Andrew Strauss has stepped down as director of England cricket after three-and-a-half years in the role, in order to spend more time with his family while his wife Ruth undergoes treatment for cancer.

Strauss, who handed over many of his day-to-day duties to Andy Flower during the 2018 home summer, will take on a more flexible role with the ECB, and will play a part in assisting Tom Harrison, the ECB chief executive, in recruiting a full-time successor ahead of England’s tour of the Caribbean in the New Year.

It means, however, that he will not now be at the helm as England enter a defining year in 2019, when they host the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, then take on Australia in a home Ashes campaign.

“After three-and-a-half incredible years with the ECB, I have taken the difficult decision to step down from my role as Director of England Cricket,” said Strauss.

“Next year is potentially the most important the game has had in this country, with the World Cup on home soil and a home Ashes series, and we have an incredible opportunity to do something special. It is vital that the Director of Cricket can give consistent guidance and support to England Cricket through this period.”

Strauss’s appointment in May 2015 came in the wake of England’s disastrous showing at that year’s World Cup, and he endured a gruelling first few weeks in the job, including terminating Peter Moores’ second spell as England coach, as well as drawing a line under any prospect of Kevin Pietersen earning an international recall.

On his watch, England have taken significant strides towards becoming a genuine force in white-ball cricket – following his appointment of Trevor Bayliss as head coach in 2015, England reached the final of the World T20 the following year and go into next summer’s World Cup as favourites.

The Test team’s fortunes have plateaued in the same period, although Strauss’s appointment of Ed Smith as the new national selector has seen the beginnings of a revival in the long-form game. This summer’s 4-1 series win over India atoned in part for a disappointing display during the Ashes, a tour that was at times overshadowed by the circus that surrounded the squad in the wake of Ben Stokes’ arrest in Bristol last September.

Strauss had intended to remain on the tour throughout the series, but chose to fly home in the wake of England’s defeat in the second Test at Adelaide after hearing the news of his wife’s diagnosis.

“Taking time out this summer to support my wife and kids, as Ruth goes through treatment for cancer, has given me the chance to fully consider what’s right for England and what’s needed at home,” he said. “The role in cricket requires total focus and commitment to deliver the best results, yet right now I need far more flexibility than could ever be possible in my position in order to support my family.

“I will not be leaving the game completely – initially helping Tom to shape the role for my successor, then supporting a range of other ECB projects – but it’s important to see someone else in place for a crucial summer in 2019.

Harrison responded to the decision on behalf of the ECB. “We’re very sad to see Andrew step down from the role and we all wish him and his family the very best,” he said. “He deserves huge respect for the way he has managed his role, fully supported Ruth and their boys and calmly considered this decision. And it’s hard to overestimate his contribution since joining us in May 2015.

“He is an exceptional talent and it is easy to see how he has made a success of each step in his career – moving from dressing room, to captaincy, to commentary, to a key role in the governing body – and all the while being the most popular of colleagues.

“Andrew has brought enormous credibility, measured thinking, strong leadership and exceptional insight and we have been extremely fortunate to have worked so closely with him for the last three and a half years. He has improved the ways we work and set the direction for the men’s Test, one-day and T20 teams.”

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