It is doubtful whether there will be any tears (à la Gwyneth Paltrow) or long boring speeches but if, as he should, Andrew Strauss is selected as the ICC Cricketer of the Year at the sixth annual Cricket Oscars in Johannesburg on October 1, it is likely he will receive the accolade in the cool and understated manner we have become accustomed to.
Strauss, who is on the shortlist with Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir the Indian opener and Australian paceman Mitchell Johnson, has had a phenomenal twelve months (the award is judged on performances between August 13, 2008 and August 24, 2009). During this time, Strauss has scored six centuries in 14 Tests as well as regaining the England captaincy in unhappy circumstances from Kevin Pietersen and the Holy Grail of The Ashes in a much more memorable fashion.
That all this was achieved following a career saving 177 against New Zealand in March 2008 makes his subsequent performance all the more remarkable, as well as ably demonstrating the strength of character and fortitude of the Radley educated Strauss. Since that typical show of grit and determination, Strauss has not looked back and along with Gambhir, Graeme Smith and Virender Sehwag is today regarded as one of the best Test opening batsmen in the World.
I feel that the top award should go to Strauss for two reasons. Firstly, his batting has been of the highest class as six centuries in fourteen Tests would suggest. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, his captaincy and man-management skills have enabled an England team demoralised by the public squabbling of Pietersen and former coach Peter Moores to get up off the canvas and defeat their old foes to regain The Ashes.
Strauss’ year (in a qualification sense) couldn’t have started better personally with a century in each innings against India in Chennai. Unfortunately, a whirlwind 83 from Sehwag and an inspired century from Sachin Tendulkar saw India chase down 387 for victory.
Then came the public spat between Pietersen and Moores that saw the downfall of both men. Consequently Strauss suddenly found himself back as England captain, having previously captained the side against Pakistan in 2006 (due to injuries to Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff). This unexpected turn of events meant that Strauss and temporary coach Andy Flower had a matter of days to mount a repair job before the side boarded a plane for a series against the West Indies.
Although the series in the Caribbean ultimately ended in disappointing defeat mainly thanks to the shambolic 2nd innings batting performance in the First Test, when England lest it not forget were bowled out for 51, the tour was important in unifying the group after the Pietersen-Moores debacle. Strauss again showed that leadership inspires his own performance by racking up 541 runs in the series with three scores of 142 or over and an average of 60.11. Indeed his average when captain stands at 56.14, 12 runs higher than his overall Test match average, and of those who have captained for at least 15 Tests, is behind only Don Bradman, Mahela Jayawardene, Gary Sobers, Graham Gooch and Brian Lara – notable company indeed.
As part of his elevation to skipper, it is understood Strauss insisted he also be reinstalled in the one day side as he rightly believed in the importance of the same skipper for both main forms of the game. Although the less said about England’s one day side the better, Strauss’ own performance since coming back into the team after five games of the current one day series against Australia is 480 runs in 12 matches at an average of 43.63 with one century and four fifties. Not exactly World beating, but pretty good all the same.
After two straightforward victories against a distracted and dispirited West Indian side at Lords and Durham saw the Wisden Trophy quickly return to English hands, Strauss set about the main task at hand – regaining The Ashes. As we now know this is something he achieved with some aplomb.
Strauss’ captaincy was solid if a little unspectacular, although he should be congratulated for turning to Stuart Broad after lunch on the second day at The Oval and also for managing the Flintoff retirement sideshow with a good deal of nous and little fuss. Moreover, the fact that England recovered twice in the series from huge disappointments (from near defeat at Cardiff to triumph at Lords, and from despair at Headingley to elation at The Oval) is a huge testament to Strauss’ leadership and ability under fire.
Furthermore, his batting throughout the series was sensational – without it England would have probably lost the series. His 161 laid the platform for the historic victory at Lords – he not Flintoff should have been awarded man of the match. At The Oval, his patient fifties in both innings laid the foundations for what followed. To say that England, shorn of Pietersen for the last three Tests, over-relied on Strauss was perhaps the biggest understatement since the British soldiers defending the Spion Kop said that there were only a few Zulus on the hill preparing to engage them in battle.
Dhoni, who has taken to captaincy like a duck to water, the consistent Gambhir and the sometimes erratic Johnson have all had great years, but it is Strauss who should win the ICC Cricketer of the Year.
LG ICC Awards 2009
Shortlists of nominees (in alphabetical order)
Cricketer of the Year
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Ind); Gautam Gambhir (Ind); Mitchell Johnson (Aus); Andrew Strauss (Eng)
Test Player of the Year
Gautam Gambhir (Ind); Mitchell Johnson (Aus); Thilan Samaraweera (SL); Andrew Strauss (Eng)
ODI Player of the Year
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI); Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Ind); Virender Sehwag (Ind); Yuvraj Singh (Ind)
Ben Hilfenhaus (Aus); Graham Onions (Eng); Jesse Ryder (NZ); Peter Siddle (Aus)
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