Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Strauss - time to go?

Andrew Strauss is arguably England’s greatest ever captain. Taking a second-rate team to the top of the world, with two Ashes wins on the way; Strauss has unified a broken dressing-room, and alongside Andy Flower, has created a culture of success in England’s most prosperous team in generations.

However, as brilliant a leader as Strauss has been for England, he’s picked primarily as a batsman, and as a batsman, he’s just not cutting the mustard. No test centuries in 48 innings, and only one since 2009 simply isn’t good enough. For all of his calmness and brilliance in the field as captain, at the crease as an opening batsman, he looks skittish, confused, and bereft of confidence. While he has done an excellent job as captain, he’s been carried as a batsman for a while now, and England can ill afford to do so much longer.

Nobody is doubting Strauss’ aptitude as a captain, or indeed, taking away from his past glories as a batsman. His 161 in a day against Australia in 2009 was as good as it gets, and his 177 against New Zealand in 2008 was the definition of a gutsy, back-against-the-wall century. However, those days of a classy, imperious Strauss dominating attacks seem like very distant memories, and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of them returning.

Is time up for Strauss? Well, as a captain, he can still clearly command respect, make the correct decisions on the field, and be a success. But as a batsman? His dismissal in the second innings this test, where he advanced down the pitch to Herath before chipping a catch to short midwicket (great position by the way) shows all the signs of a scrambled brain. Too many times in his century drought has Strauss got himself in before finding a way to get himself out, and this was a prime example. But is he finished as a batsman completely? Often when a veteran is reaching the end of his career, his eyes go a little and misjudgements creep in (Rahul Dravid getting bowled a lot in the Australia tour springs to mind). But that hasn’t been an issue for Strauss. He has been getting himself in, at least, and it was only last week that he scored an unbeaten century in a tour match. And last summer, after a difficult India series, he went and smashed a double ton for Middlesex.

Strauss may not be completely finished as a batsman, but he hasn’t justified his place as an opener for a while. It’s clear that if here wasn’t the captain, he would have been disposed of a while ago. While there doesn’t seem to be any obvious county openers knocking on the door, Jonathan Trott could be pushed up to open with someone else moving into the middle order. And as Alastair Cook goes from strength to strength as ODI captain, and proving a viable alternative in test colours, the selectors now have a ready-made replacement to take over the proverbial captain’s armband. Andrew Strauss is far from undroppable – a situation which would have been unthinkable only a year ago. While he won’t be booted out midway through a two-match tour, Strauss is going to need some serious runs in the second test, otherwise he may be out of a job come May and the start of the West Indies tests. Strauss’ best knock in an England shirt came when he was one game away from the axe back in 2008, and he may need something similar next week if he’s to retain his place.

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