Cricket’s hierarchy appeared to have achieved the rare feat of a relatively seamless transition from one England captain to the next after Andrew Strauss on Wednesday handed over one of the toughest jobs in English sport to his deputy, Alastair Cook.
The ritual is one that usually comes with tears, bitterness, a national inquest about the demise of English cricket and questions over what made the outgoing captain resign, plus the attendant debate on whether the new man is up to the job.
But Strauss’s decision to quit the captaincy and retire from all forms of the game, while tinged with slight disappointment at England’s recent failures and his own poor form this summer, brought to a close a remarkably rosy chapter in English cricket.
Strauss, 35, will go down as one of England’s most successful captains, the highlights of his tenure coming in 2009 when England won the Ashes, followed by a comprehensive 3-1 series victory in Australia in 2010-11.
Alongside the quietly spoken coach Andy Flower, Strauss oversaw England’s rise to become the top-ranked test-playing nation, although it lost that status to South Africa after losing this summer’s three-match series.
“I’d like to go out on my own terms, with my head held high,” he said at a Lords press conference to announce his departure. “I would hate to have overstayed my welcome.”
Had his own form and the team’s fortunes been going well, he might have stayed on, he said. “But I haven’t been playing well and that has helped me make my decision.”
His three-and-a-half-year tenure as captain restored order to the England team after the more troubled leadership of his predecessors, Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.
Strauss was twice overlooked for the job in favour of the beer-drinking Flintoff and the outspoken, South African-born Pietersen. Both were dominant personalities in the dressing room and the team’s best players, and their claims to the captaincy could not be ignored.
Strauss, however, brought a calmness and authority to the position that had been lacking. Cook, aged 27, his regular opening partner at the crease, is regarded by the England and Wales Cricket Board as a captain in the mould of Strauss, and has long been groomed for the succession.
Angus Fraser, chief executive of Strauss’s county Middlesex, said: “When you get a good system in place, it’s more likely that you can make a seamless and less dramatic transition.”
Strauss and Cook are similar in several ways. Both are public schoolboys and less flamboyant than their team-mates, both in demeanour and in the way they play the game. “They are more similar than maybe [captains from] previous regimes,” Mr Fraser added.
Cook, already England’s one-day captain, said he was “inheriting a side in a very good state”. But South Africa’s 2-0 series victory, secured at Lord’s this month in what was Strauss’s 100th test match, extended England’s poor run of form to six defeats in the last 11 Tests.
“It is time for the side to refresh,” said Strauss.
Cook’s first challenge is a difficult four-test tour to India this winter, followed by next year’s home and away series against Australia.
But perhaps his biggest task will be resolving the dressing room tensions surrounding Pietersen whose confrontations with the England hierarchy, including Strauss, have been a feature of the cricketing summer.
The star batsman was dropped for the Lord’s test against South Africa after it emerged he had sent texts to members of the opposition making derogatory remarks about Strauss.
While Hugh Morris, England’s managing director, said there would be discussions with Pietersen “behind closed doors”, the rest of the team, hugely respectful of Strauss, are unlikely to rush into welcoming him back. The departing captain said he decided to quit before the Pietersen furore, although he admitted the past few weeks had not been ideal.
Strauss added that he would like to stay involved in cricket. “I would like to think I played the game in the right way and adhered to my principles.”
● To the pavilion: Andrew Strauss was born on March 2 1977 in Johannesburg. His family moved to the UK when he was seven. He was educated at Radley and Durham University, studying economics. His cricketing education developed at Lord’s playing for Middlesex. He made a century on England debut, also at Lord’s. He was twice overlooked for England captaincy until 2009, when Kevin Pietersen was sacked. He won 24 out of 50 tests as captain, including two Ashes series, home and away. He scored more than 7,000 Test runs and 21 centuries. His final test this month – at Lord’s – was his 100th.
● To the crease: Alastair Cook was born on Christmas day in Gloucester and educated at Bedford School. Cook was a chorister at St Paul’s school and is an accomlished musician. He made his debut for Essex second XI at 16 and his England debut in India in 2006 aged 21, scoring a century. Now aged 27, he has clocked up 83 Tests and more than 6,500 runs, scoring 20 centuries. Last year, he was appointed captain of England’s one-day side and Test vice-captain. Cook took charge of the side for 2010 tour of Bangladesh, when Strauss opted not to travel.