There’s still a week before the ODI series in India kicks off. That means there’s time to dust off the TFT crystal ball and have some fun. The predictions below aren’t necessarily the most likely eventualities, but I do think there’s a significant chance at least none of them materialise. And yes, my middle name is ‘caveat’.
1. Alastair Cook keeps his job … for now
We all know the cricketing reasons why Cook should resign as captain – the main one being that he’s a bit crap. However, the cricketing establishment has always rallied around Cook – who is the embodiment of well-spoken middle-class Englishness – and therefore the ECB will elect to preserve his perfectly cured Waitrose bacon once again.
When Cook refused to make any big decisions in the aftermath of the 5th test (ostensibly because emotions were still very raw) what he actually meant was this: “look guys, everyone will have forgotten about this debacle by the time the Champions Trophy finishes … so I’m going to play for time until this whole silly crisis blows over”.
I guess there’s a slim chance that Alastair could chuck in the towel – I’ve written about this extensively – but it’s more likely he’ll cling on like grim death. Remember how he reacted to losing the ODI captaincy? The lady’s not for turning … unless we’re talking about turning one around the corner to leg slip of course.
2. Alastair Cook finally resigns just weeks before the Ashes tour
If there’s one thing England need to avoid, it’s Joe Root taking over as captain just before the Ashes begins. Consequently, the natural rhythm of English cricket will surely dictate that this disaster transpires. Here’s how I see things unravelling …
After England finish runners up in the Champions Trophy (more about this later), everyone’s forgotten about our winter failures; therefore the good ship Cook avoids an early decommissioning. However, this team hits another mine as soon as South Africa arrive.
A resurgent Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander toy with Cook’s technique throughout the series. Philander in particular finds a very good English length and has Cook caught behind by De Kock in each of his first six innings of the series. Suddenly, the supposedly rejuvenated skipper looks forlorn and out of sorts once yet again.
Accepting that he can no longer ‘lead from the front’, Alice persuades a reluctant Alastair to step down. A national day of mourning is declared by new Prime Minister Nigel Farage.
Joe Root immediately steps into the breach but is unable to prove anything as all three late summer test matches against the West Indies are rained off. Well, what do you expect when a test series extends well into September and one of the games is at Headingley?
3. England “do really well” but don’t actually win the Champions Trophy
After putting up a decent performance (but ultimately losing) the ODI series in India in January, expectations remain high for Eoin Morgan and his band of happy hitters. When we beat the Windies 2-1 in March, cricket fever reaches, erm, fever-pitch.
The delirium is mollified somewhat when we lose 0-2 to Ireland at the start of May, but confidence is restored when we dispatch the Cricket Boks 2-1 immediately before the Champions Trophy actually begins.
After beating Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia in the group stages, and then squeezing past India by virtue of a more than generous Duckworth Lewis calculation in the semis, England face Australia again in the final.
Chasing 310 to win, England are cruising to victory at 300-4 when Joe Root holes out for 164. His replacement, the unexpectedly recalled Ravi Bopara, then loses us the game by swinging and missing at twenty-four consecutive deliveries. Steve Smith dedicates Australia’s win to popular Neighbours actor Ryan Maloney.
4. Haseeb Hameed does ‘ok’
After scoring a couple of fifties in India, everyone in the country is jumping on the Prince Hameed bangwagon. And why not? England rarely pick teenagers and we’re always on the lookout for new heroes. However, opening in India (where Virender Sehwag averaged 54) and opening in England (where Virender Sehwag averaged 28) are quite different. I’m not saying that Haseeb is a similar player to Sehwag – I do have eyes – but the moving ball does make life in England slightly trickier.
I’m guessing that Haseeb will struggle a little against South Africa – perhaps averaging 30 and making one or two fifties – but then score heavily against the West Indies. And when he does reach his maiden test ton, I propose we all play a drinking game. Every time a commentator / journalist says “surely the first of many” everyone has to down a can of Special Brew. It might be a memorable day for Haseeb but I’m not sure about the rest of us.
5. England selectors sacked and replaced with …
After finally losing patience with Jim, Gus and Mick, Andrew Strauss decides the selection panel needs to get younger and more with it. Consequently he loses no time in appointing Alastair Cook as the new chairman of selectors (England’s first ever selector / captain / player). The pride of Essex is joined on the panel by James Hildreth and Michael McIntyre. No conflict of interest there obviously.
Things soon start to go awry when Cook appoints himself as captain until 2025. Then further eyebrows are then raised when Hildreth is named in the squad for the first test of the summer. When asked what he’s done to merit selection – other than scoring 1000 championship runs before the end of April – Hildreth admits that accepting a place on the selection panel was the only way he’d ever get a gig in international cricket.
A man at the back wearing a false moustache and a raincoat (who looks suspiciously like James Whitaker) storms out in disgust muttering “cheap runs at Taunton” under his breath. Meanwhile, Michael McIntyre skips into the press conference going “woooohoooo” and makes a few bad gags. When asked why McIntrye was made a selector, despite knowing absolutely nothing about cricket, Strauss explains that English cricket and the UK’s best-known comedy road show were a match made in heaven.
