Andrew Strauss under the microscope for his leadership style

January 3, 2011

England cricket has achieved its best result in two decades in retaining the Ashes in Australia. Andrew Strauss and his leadership style deserve a close examination

“And so it came to pass that Strauss led England to a great victory. And the leader received many accolades. Stage one of the drama is complete as the hero-leader enjoys his triumph [January 7th 2011].”

England’s success in retaining the Ashes has brought near-hysterical acclaim in the English media. The unstinting praise is the more satisfying as a large proportion of former England captains still around are commentating for the media. Strauss is given particular credit for his man-management skills. His form as an opening bat in this series provided a bonus, demonstrate someone who leads by example.

And yet…

And yet, there have been muted concerns about the tactical side of his captaincy. From time to time the commentators have been baffled about decisions he makes in the field. The concerns have been expressed in the summaries by various former England captains. I have been following Sky feeds and BBC radio 4 and 5. Their comments seem more in puzzlement than criticism. It reminds me the reaction of football commentators when baffled by a decision by Sir Alex Ferguson: “Doesn’t make sense to me, but who am I to say he’s got it wrong?”

As an England captain myself (in my dreams)

I write as a former England captain myself. In my dreams, that is, and as a member of the ranks of millions of such fantasists. I’m reading something in those statements of the far smaller regiment of real England captains. Sir Ian Botham is ‘puzzled’ when Strauss fails to use his best bowlers quickly enough to break up a promising stand by the Australians (usually Hussey and Haddon). Several former England captains in concert in the recent [December 2010] Melbourne test noticed the gaps that could have been plugged to stop the batsmen taking easy singles. (Didn’t anyone on the field feel able to speak up? That’s part of the story isn’t it?)

When things go wrong

Which leads me to conclude this. When things go wrong. As will happen. The mask of invulnerability will be whipped away from the revered image presented of the current England captain. If he is lucky he will still be seen as a successful captain, but with flaws. This might be said of just about every other previous occupancy of the post. Even the super-captain Mike Brearley came under fire as his batting average plummeted.

The next test

The next test for Strauss, and for several million former captains of England, starts tonight (11.30 GMT, Jan 2nd, 20110). Will losing the toss make a difference?

And the next stage in the drama unfolded

And so it came to pass that Strauss led England to a great victory. And the leader received many accolades. Stage one of the drama is complete as the hero-leader enjoys his triumph [January 7th 2011]. But the journey is not over. The ancients talked of hubris. The Australians talk of the tall-poppy syndrome.