Is Chef Temporarily Frazzled Or Done?

Trevor Bayliss has been England’s coach since July 2015. Since then we’ve played 25 tests with a generally attacking (or perhaps we should say ‘positive’) approach. Although results have been a little mixed, our players tend to play their best cricket on the front foot. Even Alastair Cook played in a relatively carefree way last summer.

Consequently it’s highly significant that, after eighteen months of Bayliss’s tenure, he’s suddenly found it necessary to say the following ahead of Mumbai:

The first three innings of this series we had a nice positive approach to the game and with our mental approach … probably the last three innings we have got away from that a little bit … we changed that mindset so it is more along the lines of survival …

It will be up to me to play a role there. Probably over the last few series Cooky has taken on more of a role there, which has been great. But I think for the coming couple of Tests it is time I stepped up to the mark to just remind the team how we have played when we have played well.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Why is Cook suddenly retreating from the positive approach that’s served England well (in the main) over the last eighteen months? Why did he bat so turgidly on the 5th morning in Rajkot when England had the chance to press for victory? Why does he look so, well, bloody knackered?

Although our skipper is normally a champion in Asian conditions, his form has been a little up and down this winter. He’s made just one ton (the aforementioned effort in Rajkot which some felt cost England the chance of victory) and he’s looked very vulnerable against spin – even though he usually plays spinners with great assurance.

Normally when Cook has a dip in form the problem is technical. His method isn’t exactly watertight (which he freely admits) so if something’s a little out of synch he can look uncoordinated at the crease. This time, however, I don’t see much wrong with his technique. His trigger movement is possibly off a tad but that doesn’t excuse missing straight balls that don’t spin (as he did in Mohali).

So if Cook’s technique is in reasonable order, there must be something else up. My working theory (as if you haven’t guessed it yet) is that Cook isn’t himself mentally. He’s either burned out or missing his family. And it’s not just his batting that’s suffering as a result. His captaincy and general demeanour in the field have also been subpar.

What’s more Cook’s dropping catches too – something that also happened to Ian Bell at the end of his England career. Perhaps, after the best part of a decade playing non-stop for England, Cook has ‘lost it’ the same way Bell did. Perhaps he simply doesn’t have the mental reserves or hunger to be as focused as he once was?

I’ve heard it argued that the captaincy is now weighting heavily on Alastair’s shoulders. After all, he’s dealt with a lot over the last couple of years: there’s been dips in the team’s form, dips in his own form, plus the political fallout from the Kevin Pietersen debacle. But does this really explain what’s happening to him now?

If one researches whether the captaincy has affected Cook, the logical place to start is his batting record since the Ashes whitewash. At first glance the evidence suggests not: since the end of the Sydney test in 2014, Captain Cook has produced a very solid return of 2873 runs at an average of 47 (which is pretty much in line with his career record).

Look a little closer, however, and things aren’t quite as simple. During this period Cook has scored just the five test centuries. That’s five tons in 66 test innings – not a particularly good return at all. In fact, the aforementioned Ian Bell made six test centuries in his last 66 test innings before being dumped like an old sofa the dog had urinated on.

Although some batsmen might be pleased with a century every 11 tests, this clearly isn’t good enough for a batsman of Alastair’s pedigree. After all, he registered his previous five centuries (all before the Ashes whitewash obviously) in just 16 test innings. And overall, of course, he’s scored 30 centuries in 249 innings (a rate of a century every eight tests).

So what does this tell us? Because Cook’s generally scoring runs but not making many centuries, he’s obviously getting in and then getting out a lot. This seems extraordinarily unusual for a player known for ‘going big’ and having immense powers of concentration.

This suggests that Alastair is indeed burned out and desperately needs a break. Luckily he’ll get one after this series (because of the Champions Trophy next year England won’t play another test until mid-summer). The question is, will the selectors strip him of the captaincy (or suggest he steps down) before then? The ECB love a good scapegoat.

The big question, of course, is whether Cook can summon up one more big performance, save England’s tour and perhaps save his status as captain at the same time. We desperately need big runs from the skipper at Mumbai but he simply hasn’t been able to produce thus far – even though he’s still as short as 7/2 to be our top scorer if you look at the India vs England 4th test batting market. Jonny Bairstow looks better value at 11/2 if you ask me.

