(Happy times as Ashes Winner, sad times after being bowled by South Africa this summer)
My narative first starts in 2003, a plucky young Graeme Smith turned up for his first tour of England and as captain went on to smash 259 in the first test at Edgebaston, this lead to the resignation of Nasser Hussain.
Then, five years and one Ashes success later South Africa and Graeme Smith once more proved the downfall of another England captain. The South African opener hitting 154 not out on the final day to win the third test and the series (once more at Edgbaston), this time Michael Vaughan stepped down.
Fast forward four more years, that brings us to now and the Saffers have done it again... Twelve months ago Andrew Strauss was riding high, he'd lead England to the top of the test rankings, they were the best team in the world. He'd taken on the progress from first Nasser then Michael and used that foundation for not one but two Ashes victories - including one down under and turned the side into a well drilled unit. Unfortunately a tricky winter followed, despite a promising start to the summer the South Africans, still lead by Graeme Smith, then returned. His team came over and beat England in their own back yard comfortably and by playing them at their own game. I said afterwards that Strauss needed to take a close look at his own game as his form has not been good for a while now, but I am surprised to see him stand aside and even more shocked to see him retiring from all professional cricket.
It is probably unfair that I've turned a post about Andrew Strauss into one about Graeme Smith's knack of seeing off England captains but I wanted to draw parallels. I see each captain that I've mentioned picking up on what the last had done and improving the team and system further. For me the Saffers are the second toughest visiting team after the Aussies (although the sub continent is toughest away), so the timing in all three cases makes some sense, you've gone through a big test and you want to rebuild before the next Ashes series - you need to give the new captain that chance.
When Andrew Strauss looks back at his career he can do so with a lot of pride. Every time I heard him speak I thought he was a great ambassador, not just for England but for the sport as a whole. On top of his excellent professionalism there aren't many Englishmen who can call themselves 3 times Ashes winners, twice as captain. There are even fewer who can say that they've scored more than 7000 runs and hit 21 centuries. Only the great Boycott, Cowdrey and Hammond have scored more... just the one more at 22 and his 7037 puts him currently 10th on England's all time run makers list. He's also played 100 tests and 50 as captain, you don't get to do that unless you are very good indeed. It's a shame that one of his main reasons for standing down was his "form with the bat", thinking that he "wasn't going to improve". It is fair to say he averages just 31 since the last Ashes test in the winter of 2010/11, which as an opener just isn't good enough, and has gone a long way to dragging his average down to a touch below 41. I hope this in no way tarnishes what has been an excellent career. Thank you for the memories Andrew.
When one door closes another one opens. England now will look to the future, with Alastair Cook taking over the test captaincy to go with his position as one day captain. It always seems that with the added pressure of the job the captain's form (at least in England's case) dips a little. Hopefully though Alastair wont suffer from this, at just 27 he has already amassed an awesome amount of runs and looks likely to become England's highest ever run scorer as well as scoring more centuries than any other (currently just one behind Strauss). There are reasons to be optimistic but it will be challenging for him, he'll be leading a relatively inexperienced side, particularly in the batting order into one of the toughest places for visiting teams this winter when they travel to India. He will also need to forge a new opening partnership with someone which will probably be crucial by the time the Ashes machine starts rolling again next summer and winter. Hopefully everyone will get behind him as, given Strauss's resignation, he is the obvious man for the job.