Another English captain bites the dust - who opens now?
Andrew Strauss has become the third casualty on Graeme Smith’s list of English captains after retiring from all professional cricket on Wednesday. England’s most pressing task now is to find a strong opener to replace the skipper, writes ANT SIMS.
Nine years, three tours and three captains calling it quits – it’s no wonder Graeme Smith has a reputation as a captain slayer. While he personally probably has precious little to do with the three English skippers’ decisions to resign, it is a recurring theme which surfaces whenever South Africa visits the land of the old enemy. Whenever the Proteas set foot on English soil, there seems to be some kind of drama. Whether it’s a captain resigning, a sightscreen that just never seems to relent or whether He Who Shall Not Be Named is causing havoc with the unity of a certain team, South African tours to England always seems to leave a few casualties. Andrew Strauss became the latest one on Wednesday when he decided to retire from all forms of cricket with immediate effect. He follows in the footsteps of Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, both captains who called it a day through teary eyes after a visit from South Africa.
There were no tears from Strauss this time, and while South African fans will be jubilant in their celebrations as another England skipper bites the dust after their 2-0 series defeat, Strauss admitted that he always knew the South African series would be a crossroads for him. Had he managed to scrape together some runs and had his charges managed to eke out a result of sorts, Strauss said he might have stayed, but in the three Tests against South Africa he scored just 107 runs. In the last two years, he’s managed just two hundreds, both of them coming against a mediocre West Indies side. Before that, he last managed a hundred in 2009 against Australia at Lord’s. He averaged just 28.72 in eight matches in 2011 and just 34.57 in 12 matches in 2010 – hardly the type of performances which will instil confidence in a player, never mind a captain, and Struass’ decision is therefore not entirely surprising. At 35, he is nearing the end of his career, and for a player who has had some magnificent moments, it would have been a tragedy for him to have been escorted out rather than leaving on his own terms. Strauss made it clear that this was part of the reason for his decision, saying that knew that he had run his race and he wanted to exit stage left with his head held high.
Strauss denies that the Kevin Pietersen saga has had any impact on his choices, and while some of it would have undoubtedly played on the back of his mind and the media will almost certainly trumpet it as part of the downfall, logically, it was the ideal time for Strauss to go. England has a tough few months ahead with a Test series away in India and New Zealand before New Zealand heads to English soil and the back-to-back Ashes begins – and Strauss was reaching a stage in his career where he had little left to offer as a player; where his captaincy was starting to become questionable at the best of times. Not everybody manages 100 Tests for their country, but when you do and when you have had as many brilliant moments as Strauss had, you get to dictate the terms on which want to call it a day. England will rue his loss, but they have to suck it up and start a new chapter, beginning with the most pressing question: who on earth is going to open with newly appointed Test skipper Alastair Cook?
The first task for Cook and co. is a trip to India in November. England last toured India in 2008, losing the series 1-0. And after a nightmare tour to the United Arab Emirates earlier this year where they were trounced 4-0 by Pakistan and the batsmen were left utterly discombobulated by spin, whoever has to fill the the opening role has a big task ahead on the subcontinent’s wild turning tracks. Cook said that he was looking forward to taking on a more senior role in the opening partnership and joked that he’d probably have to face the strike first up, but when asked whether any player had been identified to share that task with him, he was unsure. It’s a telling sign of England’s contingency plan – or lack thereof.
While everybody knew that Strauss was nearing the end of his career, little fuss has been made over who exactly can replace him. Players like Alex Hales, Joe Root, Nick Compton and Michael Carberry are all possibilities, but sending inexperienced youngsters to India for a tough tour is like throwing a new-born baby to the wolves. England might to promote Ian Bell, who currently opens in the one-day matches, to open with Cook – drafting in a younger player lower down; but that leaves them with three brittle and inexperienced batsmen in the middle to hold the fort as the ball gets softer and India’s spinners run riot.
It’s a conundrum of epic proportions for England’s boys, who have fallen from cloud nine with a thump and a scrape. For England, it’s a tragedy; for the rest of the world, it’s time to rejoice. Transition and rebuilding takes time, and when the going gets tough, nothing’s tougher than being team England, because everybody is against you.
Cook has a one-day series against South Africa to focus on, and the newly appointed Test skipper said that he would sit down coach Andy Flower to discuss Strauss’ successor in the opening role after the series. There’s plenty to ponder for the England brains trust, and whoever gets given the task will have a baptism by fire. If England isn’t too keen on the idea of sending a newbie to India, they can always opt for He Who Shall Not Be Named, right? DM
Photo: England's captain Andrew Strauss announces his retirement from professional cricket during a news conference at Lord's Cricket Ground in London August 29, 2012. Strauss, who oversaw back-to-back Ashes wins over Australia and took England to the top of the test rankings, announced his retirement from professional cricket on Wednesday. Strauss, who had been in charge since 2009, will be replaced by one-day skipper Alastair Cook. REUTERS/Philip Brown