My big worry is that England might simply implode at this juncture – much like they did in Australia last time (when Cook also suffered a crisis of form and leadership). Although I was initially quite bullish about our chances in Mumbai, Bayliss’s recent comments have really alarmed me. They suggest that Cook’s morale, and the team’s morale as a whole, is very low indeed. Why else would a coach who normally takes a backseat suddenly need to play a more active role in the dressing room?

I’m also a tad concerned that the buckpassing season has started. Bayliss has said a few times now that he doesn’t watch much county cricket – I don’t blame him for this by the way (he’s a busy man). When asked about Keaton Jennings’ prospects in Mumbai, Bayliss remarked “I’ve not seen him bat”. Excuse my cynicism but this sounds awfully like “don’t blame me if it all goes pear shaped guv … I don’t pick these blokes you know”.

Although I could be reading too much into Bayliss’s comments, his words are hardly on message. Where exactly is the sense of collective responsibility? It also suggests, to me at least, that England’s hierarchy aren’t on the same page. Why else would a coach keep reiterating that he’s simply doing his best with the cards dealt to him?

Overall I sense there’s a great deal of tension within the England camp. When the bloke most likely to be the next captain, Joe Root, is wheeled in front of the press to give the current skipper his backing you know the pressure is on. What’s more, I’m not convinced it will be straightforward for Cook to give up the captaincy and rejoin the rank and file. The next two test matches will probably determine his future as captain, but they could jeapordise his whole international career.

Because Cook is generally portrayed as being egoless and affable, people simply assume that Cook would fit seamlessly into a England team led by someone else. Personally I’m not so sure. I’m not saying that Cook would intentionally be a pain in the bum – I genuinely think he’d try to keep his head down – but it would create an incredibly awkward situation.

Just think about it for a second. How is the new captain going to become the fulcrum of the side, and gain respect and authority as a leader, when the bloke who’s got more experience (and more media allies) than anyone else is still sitting in the corner? Cook would probably try to help not hinder, but how would he know when to offer his assistance? How exactly would he offer words of encouragement in the dressing room without unintentionally eclipsing (or even undermining) the new skipper? And how do you stop the players looking to Cook (especially when things are tough) when they’ve become so used to doing so over the years?

I sense that Cook returning to the ranks as a player would be a bit like Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair standing down as PM but returning to the front bench. It would seem unnatural; a demotion. Sometimes it’s hard to be ‘just one of the guys’ when you’ve been such a huge figure of authority for so long.

Although England captains have resigned and returned to the ranks in the past, they’ve generally passed the baton to someone of equal stature: think Gower handing over the reins to Gooch, or Stewart replacing Atherton. Unfortunately there’s nobody anywhere near as senior as Cook in the current dressing room (not a realistic alternative as captain anyway). Jimmy Anderson isn’t captaincy material and would you really want Stuart Broad in charge of the DRS reviews?

Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss were all giants of English cricket. When they resigned the captaincy they soon rode into the sunset. And not one of them, not one, was as senior as Cook is now. None of them played for so long nor scored the same amount of runs.

And that, my friends, is why England must get a result in Mumbai. If Cook has to stand down as captain, we might ultimately end up losing our most senior batsman too. And that’s something this team simply cannot afford to do.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Coral


  • I think that it’s your brain that is frazzled, as it didn’t occur to you that a new baby many
    miles away might just have affected his form !!

  • Decent thoughts as always, personally I don’t think Cook is in the same position as the other captains mentioned. Athers is a better comparison, Vaughan went back to Yorkshire to make a bid for the 2009 Ashes but couldn’t put the runs on the board while Straussy but for some runs against the WI in 2012 had really tailed off so it was lack of ability to command a place in the side that finished them.

    I guess none of us know Cook, he was always felt to be a bit of a reluctant captain but was too stubborn to give it up so being able to bow out and return to the ranks feeling that he has had a full life cycle in the role could be all he is looking for.

    The real question for me is does Root want it? Already playing three formats and with the burden of being the best batsmen. The other options are not appealing to me rotation of bowlers means that it almost has to be a batsmen and we have so few who are certain to be in the side in 12 months time

  • Bit unfair to disregard Broad for captaincy only based on his DRS reviewing record (which is second to only Watto’s) but the point makes sense. Root is the obvious choice but he’s woefully short on experience. If Mumbai does turn out to be their lucky ground, it might give Cooky a chance to breathe. Maybe the week’s gap did good to some of them to clear out the cobwebs!

