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Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 13:29 UK

Ashes glory for survivor Strauss

By Mark Mitchener and Ben Dirs

Andrew Strauss celebrates England's Ashes win with his one-year-old son Luca
Strauss celebrates England's Ashes win with his one-year-old son Luca

While Andrew Flintoff remained a headline-grabber to the end as his Test career wound down, England captain Andrew Strauss has proved himself to be one of the game's great survivors.

His international career was on the line 17 months ago but by joining the list of Ashes-winning captains, Strauss has now indelibly left his mark on English cricket.

It was very different on 23 March 2008, when he walked out to bat in Napier, New Zealand, for England's second innings in the third and final Test.

The prolific start he made to Test cricket, the 2005 Ashes triumph, and a brief spell as England captain the following year had all receded into the sunset when the Middlesex man was dropped for the winter tour of Sri Lanka in December 2007 - and sent to New Zealand domestic cricket to work on his game.

He's done a good job and it's had a massively positive effect on his batting

Graham Gooch

Restored to the colours for the New Zealand tour - albeit in the unfamiliar position of number three, below Alastair Cook and Michael Vaughan - he made 43 and two in Hamilton, eight and 44 in Wellington and a six-ball duck in the first innings in Napier.

But with the selectorial axe hanging over him, over 481 gruelling minutes Strauss ground his way to a Test-best 177 as he and fellow centurion Ian Bell gave England the platform from which Monty Panesar bowled them to victory.

It wasn't pretty - not in the same league as left-handed greats like Garry Sobers or David Gower - but Strauss has always favoured quiet efficiency over champagne cricket.

Andrew Strauss celebrates his century in Napier in 2008
Strauss's watershed moment - his century at Napier in 2008

Less than a year after that crossroads in his career, he was being photographed on the Lord's balcony as England's new captain - heralded as the "safe pair of hands" England needed after a bust-up between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores had left the national team without a captain or a coach.

"He steadied the ship in troubled times," former England skipper Graham Gooch told BBC Sport.

"He's done a good job and galvanised the team, and more importantly it's had a massively positive effect on his batting.

"It affects some people in a positive way, but with some people it heaps pressure on and they feel the heat a little bit more."

Gooch may sense a kindred spirit in Strauss - having landed the England captaincy himself for the first time rather by default in 1988, the "summer of four captains".

STRAUSS'S TEST STATISTICS
Total: 67 matches, 5,366 runs, highest score 177, average 44.62, 18 centuries, 17 fifties
As captain: 17 matches, 1,572 runs, highest score 169, average 56.14, 6 centuries, 8 fifties
Not as captain: 50 matches, 3,694 runs, highest score 177, average 41.04, 12 centuries, 13 fifties

But Gooch, who scored 8,900 runs in 118 Tests, also feels Strauss has done well to work through some technical issues which were plaguing his game 18 months ago.

"His play in the last year or so has been very good, his foot movement's been a lot better and he gets forward better," Gooch explained.

"The tempo of his batting is exactly right, the areas he scores in has expanded.

"It's not now just the cut and pull, he's hitting the ball down the ground, he defends with a straight bat and looks a totally different player."

Having captained Middlesex for a spell before his first England call-up, Strauss led his country briefly in 2006 when Michael Vaughan's long-term injury, Marcus Trescothick's illness and Andrew Flintoff's latest knee problem dropped the captaincy into his lap for a home Test series against Pakistan.

Andrew Strauss and Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq in 2006
Strauss first led England against Pakistan in 2006

England won that four-Test series 3-0, although it ended on a slightly sour note after Pakistan were adjudged to have forfeited the Oval Test.

But when the captain was announced for the winter tour to Australia, it was Flintoff, rather than Strauss, who was put in charge.

While it is easy to be wise after the event (particularly when that event is a 5-0 whitewash), but there is now little doubt that Strauss might have been the wiser choice.

"I think the ECB realises now it was a mistake to replace him with Flintoff in Australia after he had just beaten Pakistan," former England spinner Phil Tufnell told BBC Sport.

"But he's bided his time, got into form with the bat and shown a lot of mental strength."

Gooch concurs, adding: "As an opening batsman, you can make an impression and dictate terms.

"Being given the responsibility of leading England is the highest honour you can receive as a cricketer.

He relishes the task of getting England's innings going - there's a steely determination there

Phil Tufnell

"Some players respond to that and it gives them an extra edge, an extra way of improving their game, and certainly Andrew has done that.

"One of the most difficult things to do as a captain is to maintain a distance between you and the players. You can be one of the boys sometimes, but other times you've got to be apart from the boys and have enough distance intellectually and mentally to be able to crack the whip if you have to.

"It's a difficult balance to get, but the most successful captains have that balance.

"You don't have to be liked as a captain, but you do have to be respected - your players have to believe in you and what you're trying to do."

When the Pietersen-Moores spat handed Strauss a second chance as captain, he made a faltering start - losing to the West Indies in which the Jamaica Test which saw England skittled for 51 was the only one to produce a positive result.

ANDREW STRAUSS: THE 2009 ASHES
Tests: 5
Innings: 9
Runs: 474
Highest score: 161
Average: 52.66
100s: 1
50s: 3

But the Caribbean grip on the Wisden Trophy was fleeting as England steamrollered the Windies on home soil - and Strauss went from strength to strength in the Ashes, scoring nearly twice as many runs as any other England batsman.

"He's undoubtedly the man of the series. He's led from the front and his captaincy has improved his batting," Tufnell said.

"He relishes the responsibility. He enjoys coming out as an opening batsman, facing the new ball and staring down at the opposition fast bowlers. He relishes the task of getting England's innings going - there's a steely determination there."

Another factor in England's success has been the relationship Strauss has built with team director Andy Flower, who had been batting coach under Moores and was only handed the top job earlier this year.

"Andy Flower is a great thinker and student of the game," said Gooch.

BEN DIRS' BLOG

"He will be very keen on getting into the players' minds to find out what makes them tick, get them thinking about their games and how they can get the best out of themselves.

"He and Strauss have a close working relationship and enjoy each other's company, and that's got to be better than what Moores and Pietersen had.

"It's an important ingredient to be able to work together and think along the same lines. Flower stays in the background, his job is to shape the players and he's a great man for the job.

"I wouldn't say every match has gone well. There was the disaster at Headingley and sometimes he could be a bit more adventurous, but it's easy to say that when you're sat up in the stands.

"When you're out there you have to make tough decisions. You have to be bold sometimes as captain and back your bowlers and take the odd risk.

"He's a serene character and seems very stable and assured in the way he talks and leads the side."

Strauss was overwhelmed by victory when speaking on Sunday

And in the afterglow of victory, as Strauss is lauded for his Ashes captaincy, his one-time rival for the skipper's job has also joined in the praise.

"In a roundabout way, we've got to the right man for the job now," Flintoff told a news conference on Monday.

"There was speculation between me and him for the last Ashes series in Australia, and I probably had to 'take one for the team' there as we got beaten.

"But it's enabled Straussy, through different circumstances, to take over.

"He's a fantastic captain who leads from the front, and leads by example - not just by his batting, but by the way he conducts himself. "

Meanwhile, former Australia opener and BBC Sport columnist Justin Langer also praised his ex-Middlesex team-mate.

"If Michael Vaughan and his Ashes heroes were awarded MBEs after 2005 then Andrew Strauss should be knighted after Sunday's monumental victory," Langer wrote in his column.

"Andrew was Herculean in every sense of the word. While his tally of runs is worth applauding, it was the manner in which he went about his business which was even more significant.

"In this captain/coach combination England have a wonderful opportunity to go from strength to strength in the international game."

Additional reporting by Anna Thompson



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see also
Victorious England regain Ashes
23 Aug 09 |  England
Strauss targets top of rankings
24 Aug 09 |  England
Strauss savours famous Ashes win
23 Aug 09 |  England
Jonathan Agnew column
23 Aug 09 |  England
Justin Langer column
24 Aug 09 |  Cricket
Media reaction to Ashes victory
24 Aug 09 |  England
England v Australia photos
23 Aug 09 |  England
Strauss to lead West Indies tour
07 Jan 09 |  England
Strauss and Bell punish NZ attack
24 Mar 08 |  England
Strauss skipper for series opener
04 Jul 06 |  England
Strauss stars for England
21 May 04 |  England
Australia in England 2009
20 Sep 09 |  England


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