England heading into uncharted waters with captain Cook

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Let’s just think about this for a second. On the one hand there’s Paul Collingwood – a senior pro with captaincy experience that commands the respect of his team mates (and who is, incidentally, already captain of the T20 side). On the other there’s Alastair Cook, a man with little to no captaincy experience, who doesn’t seem like a natural leader, and who was fighting for his place in the team just three weeks ago. So who is the better candidate to replace Strauss as captain for the upcoming tour to Bangladesh? According to Geoff Miller, James Whitaker, Ashley Giles and (presumably) Andy Flower, the answer is the latter. Make sense to you? Didn’t think so.

Their second error is the misplaced conviction that Strauss needs a rest. I’m sorry, but Strauss should be going to Bangladesh. He isn’t injured like James Anderson so why does he need a break? He doesn’t even play T20s, so he’ll get time off during the T20 world cup in March/April any way. Furthermore, what makes England think they’re good enough to rest arguably their best batsman? We should beat the Bangladeshis away from home, but it’s a dangerous game to play. England had better hope that ‘Cookie’ as his team mates rather annoyingly call him, doesn’t ‘crumble’ under the pressure.

There is no doubt that Cook impressed in South Africa. He wasn’t prolific by any means, but his technique looked so much more assured under the guidance of his mentor, Graham Gooch. What concerns me is that we’re putting the progress he’s made at risk. He should be concentrating on his batting, not tactics and press conferences. Just because he’s from Essex, speaks with a pleasant accent and knows how to apply a razor every morning, doesn’t make him an ideal captain. In the T20 game against South Africa in December, his only previous captaincy experience at senior level, he looked far from composed. In fact, senior players intervened on his behalf on several occasions. Colly and KP were frequently seen waving their arms around and moving the field, whilst Cook stood by like a little boy lost. As a result, England looked rudderless in the field, and we lost comprehensively. I have nothing against Alastair Cook – indeed he may well prove to be a good captain in the future – but who do the current players look up to most, Collingwood or Cook?

The rest of the squad picked for the test series was predictable; but three selections in particular warrant attention. The first is the promotion of Ajmal Shahzad. Some England fans may not have heard of him, but he will not let anybody down. He bustles in with aggression, bowls at a lively pace, has a decent action, and is accurate enough. He could well be a find for England. On the occasions I saw him play for Yorkshire in 2009, he looked ready to make the step up to international cricket. He won’t pull up trees, but he will contribute in a similar way to Graham Onions.

The second and third selections are far more questionable. James Tredwell is a very solid cricketer, and he’s surely the natural reserve for Graham Swann. However, Miller has said that England are likely to play two spinners in Bangladesh, in which case what we don’t need is two off-spinners! Flower and Strauss don’t rate Rashid. Ok, we get it. But surely Monty should be going as variation? Miller was quoted as saying that Panesar’s form has improved, but Tredwell did well carrying the drinks in South Africa and ‘deserves to go’. In which case, Mr Miller, didn’t Onions deserve to play in the fourth test? As usual, the logic is not always consistent.

The final selection we should mention is the predictable call up of Carberry, who we must assume will play in the absence of Strauss. Carberry is the best fielder in the country, but this has not stopped him from being surplus to requirements at both Kent and Surrey during his career. He has found a home at Hampshire, where reports suggest he has improved beyond recognition, but his elevation above Joe Denly, who is younger and more talented, is somewhat controversial. One suspects that the selectors have become rather suspicious of youth due to the perceived problems with Adil Rashid, who they consider to be a slow learner (funny that, as he was learning pretty quickly at Yorkshire). The success of Jonathan Trott in last year’s Ashes decider seems to have convinced the selectors that more mature English cricketers (in their late 20s) stand more chance of success in the test arena than wet-behind-the-ears types. They well may be right. However, one hopes that this assumption, which surely cannot be applied universally, does not cloud their judgement indefinitely. After all, the man they’ve just made captain made his debut at the tender age of 21. They’d do well to remember that.

James Morgan

11 comments

  • Good post. Not sure Rashid (or any other young player) learns much not playing and being 12th man and the england squad should not be a place to ensure players grow in stature and improve. I would rather the best 16 players tour, irrespective of age and therefore, the selection of Tredwell follows the process of selecting the best squad. The England management have had a good look at Rashid and rightly or wrongly dont feel he is ready.

    It does seem an increasing trend for teams in India / Pakistan / Bangledesh to only use one spinner, hits teams with pace and rely on cutters and reverse swing. India are only playing one spinner in the test in Banglesdesh when Ojha was available to replace Harbhajan. Only Sri Lanka seems to require more than one spinner as the climatic conditions are hard on fast bowlers. As you kinow James, i am not a big fan of the fifth bowler option and the ongoing test from Chittagong shows England might need that sixth batsmen!

  • Well said James. Even putting my Durham loyalties aside I agree that Colly should have been named as captain instead of Cook. Colly knows the job and is happy to give it back as soon as Strauss has had a breather. But Cook went to the right school and is the ECB blazers’ kind of chap, and that still counts for something when the England captaincy is up for grabs (KP only got it through their gritted teeth because no-one else was available in all 3 forms of the game).

