“You must have confused me with myself” – Michael Palmer in The Promises of Glass
Writing an autobiography must be an enervating task, as any task which involves holding a mirror to one’s conscience undoubtedly is. However in “Driving Ambition”, as Andrew Strauss successfully demonstrates, an act of voluntarily revealing an original face clothed in a perennial public mask need not always be an exercise in either anguish or arrogance. The autobiography of England’s former Ashes winning captain and opening batsman is a grand prose of purpose, poise and professionalism. Shunning egotistical self-approbation (a fact which Shoaib Akthar would do well to appreciate if ever he plans to bring out a sequel to his autobiography), and abhorring superciliousness (an unfortunate and unexpected highlight of the much vaunted autobiography of Sachin Tendulkar), Strauss adopts a matter-of-fact narrative that is at times absorbing and at others, fascinating. Without a shadow of doubt this is one of the more impressive books that elucidate the professional and personal travails and triumphs forming the cornerstone of a cricketer’s life, to have been released in recent times.
The one undeniable beauty of the book lies in its subdued character. In a wonderful display of crafty dexterity, Strauss relays the context but artfully reigns in the content. The foundations of necessity underpin every chapter in the book. The contours are exquisitely laid out and the edifice honed to perfection. In more ways than one, Andrew Strauss’s work is just an extension of his arm that held a trusted Gray Nicolls blade with distinction over the course of exactly a hundred Test Matches. Firmness overshadows Flamboyance; Grit obfuscates Genius; and Purpose overwhelms Pomposity. Driving Ambition covers a whole gamut of topics as it lays out the illustrious life of its protagonist. Dynamics of team building joust with administrative harangues; the burdens of captaincy tussle with inexplicable loss of form; and internecine squabbles contrast with incredible player unity.
Strauss, instead of opting to have himself as the centre piece and theme of his book (even acknowledging the fact that it is an autobiography), elects to present important situations that revolved around key individuals, of which he himself comprised an integral and indivisible component. Ashes victories are attributed to a combination of astute coaching and acclaimed teamwork, while defeats are ascribed to poor performance and the force exhibited by a deserving opposition. There are no lamentable references to blame games or finger pointing. A refreshing aspect of this book is the complete absence of much abused clichés such as ‘the ball looking bigger than a football.’ The language is simple; the style is minimalist and the objective honest. The Chapters describing the wresting of the hallowed Ashes urn from the seemingly invincible Australians are a delight to read. The Teutonic exploits of a marauding Andrew Flintoff in what has now been universally acknowledged as one of the greatest Test Match series to have ever taken place, brings back memories of hope, audacity an conviction.
Straus does not shy away from taking uneasy topics head on, just as he never shied away from taking on the likes of Brett Lee and Shane Warne (although the latter won their duels more times than Strauss would have been comfortable with). Shane Warne trying to mentally unsettle Strauss by calling him “Daryll” (a snide reference to the unfortunate and clueless but otherwise brilliant Daryll Cullinan) evokes a fair degree of humour. The remarkably unsavoury saga involving the rambunctious Kevin Pietersen is dealt with in an unbiased and clinical manner, according the benefit of doubt to all the parties involved before finally weighing down the unfortunate and untimely consequences. The loss of a batsman of KP’s ability while a body blow for England, was however an inevitability and in the long run, perhaps even a blessing instead of a curse. But in no point of time does Strauss belittle the cricketing talent or game changing ability of one of the most destructive batsmen ever to have graced a cricketing arena. The Mumbai terrorist attacks that rocked the iconic Taj Hotel that resulted in an abrupt cancellation of an ongoing India-England series find poignant elucidation. The brave and commendable resumption of the series and Sachin Tendulkar’s superhuman performance to lead India to a sentimental victory makes for some gripping reading.
Even when elaborating about his own lack of form which resulted in him being excluded from the England Test team before a redeeming knock at Napier sealed his place once again in the squad, there is no scrambling for excuses. Similarly the deplorable bleeper on public television involving the ‘c’ word (used to describe Kevin Pietersen) is apologized for and there is also a frank admission of the strain on an already fragile relationship being further exacerbated. Strauss proves that he has the ability to be a capable administrator when he dwells at length on the new rules formulated by the ICC bestowing unbridled powers on the “Big Three” of cricket, Australia; England and India thereby facilitating a further accentuation of their collective financial muscles and administrative clout, much to the detriment of the other cricketing nations. His concerns regarding the untrammeled mushrooming of Twenty20 cricket at the dangerous expense of Test Match cricket also indicate a futuristic outlook, an outlook that warns of a real threat to the most sacred and indispensable version of the game. He also describes the mental pressure that wreaks havoc on the mind of a touring player ultimately triggering the deadly onset of depression. The examples of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy being classic cases.
Overall, Driving Ambition is a pleasure to read and as the finishing pages of the book lead one to believe Strauss is just not yet done with his writing career. In the interests of millions of both English fans and neutrals of the game alike, let us hope that his new found passion not only equals but exceeds the length that illuminated a magnificent cricketing career.
Driving Ambition – Timed to Perfection!