Daniel Gregory’s weekly column: Tight call for BBC Awards will see cricket pair come close

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THE lead up to the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards has been slightly tarnished by the ridiculous debate about a lack of any female nominees on the 10-strong shortlist.

It’s a shame really as this year’s candidates have had a superb 2011 and have had their nominations marred by a society that seems obsessed with political correctness.

Nonetheless, the 10 candidates are hard to separate. All have had a superb past 12 months and fully deserve their nominations.

Amir Khan may have lost some support after his petulant behaviour following his recent defeat at the hands of Lamont Peterson in Washington. Andy Murray came close to his first tennis major, getting knocked out in the semi-finals of the French Open, US Open and Wimbledon.

There are the obvious nominations for British golfers Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald. All three will come close to picking up the highly decorated award, won last year by an emotional Tony McCoy.

But for me, it comes down to a battle between England’s cricket stars - captain Andrew Strauss and his opening partner Alastair Cook.

Both make an excellent case for why they should win the award.

Reading Andy Bull’s piece on Strauss on the Guardian website over the weekend, I thought to myself ‘this is a no brainer’.

Surely the man who has spearheaded an England side from utter turmoil and bitter in-fighting to be the top ranked Test playing side in world cricket is an absolutely astonishing feat.

Under the tutelage of Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores, England were a divided unit.

Strauss and new coach Andy Flower have well and truly sorted out England’s problems from top to bottom.

England are now a solid squad. They bat well in partnerships and bowl as a unit - and their fielding epitomises their strength as a team.

Bull wrote: “Captaincy is a test of personality, or rather character, and Strauss’s fortitude and phlegmatic wisdom have been the key component in creating the England team’s culture of success.”

But what about Alastair Cook?

Rewind 12 months and read the back pages Britain’s red tops. Headline after headline calling for Alastair Cook to be dropped due to his dismal form leading up to the Ashes tour.

So vociferous were the cries for him to be dropped, that there was actually talk of re-jigging the batting line-up in order to get rid of him.

Five Test matches and an unbelievable 766 runs at an average of 127.66 later, Cook has laughed off all talk of his place being under scrutiny and showed an unbelievable amount of mental strength to ward off the doubters.

Both would be superb and worthy winners of the award, but my vote would go to Strauss - just.