It’s Not Cricket

The Andrew Strauss declaration that he will not be touring Bangladesh much less leading the England side — it means he will not play again until the end of May — has roused the cricket elite to hysteria, writes Ted Corbett.

You will be glad to know — because it is a sign of get-up-and-go among the apparently lifeless — that the conservative, traditional, nothing-must-change, born in the 17th century cricket stick-in-the-muds are on the warpath again.

It happens about once a year when someone does something they deem to be worthy of their ultimate condemnation — It’s Not Cricket.

Their anger is direct against Andrew Strauss who has decided that he will not be touring Bangladesh much less leading the England side. He is, after only a year in charge, “jaded.”

There is a lot of important cricket ahead, so he says, including a tour of Australia next autumn when England have a sniff of retaining the Ashes but where they have not won for 23 years. (Even then it was a shock. Mike Gatting, who would have played anywhere, was the enthusiastic leader who persuaded some old and very jaded veterans like David Gower and Ian Botham and a bunch of kids who have hardly been heard of since to beat the worst Australian side in memory.)

The Strauss declaration — it means he will not play again until the end of May — has roused the cricket elite to hysteria.

The Times, a newspaper which leads the nation’s thought with sentiments more suited to the 17th century, devoted a leader to the subject. The airwaves, the letters columns, the wiseacres in the posh gentlemen’s clubs and those retired and therefore completely out of touch have all had their say.

Summed up, it says, “Damn it, man, it’s not cricket.”

As for me, I could not care less if Strauss never captains England again. Even though I have not been within 5,000 miles of Durban, Cape Town or Johannesburg my gut feeling is that he is in the bottom third of those who have led England and I have the word of a couple of very distinguished captains that they feel the same.

Brian Sellars, a great Yorkshire captain in the 1930s when they won everything that was on offer, laid it down that a cricket captain should never be more than three overs behind play.

Sometimes I have wondered if Strauss was closer than 30 overs. He missed every trick in the book when he agreed to leave out the match-winner Graham Onions and then batted first in the fourth and final Test; and sometimes he has not been listening when I have shouted “put in a short leg now, Andrew, please” or words to that effect.

If he were a sea-faring man, Strauss might be given charge of a lifeboat but not a liner; and his successor Alistair Cook may be the same. I suspect that he is chosen because he is a good Test batsman but just as much because — and I have personal experience of this trait — he holds open doors for ladies, makes sure everyone is in the lift before he enters and speaks softly.

You will be saying at this point that “ok, so you don’t like the idea of Strauss or Cook taking charge; let’s have your idea of the right man for the job.”

Fine, but don’t all faint at once. Graeme Swann.

Hoots of laughter, no doubt, but listen to his qualifications. Swann is a good all-rounder, hardly Andrew Flintoff but a decent, rough and ready No. 7 or No. 8 batsman, the best spin bowler England have and a safe fielder. England’s star of the last 12 months.

He has the words to dominate a Press conference — not the least of the necessary tools for a modern captain — and as an off-spinner he must have a knowledge of tactics beyond the ordinary.

You have to know what you are about if you bowl off-spin. Not for you the shock of a bouncer, the glory of a yorker, the ball that rips down the pitch at 70 miles an hour, pitches in line with the leg-stump and hits the off. You work hard for your triumphs.

Remember that Swann took his wickets in South Africa without a doosra, but with some beautifully flighted balls that undermined batsmen in the way that a dripping tap cuts through a limestone slab.

Think Fred Titmus rather than Muttiah Muralitharan, think steady rather than spectacular, think about the statue of The Thinker, puzzling over his next move, outwitting the opposition by subtle changes, planning his next over before he began his run-up.

I confess I loved the variations within a narrow discipline; the sight of Ye Olde English off-spinner going about his work like a plumber or a joiner or the man who has come to fit an additional electric socket.

The downside of Swann is that he has a record of defying authority — one team manager wrestled him to the floor to stop him irritatingly bouncing a tennis ball during a team meeting — and that he gets up the collective noses of those who believe that everything done by a Test captain is coated with gold leaf.

For instance in the fourth Test Graeme Smith brought on J. P. Duminy who promptly bowled the worst long hop in history which Paul Collingwood lobbed to deep square leg and was caught.

“What a brilliant move by the South African captain!” bellowed the BBC commentator — double-barrelled name, visits Buckingham Palace twice a week, member of an MCC committee, absolute cert for a knighthood one day.

What if, while Strauss is sunning himself in the Caribbean, Cook proves a shrewd captain, makes a heap of runs and encourages victory in Bangladesh?

Oh, I can tell you the answer to that. Everything he does will be ignored on the basis that nothing on the sub-continent counts. Strauss un-jaded will return as opening batsman, captain-elect and the man most likely to retain the Ashes.

It will take more than success in Asia to change the minds of men who had their views settle long before they were born.