Watching Andrew Strauss compile a polished 92 at the Oval today, I find the speculation surrounding his England role baffling. There has been criticism of his absence on tour with England in Bangladesh and since England’s wonderful T20 success, talk of him not making Englands 50 over side for one day internationals. His leadership credentials are even being questioned.
It feels like a witch hunt. A few ex England captains have a bit of a pop at todays ‘pampered’ players and everybody jumps on the bandwagon. People have short memories. Have we forgotten the one day series in South Africa, and before that the Ashes? Both of which England won under Strauss’s supervision a in which he had a major influence with the bat. It is ludicrous to suggest that, just because England found the right formula for the 20-over format – which to be honest, depends on a large amount of luck – they change their strategy for other forms of the game.
Paul Collingwood, it might be remembered, was really captain by default in the T20. Strauss wasn’t there, neither was Alastair Cook who captained in Bangladesh, Pietersen was still smarting from his appalling treatment last year and really there was no one else. Its too early to promote Stuart Broad to the top rank, as his bouts of petulance indicate. So Collingwood it had to be. He was something of a reluctant leader given his previous expereince of the job, but accepted there was no alternative.
Everything went right for him in the Caribbean – well after the Duckworth-Leiws shananigans in Guyana anyway – which is not to say that he wasn’t a shrewd, and occasionally inspirational captain. Undoubtedly the IPL experience gave him ideas and a more positive mindset than he may have had before and he was the right man for the job.
But he is no captaincy guru. He is a pragmatist at best. Strauss has more depth as a character, more obvious leadership qualities. He is officer class. Collingwood feels more like an enthusiastic private temporarily promoted from the rank and file. He will be happy to hand back responsibility. He doesn’t like the limelight particularly, or standing on the podium. He’s always been the captains best friend – infact some people meanly called him ‘Caddy’ because he always seemed to the captains sidekick. Buit there’s no doubt he’s more comfortable in that position.
As in football, the captain is not all that important in 20 over cricket. The game is too short for him to have much impact. The coach/manager can have almost as much influence. But the 50 over version is more like a proper match, the type played by a thousand club teams on a Saturday afternoon. For that you need a captain with ideas, instincts, hunches and strong motivational qualities when things are going awry. There is time to recover from a mishap or two in 50 over cricket. Not in T20.
And thats another reason Strauss is vital to England’s ODI plans. You need proper players for that, batsmen who can deal with a mini collapse and rebuild. It is true you need more power than Strauss has in the first 10 overs to take advantage of the field restrictions. But Strauss will be ideal in mid innings as a good foil for the more muscular middle-order players. He could perform the same role as Mike Hussey does for Australia. In short he is too good a player, or a man, to ignore.