An interesting day, left intriguingly poised. England only need two meaningful late-order partnerships to achieve a lead. Prior is due runs, and there is still Stokes to come. But India, who won’t bat last, require just two quick wickets to invert the equation.
Is Alastair Cook too easy a target for opprobrium after failing again this morning? For all the talk of “fringe idiots” with an “agenda”, let’s consider today’s thoughts from that famously unindependent-minded, bandwagon-jumping, “know nothing”, Geoffrey Boycott:
“Alastair Cook is a stubborn so-and-so, and that helps make him such a fine player.
“But it can also be your Achilles heel. He is saying everything is all right – but it’s not all right. The England selectors are embarrassed that he is leading the side so poorly. I would take him out of the team.
“They should have assessed his captaincy in Australia. It didn’t look too special to me. I think the team is leaderless, it’s affecting the other players. The bowlers just bowl and do whatever they want. We are rudderless.”
There is some validity in the claim that emotions and bitterness have distorted the debate about Cook. So let’s try to put them aside and start with a blank piece of paper.
Here’s an exercise we can do together. Take that blank piece of paper, and write down a list of all the reasons why Alastair Cook should be the captain of England.
Number one might be – there are no alternatives.
What’s number two?
Gary Ballance had a rather better day than his skipper. He continues to impress, and what I particularly like about him is the sense of calm authority he exudes at the crease. Ballance has the worldly air of a man who’s played forty tests, not five. When he comes into bat, we relax, because he seems to effortlessly take control of a situation.
Recent evidence suggests Ballance may behave less maturely off the field than on, although mercifully he managed to keep his shirt on throughout the entirety of his innings today.
I’m baffled as to why his antics at Nottingham nightclub Pandora’s Box – euphemistically described by Peter Moores, a fluent speaker of Downtonian, as “relaxing” – might ever be considered a problem. Significantly, they did not take place on a school night.
Drunken post-match roistering is not only as integral to cricket as bails, but older. Players got pissed decades before there was a third stump, or even round-arm bowling. Organised cricket began as a sideshow to aristocratic gambling and carousing.
Harold Larwood and Bill Voce drank several pints of bitter together during a day’s play. And as CLR James might have said, what do they know of cricket, who downing Jagerbombs and stripping half-naked do not know?
But what does concern me about Ballance is the company he keeps. His drinking companions on that fateful evening were Liam Plunkett, James Anderson, and…Joe Root.
Yes, the same Joe Root who only last summer drove poor David Warner to violence through the pitiless and incendiary utilisation of a comedy wig.
It seems that every night on the tiles with Root leads to disaster, and to paraphrase Graeme Swann on Pietersen, he causes trouble wherever he goes. As a drinking buddy, he is the extra proton which triggers nuclear fission. What exactly does he do which creates such havoc?
But to return to events at Lord’s. Tomorrow is a big day for Matt Prior, and also for Alastair Cook, who must finally figure out to corral his bowlers into bowling line and length. Why is he unable to oversee a properly executed bowling plan? Perhaps he should take heed of that old maxim that if you want a job done properly, do it yourself – and bring himself on to bowl. After all, he did quite well last time.