Thank you, Andrew Strauss. A cricketer and a gentleman

I dare say Andrew Strauss will never be considered a cricketing ‘great’. His stats simply don’t cut it.

He’s not a Bradman or a Sobers. He’s not a Lara, a Tendulkar or a Ponting. Neither is he a Boycott or a Botham.

He doesn’t even have the profile of Freddie Flintoff whose occasionally superhuman efforts and laddish charm won the hearts of a generation (even though, by his own admission, he should have taken more wickets and scored more runs).

No, Andrew Strauss will slip away quietly now that he has, somewhat unexpectedly, stood down as England captain and retired from the professional game.

There are all sorts of theories floating around about why he chose now to step down. A tough tour to India looms. The next Ashes is on the horizon. His form has been questionable of late (although no poorer than some other England players we could mention). And there was the ridiculous Kevin Pietersen (KP) affair which was a genuine googly for the England dressing room.

In truth I’m not bothered why Straussy chose now to make his move. I’m just saddened that I will never see this bloke open the batting for his country again.

There are many sportsmen – such as the flawed genius that is KP – who start to believe their own hype. Others act irresponsibly, act like yobs and forget they are in the public eye and that their actions bring their sport, their team and often their country into disrepute.

No-one could ever say that of Andrew Strauss.

He is a thoroughly decent, hard-working bloke who led England to back-to-back Ashes victories against the mighty Australians (once in their own back yard) and turned us into world-beaters.

Straussy is a man of no little talent with a bat, a good leader, an excellent fielder and a man with a great cricketing brain.

He also, in my opinion, possesses statesmanlike qualities which transcend the game and his previous roles.

No, he will never be considered a great. But Andrew Strauss was my favourite cricketer and I will miss him.

Thanks for the memories, skip.

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It’s the unsung heroes who I look for

It’s always the celebrities who grab the headlines, of course. People like good old Brucie. “He’s 83, you know! About time he got his gong,” I heard one fella say as I sat in the auditorium at The Regent theatre on Sunday evening watching the next generation of musical theatre stars strut their stuff.
Given his undoubted talent – and that remarkable chin – I wouldn’t begrudge Mr Forsyth his knighthood.
However, as a general rule, I’ve always had a problem with the honours system and the randomness of it all.
After all, who picks these people? Who nominates them? How does it all work?
How come a spectacularly useless former journalistic colleague of mine in North Wales got a gong but after 60 years in the business The Sentinel’s finest – John Abberley – didn’t?
How come our Robbie hasn’t received nowt yet despite the fact that he’s been the biggest name in British pop music for a decade?
To me, it all smacks very much of funny handshakes, a little bit of who-knows-whom and whole lot of Buggins’s Turn.
Once again, I looked down the very long list for the Queen’s Birthday Honours and, with half of them, I thought: Really?
Is it just me or do many of the recipients seem to already have a string of letters attached to their names?
You know the sort of thing: Rear Admiral Simeon Farquarharson III, MBE, OBE, KBE, DIY and City & Guilds in Woodwork (Level Three) is awarded the Order of the Gravy Train for services to his own waistline.
It strikes me that some people – particularly members of the Queen’s household, ageing politicians and senior bods in the Armed Forces and the police – get gongs just for hanging around long enough to collect a handsome pension.
Then I look at some of the recipients and I’m left wondering why they should be honoured above their peers.
Take, for example, David Higgins – who was given a knighthood for being one of the masterminds behind the creation of the London 2012 Olympic Park.
I feel sorry for the other ‘masterminds’. And, pardon me, but isn’t that his job? On that basis, can I be knighted too?
Then there’s England’s Ashes-winning cricketers – captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower – who were honoured with OBEs.
Meanwhile, player of the series Down Under – Alastair Cook – received an MBE for having the darkest and longest eyebrows ever seen in the Long Room at Lord’s.
OK, I made the second one up, but you take my point.
These sporting awards are patently ridiculous – and I say that as an avid cricket watcher and follower of our national team who will be at the Rose Bowl on Sunday for the next test.
Surely to goodness we should be ackowledging sportsmen and women at the end of long and illustrious careers not just because they’ve got one over on the convicts during the winter.
After all, if the Aussies had a similar system Shane Warne wouldn’t be able to move for the weight of medals round his neck.
Amid all the nonsense about famous faces, however, you can find examples of people whose endeavours have genuinely enriched the lives of others.
People such as Professor Roger Michael Boyle – National Clinical director for Heart Disease and Stroke, who received a CBE for services to Medicine.
Or IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards, aged 85, who was knighted eight months after being awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for his work that led to the birth in 1978 of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby.
Then there’s Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson, writer of 120 books and a saint to parents like me who love to read to their children.
She became an MBE just days after being named Children’s Laureate.
But, in all honesty, it is the local names I look for when the New Year’s Honours and the Queen’s Birthday Honours are announced.
People like Lilian Barker, of the Chesterton Community Forum, and North Staffs respiratory medicine guru Angela Evans, who both received an MBE.
I’d far rather see ordinary people like these honoured and given their moment in the sun than read more guff about celebrities being rewarded for the supreme feat of being themselves.

