A tale of two batsmen: day four at Lord’s


The reaction of the England balcony to the day’s last few overs spoke volumes.

As Broad and Ballance upped the ante with a flurry of boundaries – and the latter reached his century – Alastair Cook led his players in a display of fist-pumping, arm-raising, physically-demonstrative emotion.

It revealed the extent of Cook’s desperate to win a cricket match. It laid bare the depths of his frustration, despair, humiliation and emasculation.

The Broad and Ballance show shone a rare shaft of light into the bleak world the England skipper has inhabited since November. But maybe he’d have been wiser to remain more poker-faced.

What we were witnessing was felicitous and purposeful shot-making, for sure, but under zero pressure, with a big lead, in a home test against Sri Lanka. Cook was hollering away as if on the brink of regaining the Ashes.

Perhaps he shouldn’t give his opposite numbers so vivid a glimpse into his private hell. Since the Brisbane test, Cook’s life has been a misery – to a fair extent, deservedly – and it’s a misery (to misquote Churchill) out of which he should now be put.

He was anointed a future captain very early in his test career – remember him being sent for that chat with Mike Brearley? – despite having shown no particular aptitude or desire for the job whatsoever.

Cook was rather like a Dalai Lama, who is told as a small child he’s the chosen one, and has to go along with it whether he likes it or not.

Twenty tests in, and Cook demonstrates not an iota more ability or desire for the role than he ever did in the first place. He looks like he’s hating every minute of it. Everyone knows he’s running out of time; he knows we know, and you can see it in his eyes.

Only Cook’s mother would try to deny the plainest fact of all: the captaincy is ruining his batting.

Think about his dismissals in this match. Cook looked distracted and out of kilter. The skipper’s role has stripped his batting of the good bits – simplicity and concentration – and left only his leaden footwork and porous technique.

What a contrasting figure he strikes from the impishly carefree Gary Ballance, whose innocence and joie de vivre remind one of better times. He played with all the insouciance and freshness of a man who’s never let a stockbroker and a departing coach walk all over him for the sake of an easy life.

Ballance was excellent, and no doubt he will win widespread plaudits for reaching his century with a six. I love that he did that. It testified to his poise, confidence and vision. The team sorely need that kind of chutzpah.

However, I seem to remember that another player, who did quite well for England but doesn’t play any more, used to get a lot of criticism for trying to get to a hundred with a big shot. Well, he came from southern Africa so he must have been an outsider who didn’t show enough of Cook’s “Englishness”. Erm…

England’s top-order mini-collapse has actually improved the chances of getting a win, but things might have been easier if they hadn’t deployed such banal tactics in the attempt to close out the Sri Lankan tail. This daft approach has been going on for years, even during the 2010-11 Ashes. Why can’t the bowlers – like Eranga did for the visitors with success – just aim at the stumps?



  • Not sure Mr Ballance is going to be able to show enough Ënglishness” having been raised and well brought up in Southern Africa but at least it was Zimbabwe not in that other place where he who cannot be named was raised.

  • Strange how a lot of the people around the ECB are talking about the brilliance of Ballance! Not a sniff about his being brought up in Africa. What about Cook’s garbage about bring about a new era of “Englishness” in the national team? Well with so many players in the team coming from other nations, not really English is it? What a mass of contradictions coming forth via the mess of ECB PR pottage!

    If Cook doesn’t tell the ECB where to shove the job then his career will be over prematurely. He got himself into a terrible mess on the field and then couldn’t bat, AGAIN! I do not know who his advisers are but they are ruining him and his career. Every time someone shoves a mic under his chin he talks garbage. He has brought so much of this on himself and now he is reaping what he sowed. He could have gone on to be the best batsman of his generation. Sadly he is being lead round by the nose by the ECB bunch of Old and very useless Farts! It is very sad. Something has to give and very soon.

  • Could not agree more with Annie and have already said so on other forums. This morning Nasser was going on about Cook directing his fielders and said, and I kid you not, ‘look at his body language. No doubt who is in charge’. I can only assume he is reading from a script thrust into his hands by the ECB or Moorsey or one of the other drones from on high, as the body language looked no differet to me than it has on all other occasions.

