling is there is more to it than we know about.”

Asked if there was more to come out, he says: “Yes. It is a very difficult thing to deal with but I don’t think that’s an excuse not to try to deal with it. I haven’t seen any resolve to deal with the issue. It is hard for me to comment because I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.

“The only input I’ve had is with the anti-corruption people who came round during the World Cup. It seems to me that they are woefully under resourced. I just don’t think they’ve got the resources to do it properly.”

Match fixing allegations re-emerged during last summer’s Lord’s Test as a result of a News of the World sting which claimed three Pakistan cricketers, the captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were involved in deliberately bowling no-balls in return for money.

The three players deny any wrongdoing.

The trio were banned by the International Cricket Council and are due in a court in London in July charged with cheating and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments. All three deny the charges.

Strauss also confirmed that England came close to not playing last year’s one-day international at Lord’s against Pakistan. The day before the match, Ijaz Butt, the head of Pakistan cricket, alleged England players had also taken money from sub-continental bookmakers to throw matches.

“I was quite emotional myself about it,” recalls Strauss. “My original view was our integrity had been brought into question. We got quite close to not playing the one-dayer at Lords. But over the course of the evening it became a lot clearer to me that actually the right thing to do was to play.

“We didn’t feel overjoyed to be playing the game or that series but we got through it. I am still hopeful that good will come out of it. But they certainly don’t seem to be getting anywhere nearer to the bottom of the whole spot fixing/match-fixing saga.”

At least Strauss should have fewer problems to worry about on the field after the radical move to have three captains – Strauss for Tests, Cook for the one-day side and Stuart Broad for Twenty 20. Strauss believes in it.

“If you looked at the amount of cricket we play, some separation between the teams is crucial,” he argues. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but the key to it is the relationship between the three captains and [coach] Andy Flower.”

Strauss refuses to accept this situation could see a replay of the last time an England Test captain gave up the one-day cricket leadership – Nasser Hussain to Michael Vaughan.

“That situation was very different,” he insists. “Nasser felt he had come to the end of his life as captain and Michael Vaughan had a very positive start with the one-day team. I don’t think that will happen now. If it does, and it means the England team are going forward, then that’s a price worth paying. But I’m not winding down.”

Winning the Ashes Down Under, The Captain’s Story – by Andrew Strauss will be published by Hodder & Stoughton on May 26.


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