The Evening Standard

It’s easy to imagine Andrew Strauss enjoying life in a bygone age when the old school tie, impeccable manners and more than a little cricketing genius would have sat rather well with the establishment of the day.

But instead his public school background has earned him a little bit of stick and bizarre nicknames like Lord Brocket, Mareman, Jazzer and Muppet from his Middlesex team-mates

He said: “I came into the Middlesex dressing room as a young, naive public school kid. At that time I was the only one, surrounded by hardened London cricketers who found someone to take the piss out of.

“I had a reputation for . . . what’s the word . . . well, maybe not being worldly-wise, I kept doing the wrong things.”

In this unforgiving professional world his worst gaffe was on his very first day at Lord’s, walking into the main dressing room, instead of the second-team dressing room.

So, I suggest, would he not have preferred playing when there were separate dressing rooms for gentlemen cricketers like him and he would automatically have been an England captain irrespective of ability?

Strauss laughed and said: “I don’t think an England captain should be leading an England side if he is not good enough to be in the side.

“The only way you really get players playing for you is if they feel you deserve to be in the side.”

This belief in cricket being a meritocracy made him rule himself out of captaining the England Twenty20 side. “I don’t feel I am in the top-six batsmen in Twenty20 cricket in the country,” he says, with honesty.

We are in a Park Lane hotel, it is four in the afternoon and Strauss has just managed to grab some lunch, a club sandwich with chips, the price you pay when you have led England to Ashes victory and everyone wants a slice of your time.

The 32-year-old opener is surrounded by piles of his book – Testing Times: In pursuit of the Ashes – describing the triumph over the Aussies and spent much of the morning in the City signing copies for fans. But despite packed houses for the Ashes series, Strauss worries about the future of Test cricket around the world.

He added: “As a spectator sport Test cricket is struggling, there is no doubt about that. We can’t be arrogant enough to assume that it is always going to be there. It is a concern that not many abroad watch Test cricket. When we play abroad our supporters make up a fair proportion of the crowd.”

His solution would be for the Twenty20 ‘McDonald meal’ to fund the gourmet meal of Test cricket, by attracting more fans to the game.

As for county cricket Strauss has a very precise role for the oldest form of the game. “Domestic cricket has to be about producing England players,” he said. “There is not a lot of money in domestic cricket for counties to survive on their own.”

But don’t counties hinder England by making it a finishing school for foreign players? The start of this summer’s Ashes series saw Australia batsman Phil Hughes gain experience for Middlesex, which produced an awkward moment for Strauss when he met him for his season’s first net at Lord’s.

“From an England cricket point of view it is a disadvantage,” said Strauss. “But we also need a strong competition where the standards are high. And at the moment we have 18 counties, so to have solely English-qualified players the standards would not be high enough.”

I sense the England captain would like to see fewer counties. There is a long pause before very deliberately Strauss replied: “If you were starting domestic cricket from scratch you would say fewer teams would lead to higher quality which would potentially lead to better players being produced by the domestic system. But we have to work with the counties we have at the moment and there are still ways of doing that.”

Jonathan Trott may be an example of how counties can provide the launch-pad for Test stars of the future. Although he played for the South African Under-19 side he has been a shining star at Warwickshire and it was his county form that persuaded Strauss to make the bold decision to give him his debut at The Brit Oval.

“In an ideal world he would not have been given a debut against Australia but the circumstances were that we had to make a change,” said Strauss.

“It just got to the stage we had nothing to lose by doing that and he ticked all the boxes: he had been a very consistent performer in county cricket for a while and he was having the season of his life. He looked like a great character who could cope with it but we certainly didn’t expect it was going to work out how it did.”

It worked so well that Trott, who scored a hundred on his Test debut, along with Stuart Broad’s bowling, won that decisive Test.

The Ashes series also tested Strauss morally. At Edgbaston he allowed Australia to substitute the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin after the toss because of injury, when he would have been within his rights to have refused.

