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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Arsene Wenger may be a whinger, but he’s got a point about abuse in football

It is, of course, in the interests of Stoke City manager Tony Pulis to stick up for the club’s fans.
It was certainly no surprise to hear him insisting that the abuse hurled at his counterpart Arsene Wenger at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday was nothing out of the ordinary.
The Potters boss is right when he says all managers put up with what we colloquially term ‘stick’ – along with every player who pulls on a shirt and all of the match officials.
I suppose the real question is: At what point does the barracking at football grounds cross the line and become unacceptable?
For example, even the most one-eyed Gooner would have to admit that the sight of massed ranks of Stoke City fans standing behind Wenger and mimicking the Arsenal boss’s frenetic arm-waving and fits of pique was hilarious.
However, you are into far muddier waters when certain sections of the media begin to suggest that some of the chanting was racist because it included references to the Arsenal manager’s nationality.
The problem is that football is the modern-day equivalent of a gladiatorial arena and, when swept along by the emotion of the occasion, ordinary people occasionally say the daftest and most offensive things – things they would never normally dare utter in their everyday lives.
Policing these verbal assaults is a tricky business and, although great strides have been made in recent years to stamp racism out of national game, you still hear some appalling things on the terraces.
I sit in the Bycars End at Vale Park, occasionally with my young children, and frankly I’m appalled at some of the industrial language and the abuse – because that’s what it is – that we have to listen to.
Yes, it goes without saying that the referee and the linesmen are rubbish (aren’t they all when a decision goes against your team?) but that doesn’t prompt me to question their parentage.
Then there are those fans who believe that shouting abuse at their own team’s players is some sort of genius reverse-psychology which will make them perform better.
All I can say is it wouldn’t make me want to work any harder.
At this juncture I should point out that I don’t believe Port Vale or Stoke City supporters to be any worse than fans of any other football team in England when it comes to the abuse they dish out to visiting teams, managers or officials.
Arsene Wenger may hold a special place in the hearts of some Potters fans but I would suggest that is more because he has made a habit of belittling a Potters team whose style of play has become a real thorn in the side of his high-flying Gunners.
Let’s not forget, he also didn’t endear himself to the red and white half of our city with his over-the-top rant against Ryan Shawcross for the tackle which broke the leg of Welsh international Aaron Ramsay.
The Frenchman certainly has a penchant for melodrama and hyperbole – which, of course, makes him perfect for the role of a Premier League manager.
When I spoke about terrace chanting previously, one bloke told me that, as it’s a football match, I have to accept that abuse of players, managers and officials goes with the territory.
Pardon me, but I don’t think children should have to be excluded because certain people need to wash their mouths out. Or is football no longer a sport which families can attend together?
Strangely, I never hear any of this sort of thing when sitting in a packed crowd at Lord’s, Trent Bridge or Edgbaston watching England’s cricketers.
The players may indulge in a little light ‘sledging’ of the opposition batsmen but you simply don’t hear the sort of abuse prevalent at football grounds from cricket followers.
Football, it seems, has its own low standards which I believe have as much to do with the game’s governing bodies, so-called celebrities and national media hype as they do with the fact that it is still regarded as the game of the ‘working classes’.
After all, this is a sport where some of the game’s leading lights excuse racist and bigoted comments by blaming ‘cultural differences’ and fail to challenge the most cynical actions of high-profile players.
It is a game where those top players continue to earn vast sums of money and are still allowed to represent their country after getting away with the kind of behaviour which would see them in clink if they did it in front of a copper up ’Anley on a Friday night.
It is a game where some fans think it is OK to boo an opposition player for having suffered an horrific injury or think it is acceptable to abuse people on account of their sexuality or brand them a ‘gypo’ because they have long hair.
Arsene Wenger may indeed be a whingeing Frenchman but he also may have a point when he says that one day soon football will have to get its house in order.

Give me cricket any day

When Stuart Broad took the last two South African wickets today it reminded me why I fell in love with cricket some years ago. England had pulled off a remarkable feat – going, quite literally from the ridiculous to the sublime, and exploiting the Proteas’ inherent ability to bottle it from a seemingly insurmountable position. I may be a lover of test matches, but even I have to admit that this one-day, pyjama-clad spectacle had it all. Woeful batting, brilliant bowling, nail-biting drama and a result that was never clear cut until the last ball had been bowled. I love my football, but I don’t half get cheesed off with the hypebole that goes hand in hand with our national game. For sheer enjoyment, generally unsullied by politics, egos or mind-boggling sums of cash, give me cricket any day.