    • How about disregarding Broad because he was awful as T20 captain when he was given the role? His only strategy appeared to be bowling everyone else but himself during the PowerPlay overs and England ended up exiting the tournament after being defeated by the Netherlands.

      The other problem is that Broad (and Anderson) are likely to miss matches, given their ages and England’s schedule.

  • I wonder if he’s just had enough of the responsibility/ies. Cook went into a cricket career because he enjoyed batting not because he loved captaincy with all the involvement in planning, media work, sorting out problems and probably meeting after meeting. I’ve known talented computer programmers who moved into management (because it pays more) and enjoy it less.

    I reckon going back to the ranks is certainly possible. He does it when he turns out for Essex. Problem is that I can’t see anyone else suited to the England captaincy.

    • That’s a good point Benny. He does play for Essex too. I might counter that by arguing that he’s rarely at Essex for long. It would be harder if they’re all on tour together for a long period of time.

  • I usually agree with a lot of what you say James and generally understand where an article has come from but a few points here seem to be an overreaction.

    First, the Bayliss comments. Bayliss has always said exactly what he thinks, when he said its up to him to step up I think it’s clear that he means maybe he needs to do more and is taking responsibility for the team direction. He’s still new to the setup and previously with Sri Lanka there were certain figures who clearly took total control. There is nothing wrong in bayliss playing a bigger role in team tactics, he openly has said he hasn’t done much previously.

    Also, cooks form has not been bad at all. It’s unfair to say ‘he just missed a straight one in mohali’ as the piece of bowling from Ashton was quite superb, he moved cool around the crease and made it impossible to cook to read length from trajectory, he did cook in flight and a large drop in pace, meaning he was over stretching going forward to a ball that had he realised was just 40 odd mph he would be back to. (Also you’ve mstaken once in 11 innings for tests above).

    Also I don’t think it’s very wise to compare cook to bell, as much as I’m a fan of bell (I’ve got tickets for all the Perth games played in Melbourne) they’re polar opposites when it comes to mental toughness. Also cook is younger than the previous England captains and also a better and more important player. There is absolutely no way cook will not keep playing if he lost the captaincy, he’d still be in a world test xi. Also, there’s no way having a guy with the experience of cook would be a hi defence in my book, he’s highly regarded by the team and that’s because of his approach and treatment of players.

    I do however think it could be a time for root to be captain and stokes vc. This should however be decided well into next year, both cook and root have quite a bit going on and it’s hard to imagine it isn’t affecting them on a tour like this, all the players look shattered not just him. But it may be better to move forward with root stokes Bairstow and buttler (when playing) leading the team tactically, they are all very smart cricketers.

    • Hi Dom,

      The main point of the article is that Cook look exhausted and needs a rest. I don’t think that’s particularly controversial. The second half focuses on why it might not be straightforward for Cook to return to the ranks. I’m not saying it can’t work; I’m arguing that it might not be as simple as everyone seems to assume.

      Although Cook is a little younger (he turns 32 in a couple of weeks and Bell was 33 when he was dumped) sometimes I think that age is irrelevant – it’s miles on the clock that counts.

      Cook has played an awful lot of cricket and it can takes its toll irrespective of age. I know it’s not a perfect comparison by any means but Wayne Rooney has only just turned 31 but he’s played a hell of a lot of football. Many people are writing him off. Similarly Michael Owen was finished at about age 28. Sometimes when players start their careers at an early age they finish at an early age too. The mind / body can only take so much.

      Again, I’m not trying to argue that Cook is finished. Underestimating the bloke is clearly foolish. I’m just trying to give a different perspective / look at things from a different angle, and inspire some debate :-)

  • If this offends anyone then I am sorry. I will be glad when Cook is gone altogether. He has had such a detrimental affect on all the team for oh so many reasons. He should have stepped down from captaincy a very long time ago. He was never ever captain material. A good batsman and of course thanks to the ECB Cook will go down in history, but his time is gone.

    England need new impetus and so Cook has to go. Sooner the better.

    • Careful what you wish for, we’ve just spent the last 4 years looking for an opener, who then promptly breaks his hand. How long would it take find a second!

      I don’t particularly like him either, I’ve still not forgiven him and Strauss for the Pietersen thing, his captaincy frustrates me and he’s definitely struggling a bit at the moment but if I had to choose one of this eleven to bat for my life, Cook would still be my second choice behind Root.