Yet he found himself being accused of bad sportsmanship when England got an unlikely draw in the First Test at Cardiff. With the last pair at the wicket England’s 12th man and physio ran onto the pitch twice as the clock ran down leading to accusations of deliberate time wasting. Strauss said: “Cardiff time-wasting accusations sat very uncomfortably with me.”

But as he recounts an incident he would rather forget about, Strauss is well aware that throughout his captaincy he has wrestled with several moral issues.

His first stint as captain saw England win a Test at the Oval when Pakistan refused to take the field forfeiting the match, a first in Tests. “It was like watching a train wreck”, the ramifications of which echoed through international cricket for years.

The recent Champions Trophy produced more challenging questions and not all of Strauss’s answers met with approval.

In England’s match against Sri Lanka he called back Angelo Mathews after he had collided with Graham Onions and been run out, but in the following match refused a runner to the opposition captain Graeme Smith when he had cramp at a time when Smith looked like leading South Africa to victory.

“If I felt Mathews was deliberately trying to run into Onions to make sure he did not get run out I would have reconsidered,” argued Strauss. “I thought it was a genuine accident. The runner was a different kettle of fish, firstly it was the umpire’s decision, not mine, but I do feel cramp is partly preparation and partly a conditioning thing. That is something you can control. In other sports like tennis you get cramp you lose the game. So I don’t see why you should have the advantage of a runner if you are not injured.”

It is at this stage that Strauss makes a wider point about cricket and morality. “Unfortunately, some of it [cricket] does not make sense, morally it is a bit of a strange game anyway.” For an England captain to suggest the game’s moral antenna is not sharply tuned, a game that has always held itself up to be morally superior to other sports, is quite something.

For Strauss it merely reflects the way the game has changed. He added: “You are not allowed to scratch the ball but you can stay at the wicket knowing perfectly well you have nicked it and the umpire has not given you out.”

So would Strauss walk if he edged it? “No”, is his response, his voice rising many decibels for emphasis.

Why? “Because that’s been the convention ever since I grew up, nobody walks and the umpires make their decision, right or wrong.”

Nor would he expect his fielders not to appeal even when they know a batsman is not out?

“That broke down probably 50 years ago, a hundred years ago. I think people will appeal if there is a chance he will be given out.”

Then, he said with a laugh: “Look, it would be great if cricket had that type of moral values. Yeah, it did have, once. It has moved on past that.

“These days in cricket there is an opportunity to be street wise without breaking the rules. Throwing the ball in one bounce so the ball gets softer, things like that. We know things you can get away with in cricket.

“But to deliberately break the rules and do so with the knowledge that you are doing it prior to doing it is taking a step too far.”

Rugby’s Bloodgate and the Crashgate scandal in Formula One would be in that category and as Strauss put it: “Increasingly, winning is crucial, it is crucial for people wanting to keep their jobs. I think increasingly people might be tempted to bend the rules. Is that right? No.”

The recent evidence of cheating makes Strauss worry that sport could be losing its purpose.

He continued: “Ultimately, sport is about people finding, or moving away from what’s real in their lives and finding something to be passionate about and revel in. When you once start bending every rule you possibly can then maybe we are not providing the kind of escape people want us to.”

This summer Strauss and his team provided English cricket with the ultimate escape but he is eager to rein back too many expectations.

So when I suggested, given that Australian batsmen and bowlers headed the averages, the Ashes win must mean England have acquired that elusive winning mentality, he disagreed. He said: “I would say on our home turf we were able to win the important moments. That is a significant step forward.”

And with a clear message for the winter series in South Africa, Strauss knows a lot still has to be proved.

“I do think to win away from home is a different kettle of fish and to do so consistently is a different challenge.

“As a side we still have a huge amount of hard work to do.”

As he said that, he picked up another book to sign, holding up the title Testing Times as if this could also signify the task ahead for England in the land of his birth.

Testing Times:In Pursuit Of The Ashes

by Andrew Strauss, published by Hodder & Stoughton


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