Nasser Hussain: Why Andrew Strauss the tough guy played it just right

By Nasser Hussain for the Daily Mail

Andrew Strauss was right to deny Graeme Smith a runner at the climax of England's outstanding win over South Africa.

It is down to the umpires to decide if someone can have a runner and, as I understand it, they were not happy for the South Africa captain to have one, so why should Strauss step in?

Smith had cramp, which is a fitness issue rather than an injury, and it is impossible to criticise Strauss for saying 'no'.

Enlarge   Andrew Strauss

Hardball: Andrew Strauss confronts AB de Villiers, refusing him permission to run for South Africa captain Graeme Smith

You have to remember that, in the build-up to Sunday's game, Strauss had been criticised publicly by his coach, Andy Flower, over his generous decision to recall Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews after a run-out.

Strauss must have been conscious of that criticism as he weighed up the situation with Smith.

If I had been captaining England, I would have done the same thing over Smith but I would not have called Mathews back.

Graham Onions, who collided with Mathews as the batsman attempted an ambitious second run, was just moving back to the stumps. I think Mathews sensed he would not have beaten the throw anyway and was determined to make the most of the collision.

This was a very different incident to the one at The Brit Oval last year in which Ryan Sidebottom basically took out New Zealand's Grant Elliott. Paul Collingwood, England's captain that day, was rightly criticised for failing to recall the Kiwi batsman.

Enlarge   Graeme Smith

Angry: Smith reacts after Strauss refused him a runner

I have watched the England bowlers closely over the last few months and I think they are making a deliberate attempt to try to make sure batsmen have to run around them rather than allowing them to complete their runs in a straight line.

That is fine. It is streetwise, it is within the laws and, as a captain who played with a win-at- all-costs attitude, I am not going to criticise anyone for playing the game in the same way.

But I have not seen enough of Onions to know whether he does that as much as the likes of Stuart Broad. There was no way he could have avoided Mathews and England were not at fault.

I was a bit surprised to hear Flower disagreeing with Strauss in public over Mathews because the pair of them are so close-knit, even though I respect Flower's honesty and agree with his attitude.

If Duncan Fletcher, the coach in my time as captain, disagreed with something I did, he would support me in public while making it clear what he thought in private.

Having said Strauss did exactly the right thing over Smith, the South Africa captain might be entitled to feel aggrieved about England's decision to replace Owais Shah with a substitute fielder during Sunday's match.

England return to South Africa for a one-day series in November and then take on the best Test team in the world on their own patch in December, and if Smith sees Shah doing what he did in Centurion, then surely he will say to Strauss: 'Sorry, you can't have it both ways.'

There can have been only two reasons for Shah going off during this Champions Trophy game. Firstly, that he was suffering from cramp himself and went to rehydrate, or secondly, England simply wanted to get a better fielder on.

England, in truth, have for a long time been abusing the law which is supposed to stop players going off unless they are injured or ill. Not even an ICC crackdown has seemed to change things. The umpires haven't been strong enough to stop them.

When I was England captain I didn't like seeing players going on and off the field all the time. If someone is picked for England they should be picked for the whole match - not to bat or bowl and then get off to allow a better fielding substitute.

James Anderson celebrates dismissing Herschelle Gibbs

Pure joy: James Anderson celebrates dismissing Herschelle Gibbs as England see off hosts South Africa in the Champions Trophy

If I was Shah I would be embarrassed to think that my captain didn't want me on the pitch because my fielding was not good enough. He had scored 98 on Sunday and I'd have thought he would want to be out there for the whole game.

These incidents should not overshadow two superb England performances. Strauss and his side have been exceptional in reaching the semi-finals against the odds.

The wins over Australia at Durham and Sri Lanka in Johannesburg did not tell me anything I did not already know about England, because conditions suited them on both occasions.

But to do what they did on a flat pitch at Centurion against a formidable South Africa side in hostile conditions was the most exciting thing I have seen from England's one-day side for years.

Playing teams other than Australia has helped them because they have stepped off the treadmill of the seven-match one-day series and there have been no expectations on them to succeed in the Champions Trophy. And England are usually at their best when nobody expects them to do well.

What they have to remember now is that Sunday's performance is the blueprint for what is required of them. It cannot be allowed to be a one-off

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