So it’s Strauss.
There seems little doubt that the man who appeared nailed on to be a blazer at the ECB post retirement is indeed going to be a blazer at the ECB. That people are sceptical about this is hardly a surprise, if you were to pick an Inside Cricket candidate, it could only be Strauss whose name would come up. The line from the media is that he should be given a chance to address the doubts, and that’s a fair line as far as it goes, but it doesn’t acknowledge a fundamental point – that the ECB have broken any level of trust with the supporters that they once had, and don’t deserve it either. It is possible Strauss will surprise us, and to that extent a degree of patience is warranted but only a degree.
The ECB have never addressed the relationship with those who provide the money for them. The “Outside Cricket” jibe festers for good reason. It’s never been apologised for and fundamentally there are only two options – that the ECB don’t realise the damage it caused, or that they don’t care. Neither is exactly to their credit.
It’s always a matter of conjecture how representative those who Tweet or comment in the newspapers or on blogs are of cricket supporters, but Ed Smith’s preposterous argument that because those who do are only a small minority, that is evidence that it’s an unrepresentative minority is nothing but an example of confirmation bias at its worst. For a man who basks in a reputation of high intelligence, it’s a remarkably stupid argument to attempt to make. The truth is that all the indications are the dissatisfaction and indeed contempt for the ECB is widespread. Proof is impossible to come by, but evidence is still evidence. If Smith wants to try and reject that, he needs to demonstrate that there is support for how the ECB conduct themselves. Claiming the support of the silent majority on the grounds that they are silent is desperate.
Of course, what the usual line of dismissal focuses on is Kevin Pietersen. It is a classic example of a straw man argument, as I’ve said on so many occasions, Pietersen is a symptom not a cause. And this is where the question of how Strauss will handle the matter becomes critical. It will without doubt be the first or second question that is put to him, meaning that within seconds of his getting the job, the disaster of the ECB’s own making will once again be front and centre. Strauss is hardly in a good position already, having notoriously been abusive on air about him. His response to that question is going to be what creates the headlines, however he addresses it, that much is in no doubt. Some of the press reports are suggesting that the line will be that a return will cause too much disruption, and this remains ludicrous. Of course it would cause disruption to the cosy little world the ECB live in – whose fault is that? It is because of the incompetent, ham-fisted, unprecedented decision to sack a player that it is still an open sore. The continuing refusal to acknowledge that it is the bed they made for themselves is precisely the problem – and precisely the reason for the scepticism about Strauss himself.
Should England have a bad summer, as seems distinctly possible, this will become even more acute an issue, so long as Pietersen scores runs. The only way of responding that will give Strauss credibility is a simple statement that all players who merit a place will be considered for selection. Stick to that line, and don’t move off it, for that is the only one that won’t involve the potential for having to make a U turn. And here’s the rub, how on earth can it be controversial to consider selecting your best players? If he’s not one of them it doesn’t matter – the only reason they tangle themselves is knots about it is because of a fear deep down that he might be.
Let us cast this forward – if indeed England play badly, and Pietersen scores runs, then a failure to state all players are available for selection is simply going to be unsustainable. Players who aren’t in the team always improve in status anyway, for such a famous one to be ignored is going to be constantly questioned. Do they really believe that will be less disruptive than the alternative?
Yet again it ends up coming back to Pietersen. The irony is that this is frustrating whatever side of the debate one is on. The previous regime are actually correct in that it shouldn’t be. Everyone would like to move on. Including those awful people who buy tickets. Strauss’s hardest problem is finding a means to do it, and for his own benefit that means being open to his selection, should it be merited. Any other decision will quite simply undermine his credibility from the outset.
And what of captain and coach? It’s been noted that Straussy and Cooky are close, and that’s another problem. Not in itself, there’s clearly nothing wrong at all with people being friends, but the captain is himself in considerable trouble. Will Strauss be clear sighted enough to see that and take action when needed? There have to be doubts. It is not the job of a Director of Cricket to prop up his mate, nor to refuse to see reality. Strauss’s commentary has hardly been overcritical of his captaincy to date. Does he really believe Cook is the best captain England could have? For it really is as simple as that.
For all the debate about Peter Moores as coach, there is doubt he would go as far as to sack him. Moores may well be out of his depth, but Strauss’s own likely appointment is because of the conservative nature of the ECB, that conservatism is no different when it comes to the choice of coach. Whatever Moores’ failings, he’s exactly the kind of man the ECB will want to see at the helm. That limits things to Peter Moores type coaches in the first place, and Moores is probably a good example of that kind of coach.
Fifteen years ago England chose Nasser Hussain as their captain. Hussain was abrasive, incredibly unpopular on the county circuit, difficult, opinionated and hard to handle. It is impossible to imagine the current ECB ever appointing such a person. It is equally impossible to imagine the ECB appointing someone like Darren Lehmann. That doesn’t mean that Lehmann would be the correct choice, it means that the ECB limit their choices from the outset. Which is why we end up with an Andrew Strauss. Safe, comfortable and quite probably the right kind of chap with the right kind of family. So much of the dismay about his likely engagement is less about Strauss himself and more about what it represents. A refusal to admit that they might have got things wrong before, and a refusal to admit that they might need to change. It is unsurprising in any way.