Ed Kemp met up with the retired England captain at Lord’s (where else?) to talk life after cricket and first ever tons.
So then Andrew, what have you been up to since calling it a day at the end of the summer?
There are a few things starting to kick off now. My immediate priority as soon as I hung up the boots was just to chill out and relax with the family, put everything to bed, then gradually turn my attention towards new things. I’m kind of getting to that stage now. I suppose it’s likely that I’m going to do a few different things now: maybe some media, some work in administration in some capacity and then the opportunity to exploit some business opportunities, either in leadership training or management consultancy, and corporate speaking type things. I’m invested in a new development in St Lucia called Freedom Bay where we’re also setting up a cricket academy, so I’ll be involved there. But I’ve had a chance to see my young kids and also to get in contact with a few of my old mates who I haven’t had a lot of time to see over the years.
What’s it been like watching England since you packed up?
It is quite a unique situation. On the one hand I kind of look at some of what’s going on and try and look at it from a captaincy perspective, and then I have to forcefully say ‘no, just watch it and enjoy it’. I’m still in contact with quite a few of the lads, but just offering support really rather than trying to butt my nose in particularly. I desperately want to see England go from strength to strength and build on the foundations that have been put in place. If they can go on to build something really special it will be fantastic for me to know that I was a part of that.
You’ve been in touch with them while they’ve been in India then?
Yeah, a few text messages, a bit of banter really, which is great because they’re good mates of mine. But I’m also aware that I’m not in the loop anymore, they’ve got their job to do, and it’s a very close knit unit – and that’s the way it’s got to be.
Who’s been your best mate in the game?
Probably the guy that I spent most time with over the course of my England career was Paul Collingwood; we are good mates and will continue to be. But you’re very good mates with a lot of the guys, because you spend so much time together – you become like a second family to each other, especially with such long periods away from home – and certainly when you go through things like an Ashes series with each other, it doesn’t matter whether it’s tomorrow or in 10 years’ time, you’ll be able to meet up and have a beer and relive some very special times that you went through together.
It’s fair to say Alastair Cook has been in pretty decent touch since taking over…
He has, and I think as a batsman he will go on to set records that no one will ever beat. Cook will go down as England’s greatest player ever in my opinion. It’s a big call, but knowing him as I do I believe that’s what he will achieve. He will look at it now and think people’s expectations are unrealistic because they expect him to keep on doing it ad nauseam forever and actually every time you bat for England it’s difficult, and hard, and you’ll go through periods of bad form. But injuries apart, I’ve seen enough of him to know that he’ll come through all of those things. He’s a very special player; England have been very lucky to have him and what I admire most about him is that the way he approaches the game is the right way: it’s about putting the team first, it’s about doing your bit for other people, it’s about looking after your teammates. And those are things that are as important to me as how many runs you score.
What was the main reason for the timing of your exit in the end?
There isn’t one overarching reason, it was a number of things. My batting I felt was going down a bit of a slippery slope; I didn’t feel like I was going to get better, I felt like I was going to gradually drop off. I’d captained the side for quite a long time and I was feeling quite tired, I felt I didn’t have enough energy. And the side needed a bit of a refresh; we’d got to No.1, dropped back a bit and I didn’t have the energy to add impetus to that refreshment process. And if truth be known I felt that probably I’d achieved everything I wanted to out of the game so that’s not a bad time to go. And from Alastair’s point of view, if I hadn’t retired then I had to commit myself for another 18 months at least, and I just didn’t feel I had that in the tank. Now Alastair’s got the opportunity to bed himself down before the two Ashes series coming up.
Retirement has proved a difficult decision for the likes of Ponting and Tendulkar recently…
I think a lot of people fight against the dying of the light, because it’s what you know and it’s what you love doing. But only the individual knows when the time’s up and you’ve got to respect people when they make that decision. Some people will say some players should have quit earlier, but at the same time I think there’s something quite heroic about people going out there even though they’re not the players they once were and still fighting. It just depends on the individual.
Obviously Ashley Giles has taken over as one-day coach and will work alongside Andy Flower from now on. How does Giles compare as a character to Flower?
Ashley Giles has always been a very impressive figure to me: he was one of those Test cricketers who got every last ounce out of his ability and I think those sort of players end up being good coaches because they’ve had to search everywhere for the extra inch, whereas the very natural kind of talents maybe don’t think about it enough to be a good coach. He’s done a great job with Warwickshire, he’s a passionate man, and he’s willing to have the tough conversations as well. So I think he’ll fit really well into the set-up – he’s been involved in the team quite a lot as a selector anyway.
Did you feel the change was necessary?
I think the splitting up of the positions is a great idea, long term I think that’s going to really help England to focus on both one-day and Test cricket whereas up until now it’s been very difficult to do that. By definition one almost has to take a second row seat to the other. The job was just not possible to do long term and keep some semblance of a family life, and keep energetic and motivated, which as a leader, as a coach, is so important, because that’s what your job is. Andy was very good at keeping his cards close to his chest so he didn’t complain… I think he’s done an absolutely extraordinary job with the team, but this comes at the right time, it allows him to stay involved in the side which I think is crucial, and it frees up more of his time to work on more of the long term strategy side, and allows Ashley to focus on the one-day stuff and get that better and more consistent.
Just before we go Andrew… this is for AOC’s hundredth issue. Do you remember your first ever ton?
Yeah, it was at school – Radley College – against an Australian side actually. It was really special because I think I was 15, so I was quite old, relatively. It was a big moment to finally break that duck – it had become a kind of millstone round my neck. I pulled one for four when I was on 98. It was pretty special.
That must be the oldest first century for someone who made as many Test runs as you! Did you take your helmet off and give it the Strauss overhead smash celebration?
I hadn’t developed the overhead smash celebration yet, and I’m not sure I took my helmet off, in fact I’m not even sure I was wearing a helmet! It was a long time ago, it might have been the old doff of the cap.