I can well believe that Andrew Strauss did not give up the captaincy because of what Kevin Pietersen tweeted about him to the South Africans. It must not have pleased him, but I think the real reason he gave up was that he realised he could not ensure that England occupied the summit of cricket in the way Australia did for more than a decade.
In other words, this was a managerial decision. Modern sport, particularly cricket, is run very much like a top company. You have a chief executive, which is what Strauss as captain was, and helping him was an executive-style chairman in Andy Flower. They had rescued the company after the 2009 Pietersen fiasco and taken England to No 1 last summer.
But for Strauss, this was just a staging post. In recent months I have interviewed him several times, and last year, just before the season began, I was struck by his vision for England. He wanted England to have a long reign at the top, something he said no English cricket team had ever enjoyed.
Let me recall what he said to me after I spoke to him at the end of last summer when England had hammered India. India, remember, came as World Cup holders and the No 1 Test team, but failed to win a single international. Despite this, Strauss emphasised that England was far from the finished product and he would not hear talk of England as the new Australia. “It would be wrong to talk of us in the same sentence as the Steve Waugh or the early Ricky Ponting sides because we haven’t done it for long enough. We’ve played good cricket for two years, they played good cricket for eight or ten years in all forms of the game.”
Strauss told me that early last summer he had thought of a planned retirement from the game. “At the start of the season, when I stopped playing the one day game, I was trying to think a little bit too much of, well, how far do I want to go? How do I want it to end? Since then, I’ve just let it go. As long as I’m enjoying the game and playing well and the England team is doing well and it doesn’t feel like the right time has come yet, I’ll keep playing.”
He had given up one day cricket after last year’s World Cup because at 34, he did not see himself going on to the next one four years later. But when we spoke then and on another occasion, it was clear he felt there was a lot of test cricket left in him. This was not the start of just gradually winding down and he looked ahead to future series, including the back to back Ashes series coming up next year. As he put it, “There’s a hell of a lot of really top quality cricket ahead of us. That’s genuinely exciting and very motivating for me and hopefully I can go on and play a part in all of those series.”
He did say, “If I get to the stage where it just doesn’t feel right any more, then I’ll retire.”
And he has retired, not because of the KP tweets, but because as chief executive of the England team, he could not see himself making sure that England got back to the top and remained at the top. And in the very managerial way Strauss works, this seemed the right time to go and give the company over to his deputy, Alistair Cook, in whom he has much faith.
Follow Mihir on twitter @mihirbose