Those lucky enough to spend their summer watching Australia get pounded into a million pieces may have an inkling as to what this book is like. We’re big fans of Andrew Strauss (mostly; of which more later), but we were a little disappointed to discover that his writing style has a lot in common with his commentary. It’s fine and all, it’s just a bit bland.
The most striking thing about ‘Driving Ambition’ – a title which sticks to the sporting convention of picking something a bit awkward and weird that probably sounded brilliant when they first came up with it – is the frankly alarming sight of the former England skipper’s face adorning the front cover. Not only was it horrifyingly big, it was also a bit waxy, meaning that either a) Strauss was so taken by Shane Warne’s features over the summer he rushed straight out to Botox ‘R’ Us and had his own done up or b) it got to printing day and the publishers realised they hadn’t taken any publicity shots, so had to hot-foot it down to Madame Tussaud’s and rush out a few with that Andrew Strauss instead.
The book’s problem is that Strauss is a bit too straight-edged and a bit too nice. There’s nothing wrong with throwing in the odd off-the-wall anecdote about touring life, but we’re not entirely sure stories of how you once stumbled across the National Geographic channel when flicking through Indian TV stations merited inclusion. “It’s like a huge game of roulette”, remarked Strauss. And yes, that is a direct quote.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was that the book seemed to lack detail; the team decision to go back to India after the 2008 terrorist attack is almost entirely skimmed over, and even his twin centuries in the subsequent Chennai Test merits little more than a couple of sentences. We spent literally minutes tingling with eager anticipation as we got closer and closer to his account of Jamaica and that innings, only to be crushed when it received little more than a footnote. Amjad Khan wasn’t mentioned at all. It’s all Ashes, Ashes, Ashes. The Ashes are all well and good, Andy, but what about that time you got bowled out for 51 by Sulieman Benn, eh?
At one stage he tells us:
“It is not my intention to give away trade secrets in this book.”
Which, like Tony Adams latching on to a Steve Bould through-ball to rifle home a fourth, probably sums it all up.
We did say earlier that we quite like Andrew Strauss really and we don’t want to be completely mean to him – unlike Mike Hussey, who can sod off to Wonglepong for all we care – but now we’ve started it’s getting difficult to stop. He barely talks about selection decisions at all, entire series are glossed over in less than a page and there are far too many references to “the lads”. We’re also uncomfortable with the idea of Strauss using the word “sexy”, which happens far too often for our liking (i.e. more than no times). Mike Atherton’s book dedicated a whole chapter to his 185* in Johannesburg, whereas Strauss jumps through the first two years of his captaincy (containing 51 all out, the 2009 Ashes, a tour to South Africa and Pakistan’s somewhat action-packed visit in 2010) in just a few pages. Why? Unless there are plans for a Driving Ambition: Uncut in the pipeline, we are left severely disappointed.
It’s clear that for all Strauss’s undoubted qualities as a leader, storytelling just isn’t his thing. A potentially interesting chat with Jimmy Anderson just before the toss in Melbourne on Boxing Day surely cannot have been as agonisingly awkward in actuality as it appears in print. Instead of whimsically describing how he went over for some advice, we’re given a blow-by-blow account which sounds like it must have killed all flair and imagination within a hundred mile radius stone dead.
It’s not a bad book, it just feels like we barely learnt anything from it all beyond the vagaries of Indian hotel television. It’s basically England’s answer to the aforementioned Hussey magnum opus – except with more light-hearted reminiscing about National Geographic, presumably. There was so much potential to lift the lid on what was going on behind the scenes, or to explain why the immediate response to being bowled out for 51 was to send for Owais Shah. Instead we got an (admittedly good) piece on his reaction to getting dropped, a few decent bits on captaincy and Kevin Pietersen and not much else. We love Andrew Strauss, but this is a lukewarm letdown. And let’s never speak of the revelation that Piers Morgan was once allowed into the England dressing room ever again.