By George! Isn’t it time we recognised our patron saint?

Did you miss it, then? Chances are that, if you blinked, you would have. I am, of course, referring to St. George’s Day.

You know – flags with the red cross on a white background, that sort of thing.

I was up early and drove 67 miles during a day which didn’t finish until after 10pm.

Granted, I didn’t pass any civic buildings, but other than my own cufflinks, I clocked only one ragged emblem of St. George clipped to a white van on the A500 – along with the flag fluttering half-heartedly in the breeze above Sentinel Towers.

This sense of apathy makes me incredibly sad.

On St. Patrick’s Day you can’t walk down the street without being accosted by some halfwit wearing a leprechaun’s outfit staggering from an Irish-themed bar and claiming pseudo-Irish ancestry.

So why oh why are we so poor at celebrating the day of our own patron saint?

I know that the patronage of St. George isn’t the exclusive preserve of the English and that stories of the life and exploits of the said individual are many and varied. Dragons don’t exist either, apparently.

But does it really matter? The point is the national emblem of the English, along with the three lions, is the flag of St George. Why then are we so reticent to wave it about and celebrate our own heritage?

Let me give you an example. A bloke contacted The Sentinel on Thursday to say he had gone into a North Staffordshire pub on St. George’s Day dressed up as the mythic dragon slayer – only to be turfed out by bar staff who were afraid he may offend some of their customers.

Pardon? How, pray tell would he have offended them? Do some of their punters have an aversion to chain mail? Was it his plastic longsword?

Unfortunately, the reader asked us not to publish the story after his mate intervened and pub staff did a swift U-turn (having presumably realised they had overreacted just a tad).

This is exactly the kind of political correctness masquerading as multiculturalism which shames us all.

Stoke-on-Trent is strange place.

On the one hand it is a city with a proud history of tolerance. A city which has welcomed, and continues to welcome, people from different ethnic backgrounds from all over the world.

Examples include exiled Poles during the war and doctors from the sub-continent during the 1960s who went on to form the backbone of family medicine in the Potteries for generations.

We are also a city with several democratically-elected councillors belonging to the far right British National Party – which, in the eyes of Whitehall, is the equivalent of having leprosy.

Of course, the BNP isn’t slow to wave the red and white flag, which makes everyone else rather jittery.

This is presumably why we are forever apologising for our colonial past and falling over ourselves not to offend all and sundry while neglecting our own proud culture and traditions.

Forget my politics – I am very patriotic. If England were playing Ecuador in the final of the World Indoor Tiddlywinks Championship I’d probably watch it. Or at least set the DVD player for record.

You see, the flag of St. George doesn’t belong to the BNP or the Tories, Labour or the Lib Dems.
It’s mine… and it’s yours whenever you want it.

If you fancy dressing up in medieval garb and having a couple of glasses of your favourite tipple while toasting the health of Her Majesty and England’s cricket team ahead of The Ashes then you should be able to do just that – without fear of recriminations.

I mention sport because it brings people together like few other mediums can. When England play a football match it is as if our fears of being labelled extremists suddenly evaporate.

If Andrew Strauss has toppled the Aussies by August 24 then suddenly everyone will be a cricket fan and you won’t be able to move for red and white flags.

Poor old St. George deserves better than this. His emblem shouldn’t just be dusted off for major sporting occasions.

If our Glasgow-born Prime Minister wants to cheer up the majority of the electorate amid all the doom and gloom, then he could do far worse than making April 23 a national holiday in England – never mind what the captains of industry think.

At a time when we are all supposed to be pulling in the same direction, a time of unprecedented hardships, what better way than coming together as a nation once a year to celebrate whatever it is that Englishness means to each and every one of us?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel