Strauss bows out with class

Blog Opinion

Andrew Strauss resigned the England captaincy as he held it, writes Peter May: with intelligence, calm rationality and a desire to put the team first.

A key skill in life is knowing when to quit.

England Test captains have it a bit easier, of course, because the job has a natural cycle – around four years' success culminating in a beating from Graeme Smith – but still Andrew Strauss deserves credit for timing his own resignation and retirement so well on Wednesday morning.

It was a decision that epitomised the man and his captaincy reign, exuding intelligence, calm rationality and class. Unless you are in CNN's New York office you will have to go a long way to find anyone with a bad word to say about the man who has overseen an unprecedented era of English Test success.

All things considered it was the right time to go. As a captain Strauss had looked increasingly tired throughout the recent South Africa series. The obvious source of that stress was the ugly and unnecessary Kevin Pietersen saga but from the first morning at The Oval the media and managerial responsibilities were a clear distraction.

Four years really is about the maximum anyone can stand in the modern era, with or without a visit from Smith's taxidermist, before the extra-curricular becomes suffocating. Strauss even admitted that he had been considering retirement since before the Proteas arrived in England.

"I've been thinking about it for a while," he said, "I first spoke to Andy Flower prior to the whole Kevin Pietersen incident rearing its head. It hasn't been a consideration to me."

The demands had shown in his batting as well and, typical of the man, Strauss preferred to hold his own form accountable. His career record with and without the captaincy is actually pretty indistinguishable: from the ranks, a 41.04 average, 12 tons, HS 177; as captain, a 40.76 average, 9 tons, HS 169.

But those masked a prolific start as skipper including home-and-away series against the West Indies and a decisive role in the 2009 Ashes. By the 2010 return to Australia his batting was in decline and only further scores against the Windies at the start of his summer have masked a profound tailing-off.

"It's not something that's happened overnight," he admitted. "It's been a gradual thing over the last 12 months, and certainly the last six weeks."

Even so, he finished with 21 centuries from 100 Tests.

As a batsman and leader he has built a formidable legacy, arguably England's greatest Test captain, but his contribution has been made. Having been wrongly overlooked for the captaincy twice then handed it only in an emergency, Strauss has left the job as he accepted and conducted it, with an instinct to put the collective first.

For all his success there would always come the day when Strauss would step aside and Alastair Cook would take on the mantle of establishing England among the world's very best Test teams. Given the schedule that now awaits, that time was now, though Cook inherits a team facing an uncertain, unsettling future.

Their next Test assignment is a tour of India where they will play four Tests in 32 days, covering 3500km in internal travel alone. Unless the Pietersen impasse is bridged half of the top order will be novices and we all know how their last away trips to subcontinental opposition went.

More generally his successor Cook faces significant challenges. His own contribution to Wednesday's press conference did not hint at a particularly thorough thinker or brilliant motivator, but he will have to be both if he is to continue the outstanding work of the last three and a half years. He has some act to follow.

<b>Peter May</b>