Andrew Strauss, the captain of the English cricket team seems to have started a controversy by making himself unavailable for the Bangladesh tour. Just back from a tough tour of South Africa , Strauss decided that he needed a break to re-charge his batteries . The Bangladesh tour is immediately followed by the World Twenty20 tournament which ends in mid-May. Since Strauss is not a member of the Twenty20 team, in effect he will be having more than three months off before returning to face Bangladesh at home. No doubt he plans to spend the time at home in London with his wife and two young children ,both below 5 years of age.He has not had much time with them since he assumed the captaincy last January. Over that period , he has played 16 Tests with tours of the Caribbean,(once), and South Africa ,(twice because of the Champions trophy). Altogether, that amounts to 122 days playing cricket for England and Middlessex besides travelling over 40,000 miles by plane and additional time spent on fulfilling media and sponsorship obligations.
The English Cricket Board has acquiesed with his plans because they want him to be fresh and fit for the gruelling year ahead : six Tests and ten one-day internationals in the summer, followed by an Ashes tour that starts in November and then a World Cup in India in February 2011. Geoff Miller, the national selector, is quoted as saying : “It is important that he takes a break ahead of an extremely busy programme. Captaincy is a mental battle and we want Strauss to come back refreshed for the summer.”
Alastair Cook will captain the English team in Bangladesh.
The decision has not gone over well with former players and most members of the British public. Strauss has been criticised by every English ex- captain , except Michael Vaughan. The consensus is that it is an honor to lead your country and that you cannot pick and choose when you want to play. They feel that it is a job, a very important one that carries it’s own obligations. They also feel that allowing Strauss to opt out sets a very bad precedent and that , in future, players might try to avoid going on tours to the less desirable places, like the Indian sub-continent. Also , what happens if the substitute captain does a great job ? Is it fair to take the captaincyaway from him and hand it back to his predecessor ?
Mike Atherton, in a column in the Times of London, harks back to 2001 when Alec Stewart and Darren Gough, two of the more senior members of the English team asked to be allowed to sit out the tour to India but wanted to be selected for the tour of New Zealand which was to follow immediately after. It seemed a reasonable request particularly in the case of Stewart who had not missed a tour since he joined the team in 1989. However, everyone knew that the two players’ objective was to give the ‘hard’ tour a miss while participating in the more enjoyable one.
Faced with a difficult situation and not wanting to set a dangerous precedent, Duncan Fletcher , the England coach, came up with an innovative solution. He told them that they could sit out either the Tests or the ODI’s on both tours but that they would not be allowed to sit out either tour in its entirety. As a result, Darren Gough played only in the ODIs in both countries while Alec Stewart lost his place in the team. To quote Atherton , “An important principle had been laid down: no matter how big the name, picking and choosing tours was not acceptable. And England competed well in the Tests in India without Gough and Stewart, showing that no one is indispensable.”
Andrew Strauss is not the first captain to want a respite. Ricky Ponting , who leads the Australian team , has been in the habit of taking a summer break for the past several years . He was roundly criticised by Steve Waugh, his immediate predecessor, but has continued this practice undeterred.India’s captain, M.S. Dhoni, sat out a Test series in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago and was excoriated by the Indian press and public , some of whom labeled his action ” unpatriotic”.
I think this is a lot of baloney.
I have great respect for Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Steve Waugh and the other former skippers but I wonder about their motives. Do they feel as they do because ” I did it without any breaks and you should too.” ?
The game of cricket has changed a lot even during the past decade because of the emergence of Twenty20 cricket and the IPL. The cricket calendar was already full but now it has become brutal. Twenty20 cricket imposes great burdens on the players , particularly on the captain. The games may be short but they are long on tension.When every ball is crucial, when victory and defeat are in the balance from minute to minute, when rapid fire decisions have to be made constantly it is nerve wracking for the captain. Dhoni once said that a three hour Twenty20 game was more exhausting than an ODI and almost as exhausting as a five day Test match. If bowlers , particularly fast bowlers , should be rested so that they don’t break down physically, shouldn’t captains be rested occasionally so as to keep them fresh ? Isn’t that even more true for wicketkeeper-captains who have the arduous task of keeping wickets in addition to the cares of captaincy?
The homily about ” the honor of playing for your country” is less true than it used to be . Certainly it is an honor but big time cricket today is a moneymaking proposition in which the cricket boards rake in the moolah, a lot of it . Consequently, there are few breaks during the year as the cricket boards try to schedule more and more matches. Board members , particularly in the sub-continent, are politicaians or other shady moneygrubbing types who have never played cricket and whose only interest is the bottom line. They have no idea nor do they care about the toll that non-stop cricket takes on a cricketeer’s body.Cricketeers today are , first and foremost salaried employees who are playing , often away from home , for most of the year. Don’t they have a right to some time off for their personal lives ?
The ideal solution would be to rotate players and that includes the captain. Against the lesser cricketing nations ,and /or in dead rubbers, full use could be made of the bench players and the team could be led by the vice -captain. This would be beneficial for players who are in limbo because an icon such as Tendulkar or Dravid has been occupying a spot on the team for 12, 15 or even 20 years. By giving the vice-captain a chance to lead the team , the selectors would be able to judge whether he has any leadership abilities while , at the same time giving the Vice -captain a chance to pick up valuable experience. Australia are the one team that employ such a policy and we can see the benefits . They have been able to ‘blood ‘a number of promising newcomers while still remaining at or close to the top of the standings. I would love to see the BCCI rest Dhoni as often as possible because I think the demands on him – as captain, wicketkeeper and batsman- are too much.
To get back to Andrew Strauss however, I think he is asking for too much. Even if he were to go on the the three week Bangladesh tour , he’d be able to enjoy five weeks off before and seven weeks off afterthe tour since he is not part of England’s Twenty20 team. Surely that should be enough.