6. ECB launch new suburb-based T20 competition
Given the success of the county-based NatWest Blast, and the undoubted popularity of their city-based franchise plans amongst county members (particularly those in Sussex and Surrey), Graves and Harrison decide the time is right for a further suburb-based T20 tournament. The competition, which will surely attract the best players from across the globe (apart from the English ones), will run concurrently with the Blast and franchise thing.
To give the competition every chance of succeeding, this new suburb comp is scheduled for one easily-digestible window starting in mid-April and ending in mid-September. In order to ease fixture congestion, the ECB announce that five teams will be relegated from division one of the county championship – leaving just Middlesex, Surrey and Yorkshire in the top tier.
To counter accusations that the authorities no longer care about first class cricket or the fate of smaller counties, the ECB adapt the ‘no toss rule’ in division two. Rather than automatically asking visiting teams whether they’d prefer to bat or bowl first, the visiting captains are simply asked whether they want to win or lose. This ensures quick finishes, creates more rest days between matches, and saves the smaller counties the expense of actually holding the matches.
To encourage the development of slow bowlers, counties will be awarded bonus points for the number of part-time spinners they include in their would-be XIs.
7. Ben Stokes gives up cricket and joins the army
In a candid and exclusive interview with TFT, Ben Stokes announces a shocking career change. After being saluted by Marlon Samuels and Shaqib Al Hasan in recent series, England’s feisty all-rounder reveals that he “quite liked it”. So much so, in fact, that he’s chucked in cricket to pursue a career where he can be saluted every day by a whole host of real military types.
Stokes also admits that he developed a penchant for discipline under Andy Flower’s regime. Apparently the Durham star’s respect for authority, and obsession with getting up early and being shouted at, makes him the perfect fit for a military life. What’s more, his background as a centrally contracted England cricketer – where he’s basically away from home for half the year anyway – means he’s already mentally attuned to long tours of duty in grim, distant and occasionally dangerous places.
8. Paul Downton made minister for Brexit
When there’s uncertainty in the air, the country needs a calm head and a sure hand – a real strong man with an intellect capable of navigating mind-boggling diplomatic and political complexities. As Superman himself was unavailable, the government turns to the next best candidate: former ECB Managing Director (and general genius) Paul Downton.
Within days Downton has the nefarious Jean Claude Junker over a barrel. Francois Hollande soon folds, admitting for the first time that the Great Britian is a much better country than France, and Angela Merkel goes weak at the knees after developing a massive crush on the UK’s new shining white knight.
Downton’s political successes soon bring him a knighthood. Not only does he win unlimited access to the EU single market for British businesses, the EU also agrees to pay 350m annually to our NHS as a thank you for staying close to Europe (albeit not actually in it). Meanwhile, Downton manages to secure a free holiday home on the Cote D’Azur for every tax paying British citizen.
9. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales refuse to tour Australia
After being threatened by Steve Smith in the Champions Trophy final – the stump mic picked up the once ginger Aussie captain telling them to expect a broken arm – Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales decide to duck out of England’s Commonwealth Bank ODI series down under. At a hastily arranged press conference at Lord’s, Morgan claims that Australia is full of drunken yobs and is therefore unsafe for a cultured Irishman like himself.
Andrew Strauss releases a statement saying he’s disappointed with Morgan’s withdrawal – particularly his use of the expression ‘drunken yob’ when ‘uncouth heathen’ would’ve been better – but claims the captain’s decision will not impact his future selection. Meanwhile, Strauss complains that Alex Hales pulled out because he’s “a bit of a wimp” and “would’ve been dropped anyway”.
10. England win the Ashes down under
Yeah right. As if anyone’s going to believe this one will happen.
I would like to add an 11th prediction (although I guess it is obvious rather than bold);
Lord Boycott of Flat Earth will attack one of the England pace bowlers for being so slow that his granny could play him – immediately after the Sky speed gun has clocked said bowler in excess of 90 mph. Boycott will then claim that the speed gun is wrong, being based on Newtonian physics which, everyone knows, has only been around for 400 years and is therefore not to be trusted.
new t20 competition is going to be the most exciting one so far.
Based on the last couple of years I predict Dale Steyn will break down in the 2nd innings of the 1st test and (sadly) retire from test cricket. He hasn’t completed a test match (let alone a series) in a long time :(
It’s Kagiso Rabada who’s going to rip England’s fragile batting to shreds this summer.
It’s Mrs Cook who holds the key to dear Alastair’s future. They won’t sack him and he’ll only resign if She says so. It’s costing me a fortune in flowers…
Rabada’s just taken 10/92 in the match to defeat SL. He has 58 Test wickets and is still only 21. Only six seamers have taken more wickets at such a young age in the game’s history (3 from Pakistan and 3 from India). Only Waqar took his wickets at a lower average.
He’s magnificent – a 400 Test wickets bowler if he can stay injury-free and avoid anyone trying to dick about with action.
If Test cricket still exists – and SA are still playing enough!
