What’s the difference between being a cricket blogger and a member of the mainstream cricket media? I could mention the salary, and the long months spent away from home covering the team, but what really sets us apart is the ability to write from the heart.
Bloggers can write polemics. Bloggers can simply write what they want without worrying about what their employers think. And that’s their USP. If they don’t write with complete honesty then they cheat their audience and their subscribers have no reason to read them.
There’s just one problem. Occasionally writing what one thinks isn’t going to be popular. And I fear what I’m about to write will annoy quite a few. Therefore, I need to get a disclaimer in first:
I like Alastair Cook. He seems like a good bloke and he’s served his country with distinction. His powers of concentration are amazing. And he’s played some superb knocks for England. He wasn’t (in my opinion) to blame for the KP sacking, and he’s a legend of the English game.
However, what I do dislike is the adoration Cook has always received. This has nothing to do with him, of course, as he doesn’t encourage hero worship and seems like a modest fella, but I find it nauseating and almost surreal. In fact, I think Alastair has received perhaps the most sympathetic press of any cricketer I can recall over the years. And yet a myth persists that he’s been subject to the most horrendous abuse – by a small minority on Twitter (a medium he doesn’t even read).
In my opinion Cook was a fine batsman but certainly not the best of his generation. I don’t even think he’s the best opener (let alone all round batsman) England have produced in recent times either. I rated Marcus Trescothick, Graham Gooch, Michael Vaughan (as a pure opener), Alec Stewart (as a pure opener), and possibly Mike Atherton (before his chronic back condition affected his form) higher than Alastair.
Consequently – and here comes that toxic fart in the elevator that’s bound to stink the place up – I don’t think Alastair Cook should be knighted. I think it’s a bit ridiculous and unfair on many other equally deserving cricketers that have been ignored. I see it as yet another manifestation of the irrational Cook love-in that’s blighted his career for less infatuated observers.
Firstly, Cook’s achievements are largely down to longevity. His batting average is the 24th highest of all England test batsman. TWENTY-FOURTH! Not first. Not even top ten. He’s scored so many runs because he’s played so many games. And the reason he’s played so many games is because England haven’t had anyone to replace him when he’s underperformed for long periods. We can’t even find a decent opening batsman now.
What’s more, if longevity is the criterium by which players should be honoured then why hasn’t Jason Leonard, the famous old rugby prop who played a record 114 games for England, been knighted? And why haven’t Peter Shilton or Wayne Rooney, who have played more games for England’s football team than anyone else, received gongs? Rooney has even scored the most goals by an England player. He’s right up there with Cook in terms of comparable achievement.
I could even mention people like Jonny Wilkinson or Martin Johnson, who were absolute legends and won England their one and only World Cup. Jonny was even the world record points scorer in international rugby at one point. Cook is test cricket’s 5th leading run scorer (at an average significantly lower than all the other players around him on the ladder). So why does Cook deserve a knighthood when these others legends have been ignored?
I believe this can only be explained in terms of favouritism (some might even call it class prejudice) and what I once described as the cult of Alastair Cook – a term that makes me blush a bit these days. It basically means that the legend of Cook far exceeds his actual abilities and achievements.
But perhaps we shouldn’t broaden the debate to include other sports at this point. Let’s just focus on cricket. By knighting Cook the message the authorities are sending is that Cook is the greatest cricketer that England have produced for decades. Why? Because in recent history only one other English cricketer has been knighted: Sir Ian Botham. And Beefy was knighted for his services to charity (which are absolutely awe-inspiring) rather than anything he did on a cricket field.
Was Cook England’s best player of recent times? Of course not. Once again his achievements were largely down to longevity and the fact that England play a lot more test matches now than they used to. One could argue, in fact, that Cook wasn’t even the greatest cricketer in the England teams he played in. Jimmy Anderson is currently the 4th highest test wicket taker of all time, and the most prolific pace bowler. Where’s Jimmy’s knighthood? You don’t have to be retired to get a gong. Just ask Sir Andy Murray.
Then there’s Geoff Boycott. He scored 8000 test runs at an average of 48 in over a hundred appearances against some of the most fearsome attacks the world has ever seen. Whereas Cook milked runs against Kemar Roach and Jason Holder, Boycott had to face the likes of Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. Only an idiot would claim that Cook was a better player than Boycott.
And then we come back to Sir Ian. Beefy was a legend of the sport, and a larger than life character that raised the game’s profile. He was also exceptional in England’s signature series: the Ashes. You probably don’t realise this, as Cook has always received such a sympathetic press, but Alastair was a disappointment in 6 of the 7 Ashes series in which he played. And he only excelled in 2010/11 when Australia were at their lowest ebb (Siddle and Hilfenhaus opened the bowling and Mitchell Johnson was all over the place).
So how come Cook, the 4th leading run scorer of all time, gets a gong whereas Ian Botham who was the leading wicket taker of all time at one point did not? Beefy had to walk thousands of miles for charity before he was even considered.
Now let’s broaden the debate to cricketers from the commonwealth nations. I’ll leave out the Aussies who also achieved a lot more than Cook (such as Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh) because unlike Sir Don Bradman they’d be unlikely to accept a knighthood. So let’s just focus on the other countries instead.
Am I the only one who will feel quite uncomfortable living in a world in which Alastair Cook has been knighted and Brian Lara has not? Lara was a true all time great who still holds the record for the highest individual test and first class scores. Lara carried a weak West Indies team in transition, orchestrated the greatest run chase of all time, and was an absolute joy to watch. He scored 12,000 test runs at an average of 53 (significantly higher than Cook).
In fact, the career of Shiv Chanderpaul, who played 3 more test matches than Cook and scored his 12,000 runs at an average of 51 also deserves consideration. And then we come to the bowlers. What about Courtney Walsh who took 519 test wickets at an average of 24 in 132 tests? He was also the leading fast bowler (in terms of wickets) in history not long ago.
One could possibly argue, of course, that Cook has made a bigger individual contribution to his specific country’s cricket team than any of the above. It’s hugely debatable to say so (obviously) but one could make this spurious argument if one wanted to. If that’s the case, then why hasn’t Stephen Fleming, who is New Zealand’s all-time leading run scorer, and also one of the finest captain’s in test history, been knighted? Cook’s captaincy was average. He lost more games than any other England test captain and had a lower win percentage than both Strauss and Vaughan.
As one can clearly see, therefore, there is no basis whatsoever for knighting Alastair Cook. He is not one of the greatest batsmen ever unless one judges purely on longevity. And if longevity is the main criteria for awarding knighthoods then why haven’t England’s most capped players in other sports been honoured?
Consequently, I can only conclude that Alastair Cook has been knighted for one reason and one reason only. The country loves him. He’s adorable. He’s handsome. He’s got a nice voice. And he’s quintessentially English: a modest and polite gent. But since when has ‘we like him’ been reason enough to give someone a knighthood? The honours system has many, many flaws, but surely it hasn’t stooped this low?
Cynics might conclude, therefore, that Alastair Cook has been knighted for all the wrong reasons. They might even go back to Giles Clarke’s infamous ‘right sort of family’ comments during the KP affair. Maybe, at the end of the day, Alastair and his family are just the kind of people the nation wants its knights to be. Whereas Wayne Rooney, with his think scouse accent and history of boorish behaviour, isn’t considered worthy.
And neither for that matter is David Beckham, despite his long career and work for UNICEF, Comic Relief, and The Red Cross. Old golden balls might be handsome and have nice hair but he’s only married to Posh, rather than actually being posh.