“It’s hard to criticise either Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad in how they are on and off the field,” Strauss said. “They are exceptional performers on the field and they are very professional off it, which is why they have played for so long.
“What I do think is it gives an opportunity at the moment for people to stand up and play leadership roles they haven’t previously. We need a good solid spine to that team moving forward. We need leaders, not just the captain, and this provides an opportunity for some of the players to do that.
Wood was England’s stand-out performer in the Ashes, claiming 17 wickets at 26.64 including a career-best 6 for 37 in the fifth Test at Hobart, but the retention of Woakes is a more contentious pick. His six Ashes wickets came at 55.33, and further exacerbated a split between his world-class record in home Tests (94 wickets at 22.63) and his unconvincing stats abroad (31 wickets at 52.38).
However, the fact that the Tests in the Caribbean will be using a Dukes ball may have played to Woakes’ favour – as well as the fact that he can be relied upon to pitch the ball up and attempt to make it swing, an issue that was an apparent bone of contention between Root and his senior pairing after the second-Test defeat, when England’s captain publicly criticised the defensive lengths that they had bowled under the Adelaide floodlights.
While Strauss did not directly address that apparent cause of disquiet, he acknowledged that the vagaries of the Kookaburra ball demand a certain ruthlessness when the window of opportunity opens. With that in mind, he hinted that England would once again be looking to develop the horses-for-courses, home-and-away stable of bowlers that had been a feature of Ed Smith’s tenure as national selector, prior to his removal from the set-up by Strauss’s predecessor, Ashley Giles, last year.
“When the odds are in your favour in Test cricket, you have the opportunity to really put pressure on the opposition and dominate those sessions,” Strauss said. “I think Australia did that exceptionally well against us and we weren’t good enough against their bowling. I don’t think it is a case of criticising our bowlers, I just feel like when you are learning to win as a team, you have to identify those sessions and you have to win them well.
“When you are looking at selecting teams you need to make a distinction between England teams at home and away, because I think they are different things. Then, secondly, you are always looking at it strategically. What are our needs now between winning today and tomorrow and what are our best resources to do that?
“What you want is variety in your bowling attack. When you look at the team we’ve selected, we’ve got Mark Wood who gives us that X-Factor of extra pace, and we’re looking at Saqib Mahmood as someone who can develop into that kind of bowler. Then you want the tall, hit-the-deck bowlers and ones who are able to swing the ball. We’re trying to have that variety in the attack, so whatever the conditions we can exploit this.”
Despite the clarity of his decision-making, the timing of Anderson and Broad’s removal from the set-up has come under fire, not least from the former England captain Michael Atherton, who wrote in The Times that it was an “odd moment” to make such a call.
England have won one Test series in the Caribbean since 1968 (coincidentally it came in 2004, the last time that neither man featured in an England Test squad), and Strauss was at the helm for the chaotic campaign in 2009, when he and Andy Flower came together as an emergency captain-coach partnership following the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores.
“I’ve been to the West Indies a number of times and it’s not an easy place to go and win, and England’s record there is not good,” Strauss said. “We definitely have to take that into account. When you’re selecting teams you’re always trying to balance winning today with winning tomorrow, and you’re trying to do both, quite frankly.
“Thinking back to 2009 – and history doesn’t repeat itself, so you have to be careful not to draw those parallels – but one of the things we did early in that tour was just have a frank and honest conversation about where we were as a team, and that’s the sort of thing that will happen out there on the ground in the West Indies.
“We need to get better. And there have been all sorts of reasons why you could mitigate our performance recently, around workload and bubbles and all that sort of stuff. But we’re looking forward here. No one likes to see English Test cricket where it is currently. That’s the players’ responsibility, the coaches’ responsibility and we need a degree of honesty and humility as well for us to move forward.
“We feel like we’ve selected a team that is capable of winning out in the West Indies and that is absolutely the intention,” Strauss added. “But of course we’ve got half an eye on tomorrow – it’s the start of the new cycle and it would be remiss of us not to do it. My job is really to give that new director of cricket and coach options to choose from going forward and we’ve got that opportunity right at the moment.”
When Strauss last came on board as England’s director of cricket, in the spring of 2015, he made a similarly big call about a big personality by finally ending speculation about Pietersen’s potential recall to the Test team – a decision that subsequently helped the incoming head coach, Trevor Bayliss, to start his tenure with a clean slate.
However, Strauss insisted that to describe Anderson and Broad’s longevity as an “issue” that needed similar resolution did a disservice to their outstanding contributions to the Test team.
“I don’t see it as an issue to be ‘dealt with’,” Strauss said. “I think that’s very harsh on James Anderson and Stuart Broad. They’ve given everything to England cricket over a long period of time. The new director of cricket and coach will have their own strategic ideas and that’s absolutely right for them to go in the direction they feel is fit. What I’m trying to do is just create options for them.”
After speculation that Alec Stewart and Richard Dawson might be drafted in as England’s stand-in coach for the Caribbean tour, Strauss eventually opted for Paul Collingwood, Silverwood’s deputy, to provide continuity. He will be backed up by Marcus Trescothick, Jon Lewis, Jeetan Patel and Carl Hopkinson for the series and, like Flower before him in 2009, Strauss acknowledged that Collingwood had a big opportunity to stake his claim for the role in the long term.
“It’s a five week tour, and it feels like there’s a distinct advantage of having someone who has been part of that set-up already,” Strauss said. “Paul Collingwood obviously deputised for Chris Silverwood out in the West Indies with the T20 team and had done a very good job out there by all accounts.
“He is definitely one we should have an eye on moving forward for the head coach’s role. It’s an opportunity for him to understand what that job entails and to start this process with the red-ball reset as well. He’s the right sort of character to do that. He’s enthusiastic, he’s got bundles of energy, he’s very clear on how he sees the England Test team playing.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket