From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.15 :: Apr. 15, 2010
Andrew Strauss is a most unlikely revolutionary but I suspect he has awakened many a sportsperson — player, official, fan and writer — to the way the world is changing.
Strauss, England captain from a public school like so many others, middle-class, urban and urbane, has returned from a two-month sabbatical, refreshed without a word of apology for an absence, while his team sweated in Bangladesh that had his many critics frothing at the mouth.
His message now, as before, is that England will benefit in the World Cup, all the forthcoming Test series, but particularly in the Ashes.
Their repeated theme was that it had never been done before and that therefore it must be wrong. Deserting the battle in the face of the enemy, leaving his men under fire and, well, just not behaving like an England captain.
Let me remind you that the morale code that is supposed to guide England leaders was designed for teenage toffs at Eton, Harrow and Winchester in the 19th century when discipline was harshly enforced and the masters sought every means at their disposal to keep their charges in line.
It may have been appropriate for those young masters of all they surveyed to be taught that captains behaved as if they were in the Army, leading the charge, sacrificing themselves for their men and never, but never, being absent without official leave.
Actually, I do not believe Strauss was ever AWOL. Instead I guess he went down the very modern path of asking what 21st century would call his line manager — that is the coach Andy Flower — if he could take leave of absence to spend “quality time” with his family. He may even have done so by e-mail.
I do not know Strauss well even though I have seen him in all his Tests and spent many an hour in team hotels. He was often with his family. He looked — how can I put this without sounding like the most complete snob — official.
He never sat with the rest of the lads because he had family but he was always smartly dressed, always wearing that characteristic half smile, always giving his wife and youngster a tiny kiss before heading off for practice.
No one ever played the part of the England captain with more conviction. Michael Vaughan always looked distracted, Nasser Hussain ate breakfast in his room, Alec Stewart was one of the boys, Mike Atherton was often buried in a book.
All to their own, of course. The point I am trying to make is that I can no more imagine Strauss going outside the rules than I can see Phil Tufnell conducting the Halle orchestra or Devon Malcolm riding in the Grand National.
When the England and Wales Cricket Board received his request — and again I am guessing — they will have had a proper sit-down and a serious discussion. That is their way.
At the end, mainly I suspect because Strauss presented his case properly, they agreed.
After all, why not?
Vaughan has told us since his tearful resignation that captaining England is a full-time, 24-hours-a-day job, stressful and exhausting. Hence the tears and the poor results in his last few Tests.
I had a conversation with him 24 hours before he quit and did not guess what was in his mind. Bottling up his problems might describe his method for even members of his own family were surprised by his departure. Strauss took note of that wretched — and unnecessary — farewell and thought: “I won't leave that way.” So ahead of the year that would leave most men exhausted and which finishes with a trip to Australia — chased down by record numbers of hungry media men — Strauss went on holiday while Alistair Cook stood in on the trip to Bangladesh with its perfect pitches, its less than perfect bowlers and its broiling heat.
And won, let it be noted, every match; although what he brought to the leadership was not obvious. Cook was vice-captain in West Indies when a dispute arose over the fitness of the pitch for one Test and the main men gathered to discuss if the ground was fit.
A reporter asked Cook why he was not debating. “They don't want the views of some young boy,” said the 24-year-old. He has some way to go before he rivals Strauss for the captaincy — although cricket changes so rapidly he could be in charge of the first Test at Lord's on May 28 — which is another factor Strauss will have added into his calculations.
I guess it all means that in future captains, fast bowlers and all-rounders will be prime candidates for down time. Even though the career is short, the wages are now good enough for stars to afford a winter off.
Stuart Broad turned down the IPL so that he could rest a body that has at 23 already buckled under the strain. Andrew Flintoff might have benefited from a holiday or two; if Tim Bresnan is the new Flintoff he might start planning his own vacations immediately.
Besides it has always happened. The Hon. F. S. Jackson went grouse shooting in August rather than take on the Aussies, Ray Illingworth turned down a trip to India and Pakistan 40 years ago. England's old time stars often missed trips to the sub-continent.
So Strauss is not so much setting a new trend as using his commonsense to extend his career and show his team-mates the way to the future.
I will be very surprised if the Strauss resting strategy is not extended and soon.
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