Ashes 2015: Litmus test for Cook-Strauss partnership
In his last outing in an Ashes series, Andrew Strauss played a fine hand of 60 runs before Ben Hilfenhaus knocked his stumps over.
Though his display was comfortably overshadowed by an imperious knock of 189 by his opening partner Alastair Cook, then skipper Strauss could not be denied of his overall contribution to a famous series win on enemy territory.
The left-hander amassed 307 in seven innings, with three fifties and a ton.
Cook, in irrepressible form at the time, was adjudged Man of the Series for his memorable batting show against the might of the Aussie bowling.
For their exploits Down Under, Strauss was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire ) and Cook an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
Cook and Strauss, albeit in different capacities in 2015, once again find themselves at the center of another tough battle against their old adversary.
In 2012, Strauss was captain and Cook the country's new-found run machine. With Michael Clarke's men in town for the latest installment of Test cricket's greatest rivalry, Strauss is now the man in charge of running England cricket and Cook is in command of the ship.
Cook, having braved a storm, goes into a potentially career-defining Ashes series with the weight of runs behind him. Though he may not be the same left-hander who accumulated runs from Mumbai to Melbourne with relative ease, a match-winning ton against the Kiwis at Lord's will have calmed the jangling nerves.
Yet another Ashes rout could see the end of his time as England captain. The 5-0 drubbing in their last outing against the Aussies brought to the fore several issues plaguing England cricket.
In a sense, the wheels of the team came off with the exile of Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott's illness, Graeme Swann's retirement and diminishing batting form of Cook himself.
With memories of their biggest ever Ashes defeat still fresh in the minds of players and public, Cook and England cannot afford an encore on home soil.
After much debate and deliberation, Strauss was handed the role of cricket director by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) earlier this year.
Having ignored triple centurion Pietersen for Ashes selection, the 38-year-old found himself at the center of a huge controversy rocking English cricket immediately after taking charge.
A drawn Test and thrilling ODI series win later, Strauss appears to have earned temporary relief from the pressure that had been constantly mounting.
The Cook-Strauss combine has successfully kept the ship sailing through turbulent times. After occupying the director’s chair, Strauss has not only insulated his former batting partner from criticism but has also never dithered from his public stand of Cook being the right man to lead the team.
Under-fire Cook went on to reward the protection he was offered with a good batting and captaincy show against the buccaneering boys of Brendon McCullum, helping cool off some degree of heat that had been piled on to the duo.
There is little doubt about their compatibility, be it on the pitch or now off it. Strauss sees himself in Cook, as a man with the right ideals and demeanor fitting of an England captain. Perhaps he enjoys the comfort of sharing opinion and ideas with the mild-mannered Cook.
In Australia, Strauss-Cook are faced with their toughest test to date. The Kiwi dress rehearsal for the much-hyped Ashes series confirmed the belief that England are better equipped to take the battle to Clarke's side this time around.
In Mark Wood, England have found their match for Mitchell Johnson and company on the speed gun. Wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler is the much-desired X-factor in the batting line-up, while the emergence of Ben Stokes as a fire-breathing all-rounder has added a new dimension to an England side often accused of being predictable.
With a bunch of confident and at times cocky individuals by his side, the England captain now enters the most important battle of his cricketing career. Strauss has done a good job of drafting a squad he feels is capable of bringing back the urn to England. The control of both their destinies now lies firmly in the hands of his former batting partner.