When you are used to the sadness of low points, any highs seem so much better. The opposite is also true: after the sustained success that saw England rise to the top of the Test rankings, the decline has been most disappointing. At Melbourne and Sydney, or when his team were posting hundred upon hundred against India, the smile on the face of Andrew Strauss was as wide as any in sport. However victory hid a loss of personal form. Now, post-Saeed Ajmal, post-Tino Best, post-South Africa and – perhaps most pertinently (though this was denied) – post-KP, the now ex-England captain has taken a look at his batting alongside a wider context that encompasses his position in English cricket and the richness of family life, and decided to retire. There were no tears from Strauss at the press conference, but there was undoubtedly sadness in the air as we are reminded that everything ends one day. Apart from Eastenders, which seems to be going on forever.
There will be lots of discussion in the next few days, some with fond memories and some with uncertain looks into the future. For now, we post five questions that we think are significant, and try to provide some answers as well.
The coach has formed a splendid relationship with Strauss that was central to England’s success. It is recognised that he can’t continue in the role forever, but he hasn’t yet served four years as head honcho. He has a good team of coaches around him and if his workload can be managed, there’s no reason for him to resign any time soon. We suspect Flower has the ability to work closely with whomever is necessary; he’ll know Cook as a player, a person and as a captain already, so there shouldn’t be any doubt that their partnership can rekindle some of the fire that has gone out of the England team in the last six months. We predict Flower will continue until after next winter’s Ashes.
Sorry, but we’re not brave or silly enough to answer this. The change in leadership should improve the situation, insofar as it couldn’t really get much worse; in the absence of Strauss, regardless of his form, the line-up looks inexperienced – without Pietersen as well it looks downright juvenile. Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor are talented players, but if Pietersen can be reconciled with England (to the satisfaction of all parties), so much the better. If he can’t, then Cook will have a mountain to climb in terms of performance on the pitch. It won’t be easy having a player as good and as headline-grabbing as Pietersen outside the setup. NB: this doesn’t mean we’re taking Pietersen’s side in this, no way.
Buckets of runs, 21 Test centuries, 100 Tests and a record number of catches suggest he was very very good; his average of 40.91 unremarkable compared with some peers. He was only dropped once (for a tour of Sri Lanka), rested once and as far as we can remember, was never injured. Hence the 100 caps. Nonetheless, his international career only lasted eight and a bit years, less time than Graeme Smith has captained South Africa for. In truth, Strauss would rarely, if ever, have been selected for a World XI, surely the test for whether someone is world class. But not many players can retire with two victorious Ashes series behind them, or having lead their side to No.1 in the world. As captain, he divided opinion. He had luck and he had some fine players in peak form alongside him. But at times, both as opener and as skipper he was good. Bloody ruddy good.
We can’t see him doing much in the media, despite his amusing line in the press conference about becoming the Sun’s cricket correspondent. His background and persona suggest a role in cricket administration might suit him; his public speaking and demeanour could even see him taking a job in business, far from anything cricket-shaped. It has been sometime since an English cricketer headed into politics…the new Seb Coe perhaps?
This is the hard one. As weak as it might leave the middle order (unless Pietersen returns on his shiny white steed), we think Jonathan Trott will open against India, with Ian Bell promoted to number three. Beyond that there are promising youngsters in the shape of Alex Hales and Joe Root, and Michael Carberry shouldn’t be forgotten, but at the moment there are no stand out replacements jumping up and down and demanding selection.