Is Andrew Strauss' time up?

Andrew Strauss has just played his 100th Test match, after recently scoring his 21st century and 7,000th run for a team he steered to the top of the world rankings. Given that landscape, it may sound ridiculous to question his future, but the facts are damning.

Updated: August 21, 2012 18:18 IST
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London: Andrew Strauss has just played his 100th Test match, after recently scoring his 21st century and 7,000th run for a team he steered to the top of the world rankings. Given that landscape, it may sound ridiculous to question his future, but the facts are damning.

England lost the third and final Test at Lord's on Monday by 51 runs to surrender their place as the Test arena's champion team. They have now won only three of their last 11 Tests, while Strauss is without a fifty in his last eight innings. He managed hundreds in consecutive Tests against an average West Indies team in May, but that was after enduring two fruitless years with just one century.

Struggling batsmen can get away with a lot when they are leading a successful team, as was the case with the likes of Mike Brearley and Mark Taylor in the past. But when poor or patchy form is mixed with defeats, then the pressure is on. It has to be, if a team is looking to improve.

This latest reverse at Lord's, then, could be a watershed moment for England as they plan again for their next cycle. The traditionally challenging tour of India is next, before back-to-back Ashes series in the next 18 months.

Strauss's future as captain and his place in the team have to be talking points. It may well be concluded for the right reasons that he should stay, as captain and opening batsman, or just as opener without captaincy. One suspects, however, that his influence has been so strong since he took control in 2009 that if he were to lose the captaincy, he would retire and not remain among the ranks without the power and authority that leadership brings. England have, though, just drafted in James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow and maybe they do not wish to lose the experience of Strauss at this stage.

Strauss has to be rated as one of England's finest purely by numbers. His average is threatening to dip below 40 and is far from the heights scaled by predecessors such as Herbert Sutcliffe (60), Jack Hobbs (56.94), Leonard Hutton (56.67) and Geoff Boycott (47.72). That said, Strauss has been an integral member of one of England's most successful teams of all time, and his 21 hundreds are testament to that.

He is a respected leader among the ranks - whatever Kevin Pietersen may say - and it should not be forgotten how well he glued the team together after the fractious Pietersen-Peter Moores period. His partnership with Andy Flower, the team director, has been a solid and fruitful union that much of England's success has stemmed from.

But all good teams, especially the Australians in the 1990s, make ruthless decisions without sentiment or emotion to ensure that the team continues to develop and move forward. And it could be rightly decided that Strauss, at this juncture, aged 35, has little more to offer England.

He may well score runs in India later this year (he averages 54.33 there), and he could well prosper against New Zealand home and away in the New Year. But if he were then to come unstuck against an improving Australian attack at home and then away, would that represent a failure on Flower's part to foresee future roadblocks? Flower, to be fair, is a hard man - a tough and uncompromising competitor as a player - capable of making difficult decisions, and he will need to as the Strauss situation is the obvious starting point to where England go next.

There is no need for a major shake-up, for this England team is still good enough to beat most other opposition, but there is need to tinker carefully with certain personnel and especially its leadership. The ‘Pietersen Saga' could well play a part in what happens with Strauss. In reality, it is highly unlikely that Flower or the ECB management would opt to dispense with Strauss. It is much more plausible that Strauss decides to go, voluntarily.

He is an intelligent man and a proud one, and will be fully aware that his consistency has not been anywhere near as good as it should have been for a long time. His pending talks with Pietersen will be interesting to follow from afar. But this issue in itself may just be the one final straw. He knows England need Pietersen's magical batting, if not his disruptive and mischievous behaviour. It could be easier for a new captain like Alastair Cook to resolve the KP issue and plot a new way forward.

Whichever way this story goes, Strauss will be remembered fondly as a good batsman, if not a great one. And as a great leader, if not an especially sharp tactician in the Brearley mould. Ultimately, Strauss made England the best Test team in the world. Now, who will be the man to return them to such heights?

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