I am a music lover and two recent happenings in the cricket world has somewhat dimmed my appetite for Test cricket. The first is Tim Southee’s breakthrough performance with the ball on Day 3 of the on-going India-New Zealand Test match which has more or less ensured a longer run for him ahead of the Phantom and Neil Wagner. The second is the rather sudden retirement of Andrew Strauss from all forms of the game (effectively Test cricket since he wasn’t playing the shorter forms for a long time anyway). Which means that when England tour New Zealand early next year, there will be no “Wagner running in his inimitable rhythmic action and Strauss has guided it away to the third man gently with his bat (on).”
Indeed, this is a season of denouements and having written a tribute for almost everybody who retired this year, I would feel rather hard done if I did not give Strauss a sending off. Admittedly, he is not my favourite batting great or the worthiest captain in my opinion but there is something about these South Africans. Err, Englishmen. Err, South Africans who play for England.
If there is anything apart from cricket and music that whets my appetite, that is mathematics. So we shall start off with a graphical analysis of Strauss’ career batting averages in Tests and ODIs. We have left out T20s since his participation in that format would be too inconsequential to consider.
Barring the odd game in 2003, Strauss started off with a bang in both Tests and ODIs. The first couple of years would be among his most productive before everything took a turn in 2007. In that year, his batting averages dropped to below 30 for Tests and below 20 for ODIs – not the ideal stats for an opener. As a result, he was promptly dropped from the ODI scheme of things as England looked for more dynamic batsmen in the shorter form of the game.
Strauss was not going to give up so easily and he worked his way up through Test cricket by scaling 50 in 2009 which was the best year of his career after his debut season. He subsequently found his way back in the ODI team as well and was soon helming England in both formats while averaging 45.
The descent though had already started and a match tieing 158 against India in the World Cup where he batted alongside fellow South African Pietersen was the best he could garner for a while. He was the lone Englishman who struggled in England’s 4-0 whitewash of India and, despite averaging a not-so-bad 33 in 2012, was brought under the scanner once again after the defeat at the hands of South Africa.
While his performance in Test matches at home (40.18 in 59 matches with 10 centuries) is more or less similar to his away performances (41.9 in 41 matches with 11 centuries), his ODI performances are chalk and cheese. Strauss clearly loved batting at home given an option – he average 45.56 in 52 home matches with 4 centuries as opposite to a lowly 29.18 in 74 away matches with 2 centuries including that epic in Bangalore.
With his penchants for big hundreds in ODIs against South Asian opponents (three scores of 150+ – twice against Bangladesh and once against India), it is a mystery as to why he finished Test cricket without a double century and with only three 150+ scores out of 21 centuries. He was, by far, not the best player of spin which explains Shane Warne’s (8 dismissals in Tests) and Nathan Hauritz’s (6 dismissals in ODIs) success against him. Brett Lee was his chief tormentor having dismissed him 11 times across all formats while Morne Morkel, along with Warne, has dismissed him the most number of times (8) in Test matches. The left armers Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan have had their share of success against him having dismissed him 6 and 5 times in Tests and ODIs respectively.
Strauss was no David Gower but he was no Mike Brearley either. He knew his limitations and he knew that he did not possess the insane genius of Kevin Pietersen. Instead he chose to be the nucleus around which an England team battered by controversy and poor form regrouped and slowly made their way to the top of the rankings. If we are to blame his personal form for England’s present downfall, we should remember that it was he who took them to the top in the first place. And given the number of peaks in his batting averages graph, one would always feel that, at 35, he was never too far from a comeback. So maybe there is the slimmest possibility that I can get to see a Strauss –Wagner concerto at the University Oval in Dunedin next February.