Well that was hugely unpleasant. Before this game everyone said that first innings runs was England’s problem. This time we scored 400 in the first dig and still lost comprehensively. I guess our only weak spots are batting, bowling and fielding. Other than that we’re bloody brilliant.
After Sunday’s Kohli and Ashwin fest, I didn’t think things could get much worse. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after decades of following England, it’s that things can always, always, get worse. This morning we were blown away in the blink of an eye and, just to add insult to injury, Jimmy Anderson got involved in yet another on-field confrontation.
To be fair to Jimmy, although he’s easier to bait than bear who’s just had his porridge nicked, at least he didn’t start the trouble this time. Ashwin was gunning for a row after Jimmy refused to worship at his altar the previous evening. Obviously Ravichandran thinks it’s ok for Patel to talk down England’s players but not ok for Anderson to talk down India’s. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of hypocrisy eh?
Although (to his credit) Kohli has already tried to smooth things over, it wasn’t a nice way to end the test match. There has been quite a lot of petulance in this game. Personally I think both teams need to grow up or the umpires will start brandishing those ridiculous red cards sooner than we think.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. How on earth are England going to move forward from here? Basically the ECB have three options – all of which I think are equally likely.
Option A (the nuclear option): Sack Cook, sack the selectors, and probably give Andy Flower some new responsibilities in the process.
Option B (the comfy halfway house): Sack Cook OR the selectors, and hope this moderate scapegoating will satisfy the ensuing bloodlust.
Option C (the “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah I can’t hear you” approach): Do absolutely nothing.
I know this last option might seem unlikely but England don’t play another test for six months after this tour. Instead the ODI side will take centre stage. If England win the Champions Trophy the ECB might hope this recent bout of teeth gnashing blows over. I love a good mixed metaphor me.
However, rather than speculating as to what might happen next, I’m most interested in what should happen. After all, when it comes to English cricket these two are very different things.
Personally I think that (irrespective of what happens to Cook) the selectors should be fired. For every success like the early promotion of Hameed there have been several failures. Just in the last year we’ve had Gary Ballance, Alex Hales, James Vince and Gareth Batty, plus the non-selection of the two best specialist spinners in country cricket last year, plus the non-selection of the best specialist keeper on a tour where taking every chance is crucial.
Throw in the obvious conflict of interest of having selectors who are full time employees of particualar counties and Jim, Mick and Gus don’t have an awful lot going for them. Strauss has threatened to sack them in the past so I think their time has probably come. I imagine Strauss and Flower probably think they can pick the squads themselves.
And now on to the real burning issue, the one I know you’re all desperate to get to. It’s golden bollocks himself Alastair Cook. Sack him or back him?
Before I begin my critique I’d quickly like to reiterate a point I’ve been making for years: Cook never asked to be the ECB, Waitrose, middle-class, “isn’t he lovely”, pin up boy of English cricket. It’s not Cook’s fault that the suits loved his background, his family and his clean-shaven face so much that they made him captain – even though he’d never shown any aptitude for the job.
Over the years, and for various reasons, Cook has come to symbolise everything that’s good and everything that’s bad about English cricket simultaneously – depending, of course, on what side of the debate you’re on. It’s made his job incredibly difficult – especially as he’s a tad awkward in front of cameras and doesn’t have a natural feel for captaincy anyway.
What’s more, in Cook’s defence I think England would’ve lost this series whether he was captain or not. India’s spinners are better than England’s batsmen and India’s batsmen are better than England’s spinners. We were always going to be up against it. Our only realistic chance was for Cook and Root to have blinding series and hope that India played badly.
The other argument – and this is what has kept Chef in a job for so long – is that there’s nobody obvious to replace him. Root is the only real candidate (he’s the vice captain so it would be unfair to promote someone else above him) and Joe already has a huge workload: he’s an integral part of the T20, ODI and test team. Would the captaincy burn him out?
So now on to the case for the prosecution which, I think, can be summarised thus: Cook is a crap captain and obviously needs a rest so let’s ditch the chump. While this might be true (well, apart from maybe the chump bit) many worry what might happen to Root’s form if he took over. The prosecution can shrug this off by referencing both Kohli and Steve Smith: the batting form of Root’s contemporaries has reached new heights since they became leaders.
What’s more, giving Root the captaincy might make him more inclined to knuckle down and start converting more breezy half-centuries into big hundreds. After all, Joe’s relatively poor conversion rate is the one area where his batting needs to improve. Perhaps the extra responsibility will be good for him?
The one thing that worries me, however, is that Root has basically zero captaincy experience. It’s not his fault, as he rarely plays for Yorkshire, but it’s an awkward situation we can’t get around. Cook might argue that Root is ready – perhaps this is the biggest indication yet that the incumbent’s had enough – but we really have no idea whether he’s captaincy material or not.
Consequently, given the imperfect circumstances, here is my advice to Andrew Strauss. Brace yourself for a typically controversial TFT ‘never going to happen’ proposal. Here’s what I, James Morgan, think should happen in an ideal world that doesn’t exist.
Step 1. Eoin Morgan should be sacked as England’s ODI captain.
Step 2: He should be replaced by Joe Root to give the test captain-elect some kind of captaincy experience.
Step 3: If Root proves to be a natural leader, and England win the champions trophy, then make him test captain too.
Step 4: Everyone lives happily ever after – England win the Ashes down under and Alastair goes on to break Sachin Tendulkar’s all time run scoring record (until Joe breaks Alastair’s records a few years later).
Now I imagine half of you probably think I’m crazy to suggest such a radical plan so hear me out. First of all, this has nothing to do with Eoin Morgan opting out of the Bangladesh tour. I supported his right to do so. I think Morgan should be dropped because he’s probably no longer worth his place as a batsman alone – a detailed statistical analysis proves he’s not the player he was in the first half of his career. Ben Duckett could easily take his place and be more productive.
Secondly, I happen to believe that test cricket is more important than the one-day stuff. Getting Root the captaincy experience he needs is more important than Eoin Morgan’s career or England’s 50 over prowess. Besides, I don’t believe England’s ODI form would suffer if Root replaced Morgan anyway. We didn’t really miss Eoin when Buttler was captain in Bangladesh, did we?
The best thing about this plan is that Alastair Cook can still be England’s safety net if all goes wrong. If Root bombs as ODI captain, and that cheeky grin turns into a lost looking frown, then England can retain Alastair as test skipper and think again about a proper succession plan.
And besides, if the Champions Trophy turns into a disaster, then everyone will forget about the other disaster that happened in India six months beforehand. It’s the perfect win-win plan. Which is why, of course, it will never happen.