Aug 31 2012 By Jon Batham
Andrew Strauss Image 2
AS A regional journalist chances to chat with Andrew Strauss did not come along every day.
His fleeting appearances over the last five years for the county for whom he made his first-class debut in 1998 were usually spent finding form and avoiding the hoard of national hacks wanting to ask about all matters England.
Consequently, it was a year ago yesterday I last had the pleasure to interview a cricketer and a man whose retirement from the game this week leaves a void at the home of cricket for all the right reasons.
The occasion was a significant one – Strauss had just made a career best 184 not out on the first day of a County Championship match against Leicester at Lord’s en route to the only double century of his career.
The few minutes in his company outside the Middlesex dressing room amid the grandeur of the Lord’s pavilion demonstrated why the overused title legend should – much as he would hate it – sits comfortably on his shoulders.
His immediate reaction to passing his previous best of 177 against New Zealand at Napier in 2008 was to be self-deprecating, suggesting the lack of a double hundred on his CV for so long had been a mild source of embarrassment.
Yet, 17,000 first-class runs over a 14-year professional career at an average of almost 43, getting on for half of them at Test level against some of the best new-ball bowlers there has ever been, with the added responsibility of captaincy for club and country thrown in, speaks volumes for his value.
The context of that 241 not out against the Foxes tells us more about a man who unlike others of lesser calibre only stepped into the media spotlight because his role demanded it.
He had just captained England to the top of the Test rankings courtesy a 4-0 whitewash of an Indian team complete with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
The merest hint to England coach Andy Flower that he needed a rest would have led the ECB pull rank on his county and pull him out of the Leicester game.
But for a former Seaxes’ captain, whose side were trying to return to the County Championship’s top tier for the first time in six years there was apparently never any question of ‘pulling a sickie.’
He simply remarked at the time, “I’ll have plenty of time off at the end of the season.”
Such a willingness not to bask in the glory, but to become one of the boys again in a cause all but the most ardent Middlesex fan would term insignificant by comparison says much about the loyalty of a man seemingly universally respected by his Middlesex team-mates.
Youngster Sam Robson, who made a century at the other end during Strauss personal mile-stone admitted it had been an ‘awesome experience’ and ‘An education’ to be in his company in the middle.
Returning to the humdrum of the county circuit never appeared a chore to Strauss, recognising as he did it was the foundation stone for the 100 Test caps that followed.
Even if he felt he did not owe anything to the county game he played as if he did.
I remember another less auspicious occasion earlier that summer when searching for form ahead of the Sri Lankan tests he turned out for Middlesex against Gloucester at Uxbridge.
With the national hacks packed into the press tent as never before waiting to write his international obituary he dropped three catches at first slip, the last greeted with head in hands with no sense of denying the snappers the photo they craved.
There was no sense of the stiff upper lip from a man for whom whatever the occasion it always mattered.
I count it a privilege to have witnessed not only Strauss’ career-best, but also his last appearance for Middlesex earlier this summer, again at Uxbridge, against Championship chasing Notts.
His first innings effort was education enough as on a damp club wicket he made 50 out of a total of just 98, looking calmness personified while other floundered.
By the time he came to the crease on the third day his side were 231 in arrears and staring at an innings defeat.
His response was an unbeaten hundred which saw his side heading towards safety when the rains came – an innings which may yet have proved crucial in preserving the First Division status his earlier personal mile-stone had helped secure.
The Middlesex fans among us could not have known at the time how fitting a bow this was for a man who will be remembered with affection as a giant among those who have entered through the Grace Gate.