WHATEVER else happens in Andrew Strauss' career, he now knows he can never be denied the satisfaction of guiding England to their first Ashes win at Lord's in 75 years. It has been a long haul from rookie Middlesex opener – and former Gazette columnist – to fully-fledged Ashes legend, but that has now been achieved. It is hard to believe now that he seemed about to be discarded by England last year. His form had deteriorated to such an extent that his fantastic Lord's debut of a few years ago – when he made a century against New Zealand – and subsequent elevation to England regular seemed almost a mirage. But a ton in India resurrected his career and proved he has the mental toughness to accompany his talents with the bat. For all that, the jury was still uncertain over his merits as captain and he may still not escape criticism given the defensive run-saving fields he set when England were expected to close out the deal against the Australians on day four. Strauss was also widely criticised for his handling of the side in the first Test in Cardiff – when field placings and bowling changes appeared lacklustre. But it is hard to look a good leader on a flat-track where the opposition racks up more than 600 runs and only loses six wickets. The pressure to deliver at Lord's was enormous this week and although the job looks much easier with runs on the board, he still had to make the difficult decision about whether to enforce the follow on and then had to declare at the right moment. Plenty of wise old former cricketers voiced the opinion that Strauss got it wrong in not forcing the Aussies to bat a second time after finishing 210 behind on first innings, but Strauss was eager to avoid surrendering the initiative and it paid off.. He admitted he did not enjoy the best night's sleep of his life on the eve of the final day after the defiant 185-run partnership between Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin after tea on day four which genuinely gave the Aussies belief they could create a new world record fourth-innings total of 522 to win a Test match. It is not stretching it to say it was a career-defining test because had Strauss not overseen victory from such a position of strength, the knives would have been not so much out as firmly embedded in the captain's hide. But in the end, his rousing speech to his men just before the new ball was about to be taken during that Aussies second innings will be an enduring image of a man who succeeded rather than failed. “It's been a long time [without an Ashes win at Lord's] and the last two days have felt a long enough time.” a relieved Strauss admitted. “It's a very special victory for the 11 guys. We played some really excellent cricket and had to show a lot of character and fight. “To win an Ashes match here is something plenty of guys have dreamt about in the last 60-70 years and the fact we deserved victory made it all the sweeter.” Strauss was helped by the inspirational Freddie Flintoff, who took five wickets in a Lord's test for the first time on his very last appearance here in the longer form of the game. But that man of the match contribution still needed the first innings heroics of the captain himself in which to flourish and Strauss' 161 set the tone for the ground-breaking win. “That seems a long time ago now,” said Strauss modestly, “but it is very special to score a 100 at Lord's on the opening day of any match, let alone one as important as this one.”
Strauss enters England hall of fame
WHATEVER else happens in Andrew Strauss' career, he now knows he can never be denied the satisfaction of guiding England to their first Ashes win at Lord's in 75 years.