    I would also have picked Monty as the 2nd spinner – even if he doesn’t play it seems an ideal chance for him to be gently reintroduced back into the set-up. I’ve seen Tredwell play for Kent and he’s nothing more than average. I haven’t seen much of Carberry, but his elevation shows how bare our batting cupboard is – no-one from the Lions squad seems to be pushing for a place.

  • Agreed. The cupboard isn’t exactly brimming with young batting talent. The most talented young batsmen in the country are probably Denly, Davies and Kieswetter (even though the latter two are also wicket keepers). There are a couple of young guys around, like Hamilton-Brown and Taylor of Leics, but they are probably too young to play at the moment. The latter has an amazing record in county cricket, but he’s just 19 or 20 years old, so it would seem unfair to promote him.

    Recall for Ramprakash anybody? Just kidding.

  • On the issue of whether or not to rest Strauss, one should remember fatigue comes down to more than the physical. Spending ten months a year away from home every year, year after year, even if it’s well paid and enjoyable work, has its pressures.

    Sometimes the pressure takes its toll in drastic fashion, as with Tresco, other times it’s the more mundane marriage breakdown which results. Thorpe and Tufnell are obvious examples of how a player’s game collapses when he’s thinking of events at home instead of events on the pitch.

    Either way, we shouldn’t overlook the need for a player to look after his well being. Even the hard-as-nails-Yorkshireman Boycott had a breakdown and needed a rest from the game. Stewart, the most loyal player we’ve known, asked for time off from a tour of NZ. If HE asked, we can infer he really needed it and must have been near the edge, (I seem to remember his wife had had cancer?) yet there were mutterings from the management about disloyalty and being dropped. Is it worth losing the services of players like Thorpe and Stewart (or Strauss) over insignificant tours?

    As to making a choice between Cook and Colly for captain, Cook might not be right, but Colly is definitely wrong.

    Colly’s made it clear he has no ambitions to be Test captain. I think it’s clear he was never likely to be the Test captain, anyway, except perhaps as stand-in. Cook, on the other hand, may be Strauss’s successor, and this seems an ideal opportunity to give him a little of the experience it’s been noted he lacks. Strauss’s position is secure either way. If Cook succeeds, we know there is a potential captain waiting in the wings, although not one ready to threaten Strauss’s position either as captain or principal bat. If he’s shown to have significant failings, it may be the nudge the management needs to look in another direction. If Colly had captained, we would have learnt nothing new and England would not have progressed, regardless of success.

    There are few alternatives. Trott is too new and not yet secure. KP is too divisive, at least until Strauss retires. Bell is not secure in the team, and clearly struggles with carrying his own confidence, let alone the whole team’s. Prior seems an unlikely choice, as do any of the bowlers. Broad might be a possibility, but we’ve not seen anything of it yet.

    One imagines the management see in Cook something more than his accent or county badge. When Hussein gave up the captaincy the two likely choices were either Tresco or Vaughan. To the outside observer Tresco seemed the obvious answer. However, Fletcher and Hussein have said since that when asked the question by the board, they never thought of anyone but Vaughan. He had little experience, but to those who knew him it was obvious he was the man and Tresco was not. They were proved right.

    I doubt Cook is a Vaughan. However, in the circumstances it seems an experiment worth making.

  • Tristan, that is a very eloquent defence of the selectors. Good stuff. I can see what you mean. This thread now expresses both sides of the argument thoroughly.

    It is hard to see other options other than Cook … perhaps, deep down, that’s why I wanted Strauss to tour. However, I still have my doubts about his captaincy credentials. He looked all at sea in that T20. But you’re right, at least we’ll get a better look at his abilities in Bangladesh.

    I think the obvious issue this raises is that central contracts don’t really give potential captains time to learn the trade in county cricket. They also make the elevation of a current county captain (like Rob Key) more unlikely. It would be very difficult for an outsider to come into the team and take over the captaincy right away.

    It’s definitely a problem. The selectors are certainly being forced to take a punt on somebody within the squad who has little experience …. I just have doubts that Cook is the right man. I’m also worried it will hurt his batting. Collingwoood may not have any ambition to captain the test side, but he is a safe pair of hands. Vaughan didn’t have a minor tour to test his skills before becoming England captain, but I think we’d all agree he did a good job. I think Vaughan has more inner belief than Cook (even if he did cry like Paul Gascoigne in a crisp advert when he gave up the captaincy). As always, we’ll have to see what happens.

    As for Taylor slipping through Worcestershire’s fingers, we can’t seem to hold on to any players! Even Ray Price left us. Soon our team will consist of 11 Ian Fisher clones. It’s desperate. But at least we can’t get relegated to a lower division now (unlike the Worcester rugby team!)

  • I agree wholeheartedly, and imagine it came down to a Cook or Anderson calculation this case, rather than Cook or Colly. Why not plan for the future a little in a “series” against Bangladesh.

  • The reality, as you alluded to, is that in the age of central contracts genuine Test players will play very little county cricket in their careers, so all future captains will be picked untried.

    Anyway, I’ll write some more about it but I’m late for a plane. I have an appointment with David Boon’s legend. Toodles.

  • how about shahid afridis ball tampering-amazing that he would ever be chosen as captain-makes cooks selection look a tame choice.

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