Even before Ruth Strauss died aged 46 in December, the seeds of the celebration of her life that takes place on Thursday, when Lord’s will be painted red, had been sown.
Ruth, the Australian wife of former England captain Andrew, was known for lighting up every room she stepped into but had spent more than a year fighting a rare form of lung cancer.
In her final weeks, she and Andrew had spoken about how they could help others suffering — both in terms of providing greater understanding of the illness through research and pre-bereavement support for families in a similar position.
A month after she died, Strauss was getting to work setting up the Ruth Strauss Foundation, which, along with supporting his sons Sam (13) and Luca (11), has become the focus of so much of his abundant energy. He is working closely with Cancer Research UK and Maggie’s Centres.
Thursday will be the Foundation’s first big day. Fans coming to Lord’s have been encouraged to wear red — Ruth’s favourite colour — and the teams will wear special shirts with red names and numbers, while caps will be presented to Andrew and his two sons in the morning.
There is an online auction with some fine lots, not least Eoin Morgan’s signed match shirt from the World Cup final. That win was the culmination of a project Strauss started in 2015 as England’s director of cricket, before stepping down last summer to be by Ruth’s side. The blueprint of the day is clear: Australia’s Jane McGrath Day. Jane, the English wife of the great fast bowler Glenn, died of breast cancer in 2008 — and the third day of the Sydney Test has been turned “pink” for 11 summers now, raising millions of dollars.
“What has amazed me throughout the whole process is how willing the MCC, the ECB and the whole cricket family had been to make it happen,” says Strauss.
“Protocol has been chucked to one side, they have said crack on and do it. It’ll be mindblowing to turn up to a full house wearing red, we’ve got a big flag, the players’ caps, my kids will be there. It will be emotional but I’m hopeful the whole cricketing community will be there to support us and help us grow.”
The awareness and research is desperately needed. The form of lung cancer Ruth contracted was brutal. It affects only non-smokers and, while that is the case for just 10 per cent of lung cancers, it still accounts for 5-7,000 diagnoses every year.
“We don’t know why people get it,” says Strauss. “But it seems on the rise. The majority of people are diagnosed when it’s too late. That’s our experience and we need to find out why.”
Strauss admits his perspective on cricket, the game that has consumed his life, has changed. The World Cup, a project he has been so invested in, was suddenly “just a cricket tournament”.
“It’s not a straightforward journey,” he says. “There are times it hits you straight between the eyes, and is hard, genuinely hard. There are other times when you’re busy, life is cracking on, and you are living day to day.
“From the kids’ perspective, they are at school, busy. We are all probably in a better place than I thought we would be but that does not mean it’s not very tough at times.
“The tough times... people make them sound dark but for me it’s remembering what you’ve lost. And I almost don’t ever want to lose that... it is keeping Ruth’s memory alive.”