The conveyor belt that takes England captains from the playing field into the media centre must be at risk of breaking down from being overloaded. Pretty much every retired leader from the past 20 years has taken a role of some sort – even the stand-ins such as Mark Butcher – with the exception being Andrew Flintoff, who is of course doing his very best to ruin the last remaining shreds of his reputation with a series of reality TV stunts and light entertainment bollocks.
Following in the footsteps of Athers, Nas and Vaughan (the latter to both the BBC and Channel 5, amazingly given his rubbishness) is Andrew Strauss. Upon his retirement there was a lot of speculation about what career path he would take. Coaching seemed unlikely and many thought a departure from the game completely might be a decent bet. Indeed, he has the look and mannerisms of someone who could take a few corporate directorships. There were even rumours – probably completely unfounded – of a move into politics.
Instead he has ended up in the media as a columnist for the Sunday Times and as a commentator on Sky Sports. We can’t comment on the former – we spend all our money on David Warner-endorsed socks and on booze therefore we don’t buy newspapers or pay to read them online – but after two Tests we can at least offer an early assessment of his television work. So far he has two roles, one of which suits him much better than the second.
With a veritable technoplex of new gadgets, Sky have to find a purpose for these toys. What has been illuminating has been when Ian Ward (a gazillion times better on TV than he was in an England shirt) leads Strauss through a piece of analysis, helped by a giant screen of information and videos. This allows Strauss to don his captain’s cap and explain how he (or rather England) would look for flaws in their opponents and ways to improve their own game. As an introduction to recent England mindsets, it is fine. On the other hand, we can’t help think the short passage of time since Strauss was in charge means he is rather reluctant to reveal completely what goes on and how they function as a squad.
This rather guarded approach affects his commentary as well. He does well when explaining the modern rationale behind tactics, but finds it difficult to be critical. Another downside from the viewers’ perspective is that his voice is rather bland – he has yet to reveal his true personality; if this is his real character, then we feel very sorry for Mrs Strauss. Similarly, he seems rather earnest and comes across like a young office worker in his first week at a grand job: constantly asking his co-commentators for their opinion and hesitant to get involved in anything remotely like a joke. He also ought to learn that a television commentator need not constantly speak – silence is not a sin. When he does realise this, perhaps he could pass the message on to Shane Warne.
That said, it is understandable if he is slightly nervous or just finding his way. It would have been better to give him a series of a lower profile than the Ashes to get used to the job. The Sky commentary box often feels like an old golf club, with the majority of the commentators having been there for years (just look at any clips from the 1990s on youtube and if Sky were covering it, so were Michael Holding, David Gower and Ian Botham – even though Paul Allott and Bob Willis have been given different roles in recent times); even Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton must have been there several years now. Change can be for the better – we and many others feel Botham’s expiry date was sometime in the dark ages – and there are enough capable people on the Sky B and C ranks to potentially join the main A-list having served an apprenticeship covering the domestic game or doing the nightshift with Charles Colville (and they said that the coal miners had it tough).
However, Strauss has replaced the previous new commentator to join Sky’s Test team; thankfully, we aren’t having to endure the mundane observations and annoying tics of Nicholas Verity Knight. And for that reason, Andrew Strauss – we salute you.