Andrew Strauss: Natural leader whose biggest impact could be yet to come
The former England captain has set up the Ruth Strauss Foundation in memory of his late wife.
Andrew Strauss’ long and proud service to the game of cricket makes him a fitting beneficiary of the sport’s latest knighthood, though there is a sense the honour comes at a time when his work beyond its borders has only just begun.
Strauss will go down as one of the most influential cricketers of modern times, having played very different roles in each of England’s three biggest achievements in the past 20 years.
In the 2005 Ashes, the best loved and most revered series most fans can remember, he was the only batsman in either team to make two centuries. Later emerging as a natural captain he led England’s only series win Down Under since 1986 and this summer he was the unseen administrative architect of the national side’s historic World Cup success.
As a sporting CV it is hard to beat, but his latest honour finds him at the outset of a new chapter. It is one that finds him bouncing back from personal tragedy and ready to pour his considerable abilities at wider issues.
Strauss’ wife Ruth died of a rare form of lung cancer in December, by which time he had already given up his role as managing director of England cricket. For now he is dealing with the unexpected trials of being a single parent to his two boys, Sam and Luca, but the Ruth Strauss Foundation is already up and running and, with his drive, leadership and contacts book, its aim of bringing profound change to the lives of affected families appears eminently achievable.
When he successfully managed to take over Lord’s with a day of awareness building and fundraising during the most recent Lord’s Test, Strauss managed to turn the historic venue into a sea of red – Ruth’s favourite colour – and raised over £400,000.
Strauss is savvy enough to know it was not just his name that allowed him such a dramatic statement – it was his exploits as an athlete that placed him in position.
Born in Johannesburg, but relocated to England at the age of six, he came through his education at Caldicott School, Radley College and Durham University with an accent, a demeanour and an allegiance that rendered him a quintessential Englishman.
For all the England national side is mocked for its reliance on imports from South Africa, his name is rarely ever invoked.
After earning his stripes at Middlesex, Strauss made his early international steps in the limited-overs arena only to announce himself more emphatically on the Test stage.
He made a debut hundred against New Zealand at his home ground, Lord’s, and might have made another had he not been run out by then captain Nasser Hussain. Such was Strauss’ impact, Hussain opted for retirement rather than blocking the younger man’s progress.
A year later he played all five Tests in what became known as ‘the greatest series’, helping end an 18-year wait for an England win in the Ashes. By reaching three figures at Old Trafford and The Oval, and producing one of the greatest catches at Trent Bridge, he played a full part in a game-changing summer for the sport.
He was long considered ‘officer class’ but had to wait for his chance to be named permanent England captain in 2009. He went on to lead the team 50 times – exactly half of his final tally of 100 caps. Only Michael Vaughan can better his record of 24 wins, but Strauss’ reign was one of peerless highs too.
Alongside Andy Flower he fronted a phenomenal victory over Australia on their own soil in 2010/11 and soon after raised the side to world number one status – the first England side to be officially recognised as such.
That his eventual exit was surrounded in acrimony following a falling out with star batsman Kevin Pietersen was regrettable for all concerned but his status was undiminished.
As such it was barely a surprise when he became arguably the most powerful man in the English game less than three years later.
He was an active MD, still attuned to the contemporary player and respected by the more senior powerbrokers. One key decision he made was to prioritise white-ball cricket with an eye on the transformative effect a World Cup win on home soil could have for the game.
At the time it was a long shot but, when Eoin Morgan lifted the trophy in July, it had come through. Strauss had exited by then, unable to finish the job with Ruth’s struggle close to its end, but in the aftermath of the triumph his name was toasted warmly and often.
He plans to remain in cricket, but no longer in a full-time capacity, and will devote a great deal of energy to his wife’s foundation and hopes for nothing short of a significant impact.
That he will do so as Sir Andrew Strauss is testament to him, and in all likelihood, a deserving honour for what is still to come.