Had the same thought as I wrote it…
– a new regulation to be introduced to the decision referral system enabling a player to refer a referred decision to people to vote on via twitter
– see through bats to be outlawed
– Allen Stanford’s Lords helicopter repurposed to deliver the match ball to the umpires for the newly created t20 franchise tournament
– pitch side entertainment for new English t20 competition to be toned down after pitch side trained Tiger prematurely celebrates a six, subsequently distracting the fielder who claims they would have caught it otherwise
I have no idea why suggestion (a) hasn’t already been introduced. Umpire Dharmasena has been trolling everyone all year.
What, no recall for KP???
The entire SA first XI to sign up as Kolpaks for Hampshire. Vernon Philander states that Eastleigh was always his kind of town, Kagiso Rabada is formally adopted by Rod Bramsgrove and Quentin De Kock declares that it has been his dream to play with Liam Dawson. SA send a tour party made up of the ground staff from Newlands and Centurion. England win the series – Cook gets made captain for life, Comma get a knighthood and the ECB declare that their stewardship of the game has been vindicated.
Have you been on that Special Brew already James?
Of course :-)
ICC to refine T20 rules so that bowlers are no longer allowed a run up (and stand on a mound), 90 degrees of flex allowed at elbow and batsman is out if he fails to score from 3 consecutive balls. David Sullivan and David Gold purchase franchise and call it the Dagenham Dildos. Drinks breaks are abolished and replaced with steroid top ups. US Baseball Association welcomes ICC as new minor league associate.
Scyld Berry mentions in the DT that Strauss is returning to England this weekend from a holiday in Australia.
Other reports (eg by Simon Wilde) have said that his meeting with Cook is on the 9th although Berry doesn’t confirm that.
Do you think they’ll want to make a decision on Cook’s future quickly or wait and see how things look in a couple of months’ time? It will be interesting to see. I guess it depends how pissed off Strauss is with the team’s performance in India and Bangladesh.
I think they’ll decide now. What would change in a couple of months?
These post-tour meetings were set up (as I understand it) at Cook’s request after Downton sacked him without a meeting as ODI captain. I don’t see how Strauss could now sack him later on.
I’ve heard so many pundits claim that Cook has earned the right to decide his own future (i.e. whether he wants to carry on or not) that I’m beginning to believe it. I think Strauss probably has it in him to be ruthless, but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation goes a little like this:
AS: “How are you feeling Alastair?”
AC: “I’m still not sure. Can I have some more time to think?”
AS: “Of course you can … but don’t keep me waiting forever.”
I also think it might be slightly awkward if they make Root captain now but he’s not going to captain the one day side. England have had specialist one day captains before, but not when the test captain is in the same team. It’s usually when the test captain doesn’t play ODIs. Everyone will think “hang on a sec, why isn’t Root captaining both teams”? It would be odd if Steve Smith played ODIs but wasn’t captain etc.
Sure – it’s possible. They might hope Australia get spanked in India so England’s 4-0 doesn’t look so bad and they can convince themselves Australia are there for the beating in the Ashes (they might be – it’s hard to say if Australia are that improved or Pakistan that bad).
One reason not to delay would be fear of accusations of “dithering”. Another would be the uncertainty it would create for “the stakeholders”. Sky’s latest promo hedges its bets between Cook and Root. Sponsors need to know who to put on their stuff. I don’t think one should ignore how much the captain is the image of the brand. George Dobell revealed in 2014 the ECB had asked the sponsors who they wanted as captain. This sort of thing matters a lot these days (alas!).
Not long until we find out….
Paddy Power are offering odds of “only” 40/1 for Chef to become BBC SPOTY 2017 (Now there’s an outrageous prediction for you!) The only other cricketers for whom odds are cited are Joe Root (16/1) and Ben Stokes (33/1).
They’re all well ahead of any England footballers though. I can only imagine that’s because millions of people watched the footballers embarrass themselves against Iceland, whereas most people won’t have a clue about how poor Cook’s perpetually young-and-still-developing team has been this year. Maybe the FA should take a leaf out of the ECB’s book and put England matches behind a paywall. As long as the money keeps rolling in you can be as crap as you want then. Nobody will care because nobody will see…
Dobell seems to be saying Strauss and Cook could be meeting today:
The Sun also is reporting the meeting could be today. Nothing so far in the DT, DM, Guardian or BBC.
Umpires will take the field wearing full body armour, festooned with sponsors’ logos, but will no longer be required to make any on-field decisions. However, they will be required to “give a twirl” at the end of each over so the logos are given full exposure to the TV cameras. All decisions, however minor, will be made by computer and announced via pa systems, each announcement accompanied by advertising, jets of flame, ear-splitting “music” and dancing girls. ECB/ICC will revise the overs per day requirement in tests down to 50. All drinks will be brought to players by logo-bearing drones, as will changes of batting gloves. Boundaries will be reduced to 30 yards to increase the number of 4s and 6s. Stumps and bails will explode when hit by the ball, which will be fitted with a “screamer” that rises in pitch with its speed through the air and all players will be allowed to leave and rejoin the field whenever the fancy takes them (no change there, then).
DT is reporting that Investec are ending their sponsorship of England Test cricket early.