Andrew Strauss: a leader who does

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Andrew Strauss shows true leadership qualities writes Jeremy Loadman.

If you’ve ever been in the unfortunate situation of having to read, or even pick up, a management magazine, you’ll no doubt know that they contain no end of ponderous crap on how we can all shape ourselves into successful leaders. ‘Implement a strategic vision that will both motivate and empower other people’. Sounds alright, doesn’t it? It sounds even better when it’s followed by a picture of US football coach Vince Lombardi saying: ‘Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.’

While these sayings have more than an element of truth in them, the reality is that their overriding message that anyone can be a leader is a myth. That’s why myths are so powerful – if they didn’t have an element of truth to them, far less people would believe in them. No matter what the gurus in these magazines say about their ability to craft leaders (and trust me, they say a lot), the fact remains that true leaders remain about as rare as a meaningful observation coming out of Richie Benaud’s mouth.

However, the England cricket team in Andrew Strauss have found a good one. A very good one. Yes he can strategically implement a vision and motivate others, but this is not why he is a good leader. He is good because in the clutch moments he fights tooth and nail and comes through.

After being dismissed for third-ball duck in the first innings at Brisbane, Strauss must have felt like hanging himself. In fact, after the test he commented that he had never felt worse on a cricket field. Subsequently seeing his side collapse and then watching Australia pile on the runs, Strauss new that he had to perform in the second innings if England were going to fight their way back into the match.

Not only did he do exactly this but he did so after the traumatic first ball of his innings in which he shouldered arms to a Ben Hilfenhaus in-swinger that looked to be zeroing in on his off peg. Going by the appeal of the Australian team, they obviously thought that Strauss couldn’t have been more out if he’d turned around and kicked all three stumps out of the ground. His heart must have been positively thumping. But then he knuckled down and refused to be beaten. This is what good leaders do.

It is no secret that Strauss’ wicket is also the most prized by the Aussies and this is largely why Strauss is the most respected member of the England camp in the Australian dressing room. That Strauss’ wicket is to the Australians what Ponting’s is to the English is a positive sign for England: it’s shows that to lead this team, you have to be considered the best in it. In many sides in the past this has not been the case.

Cricket makes a big thing of its captains as it is one of the only sports where the captain does a lot more than just make a few perfunctory decisions at the start of the match. For this reason, some cricket sides have been willing to retain a thinker in the role even if he no longer displays leading form with either bat or ball. Examples that come straight to mind are Mark Taylor towards the end of his career, Mike Brearley and to a lesser extent Jeremy Coney (I say to a lesser extent because while Coney only averaged 37.5 in 52 tests, for a New Zealand batsman that’s played more than 50 tests, an average of 37.5 is still up there).

However, as the game has evolved, the room for the all-rounder captain – that is someone who justifies their selection on the basis of a combination of their batting and captaincy – no longer exists. To be considered captaincy material you must be able to hold your own in the side. That is, a leader who can actually do. It’s not often you’ll come across that saying in a management magazine either.

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