Widespread leaks meant the least surprising news of the day was that Andrew Strauss has quit after a brilliant career. The more interesting question is: why?
Strauss himself blamed his own failing performance with the bat was key. “I wasn’t going to improve,” said the outgoing skipper, who has retired from all forms of cricket. “I had run my race.” Indeed, the opener’s indifferent form with the blade was a major contributory factor in England losing the recent home series to South Africa, shipping the coveted number one to them in the process.
Yet much of the speculation in the press concerned his relationship with Kevin Pietersen, England’s star batsman, and himself a former – if short-lived – captain. Strauss was at pains to deny this was behind his retirement, saying he was already thinking seriously about quitting before the story broke. Yet it must have made leaving easier. A row, played out in the press, with a player most accept is the star of your team is a manager’s nightmare: people are bound to take sides – and whatever decision you make on the future role of the belligerent you risk diminishing the team, either through a reduction in aggregate ability or a weakening of morale.
So what of Pietersen? My guess is it remains a very long way back for the 32-year-old, regardless of Strauss’s resignation. Not only did the alleged text messages from Pietersen about Strauss to the touring South Africans cause major consternation in the dressing room, he has since caused additional friction by allegedly ranting about debutant James Taylor, despite sharing a 147-run partnership with the Nottinghamshire batsman in the second test.
The England high command said they still plan talks with Pietersen, but their tone suggested those talks are as likely to fail as to succeed. It is not hyperbole to say England now face a crisis: they have lost the Test series and their number one ranking, they are short an opener, they are 1-0 down in the one day series, their bowling attack appears to have lost its menace – and their best player cannot play for them unless and until some major management heavy lifting is done.
Enter Alistair Cook, new England test captain. He’d be forgiven for walking into the Oval for Friday’s ODI in a tin hat.