    Resign Alistair
    You know it makes sense. To you and to your family if nobody else

  • Sky Sports shot some footage of Nasser batting with Cook at a benefit match for the latter, the other day. They were very matey; Nasser referred to him as Chef.

    No wonder he looks for positives in the Cook narrative.

    However Nasser might deny it, you just can’t commentate dispassionately about someone who you know well, you address by their nickname, and in whose benefit matches you play.

    This is a profound problem across cricket journalism – the commentariat is far too close to the people they’re supposed to critique. You don’t get this in any other sphere of journalism – even in other sports. Nick Robinson doesn’t do jolly turns with Ed Miliband.

    On the question of Englishness/foreign born players in the team – I have never had a problem with it, because it’s the product of same process by which the international game of cricket evolved – empire. The waters of nationality have been muddied by the very vehicle – empire – which created cricket in the first place, as I argued in this piece, a few years ago:


    • I certainly do not have any problem with players coming here and putting on an England shirt. What I cannot stand is the hypocrisy of the ECB. They get Cook to talk about making the dressing room more “English” and the team has loads of these foreign players that the ECB doesn’t seem to want. Well except when it suits them and their demands of course.

      As for Nick Robinson, well he wouldn’t cosy up to Miliband as he is an out and out Tory and sadly he does show his allegiance to the Tories and there have been a great deal of complaints about his biased commentaries.

      You are right though, that it does cause problems for dispassionate and disinterested commentary when you are buddy, buddy with a player on the pitch. If any situation has shown a concerted and intense demolition job on one player’s character and reputation, then a lot of the ECB and its lackeys have certainly played a collective blinder. Nearly all the main sports journos have acted as mouthpieces for the ECB. A very large amount of ex-players have joined in to destroy KP’s reputation and career. In all the years I have been watching cricket, I have never seen anything quite like it.

      I fear that Cook’s career may be prematurely brought to an end having been used by Flower, Gooch and the ECB in exacting revenge on KP. Had Cook been more mature he would have got KP alongside him – and the other senior players – to help him instead of which he alienated KP at the behest of Flower et al. Now Cook is being criticised by so many of the pundits. Clive Lloyd, today, was seriously shocked at the terrible field placements made by Cook. This KP saga is going to seriously backfire on all of those who set about destroying one player. I understand that the confrontation between Downton and P Morgan yesterday left Downton “puce” with rage. Those around almost losing their lunch as the shouting match increased in volume! Downton heard to say that he did not knife KP in the back and again saying that KP was causing a very bad atmosphere in the dressing room. So now Downton has said it again in public. The man is a PR idiot. I do not like P Morgan one little bit but it will be the ECB and England Cricket that will suffer more when all the proverbial hits the fan in the Autumn. It will all end in tears and no one will come out of this farce looking very good. Never thought I would see such a day. However the Old Boys Network that is the ECB has really been seen for what it is in these past months. Nasty group of vicious public school boys who think they can do whatever they want and get away with it. Not this time I hope.

      • Annie,
        has any newspaper reported on this confrontation ? (Downton/Morgan) If so where can i read it. In the boondocks so don’t get to see all the UK press, tend to read the Telegraph but that clown Dingle has not reported any of this.

  • Thought this piece was a bit harsh, Maxie. If we’d declared setting them 330 to win, and Sri Lanka got to 100 for 1 at lunch, the questions would have been asked. The slow over rates are the thing to look at here.

    As for Cook’s batting, that’s not harsh. He has now gone 11 tests without a ton, and what is it, 18 since a ton in England’s first innings. Too much invested in him to start inserting the dagger yet.

    Annie – according to Morgan, the clash between him and Downton happened on 31 May (was that the Lord’s ODI?).

    I heard some of Brenkley, Kimber and Etheridge on the radio this lunchtime on the way to the cemetery, but I was much more interested catching up with an old friend rather than their repeated old nonsense (well Brenkley and Etheridge). Wonder if they are on the podcast?

    A great conclusion to a slow-burning game. Should be a good one at Leeds. Weather permitting.

    • You are right Dmitri. Only heard about it through Telegraph commenter at weekend. It was published last week. Wonder how it slipped under the radar? Nevertheless, Downton appears not to be in charge of his own mouth. Having already been in trouble he says these things publicly, a day after the ECB issued an apology to KP. Not really sensible I should say.


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