      • On the other hand, Hameed’s broken finger might mean we find a second new opener…

        And if my life were on the line, right now I might just opt for YJB rather than the skip.

  • James, good point about rank and file, I was thinking the same the other day. Unlike some other nations, notably Pakistan, England don’t do multiple ex-captains in the same side and the reason is exactly what you state: authority of the new captain.

    Let’s keep a close eye on Cook’s batting for not only the remaining Tests in India but next summer too. If he continues to miss straight balls then I’m afraid Father Time has started to tap him on the shoulder. Technically orthodox batsmen such as Cook can survive an extended period in this phase. Conversely, those great batsmen who regaled us with their superb stroke play via magnificent hand-eye coordination and almost no footwork become village cricketers overnight.

    Then again, as pointed out, it may be that he just needs to be with his young family. On this point, I would have thought giving Root a few weeks off at the beginning of the white ball leg would have been good for everyone. He’s expecting the birth of his first born which makes it all the more special. Given he’s a certainty for all three formats, I’m not sure what’s to gain by keeping him on duty during this time.

    • Thanks Sanjayn. I agree entirely. It’s never a good sign when good players miss straight balls and get bowled through the gate. Cook looks like he needs a rest and will have to did very deep at Mumbai. I’m sure he can recover, and the rest at the end of this tour will certainly do him good – plus I have no doubts that he has the physical ability to play well into his 30s – but the question is whether he has the desire or the mental ability to continue. Cricket taxes the brain as well as the body, and although Cook is a very resilient guy, there must be a chance that he’s nearing the end. Basically nothing would surprise me.

  • I remember when Rahul Dravid started to lose his touch, he got bowled and lbw out a lot. Cook is probably getting to that stage in his career, he might still have a few good years about, so maybe he should concentrate on his batting for the last couple of years? Cook was also never the most intuitive captain, plus he never looked like he enjoyed the captaincy, so maybe it’s time to give it to someone else. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone else, except for root.

    It could also just be that he needs to go home and spend some time with his family, in which case the break after the india series would do him some good. Coming to Bayliss, I don’t entirely agree with his washing his hands off the first three tests. Seriously, can anyone explain how the coaching setup in England works? I don’t understand how a coach could pick a player without having seen him at all.

  • Paul, agree about Dravid altho his period was incredibly short compared to Tendulkar. The latter went into decline as early as the 2002 tour of the West Indies but somehow continued for another 10 years! However, the 90s Tendulkar was significantly different to the noughties, and we’re talking about a player who played his first FC game at 15, his debut Test at 16. Those who start very early will fade earlier, notwithstanding an astonishing 600+ international games. SRT started missing straight balls at an alarming rate, he has a high rate of lbws and bowled dismissals in his Test career.

    Cook has been edging to the slips quite a bit in this series, the poor Indian slip fielding has disguised another potential issue. At any rate, we’re hours away from the start of the 4th Test. I just read news that India’s Rahane has broken his finger in the nets and he’s out for the series which brings me to another one of my pet peeves: the number of injuries suffered in the nets, many from errant flying balls. Some questions should be asked of the quality of the nets, Rahane is the 3rd player from the Indian team to have broken or fractured a bone in the nets.

    • Good point. Pandya, Rahul and now Rahane have gotten injured in the nets. Let’s hope Kohli can get through the net sessions without getting injured. Tendulkar stayed on too long IMO, he should have retired earlier. Dravid, VVS, Sourav all went when their skills started declining (well the 4-0 loss to England helped).

      If Shami is not playing the next match, then it most probably will be Bhuvaneshwar. I haven’t seen him bowl for a while ( I missed the last 2 test series) so it will be interesting. Saha is still injured, so parthiv behind the stumps I guess. I am however still not convinced with Parthiv’s glovework.

      • Bit Harsh on Tendulkar, still averaged 50 from 2003 till the end of his career. I would concede he was a better player before as he became more of a accumulator

  • I agree with most of what you say James (with a ‘Bell’ exception – see below) but the elephant in the house really seems to be who can be captain if not Cook? The selectors and (to a lesser extent) Bayliss need heavy criticism for so utterly failing to provide serious competition for the captaincy. Root seems to be the anointed one, and I admire him as a bat, but it is not only his lack of any captaincy experience that is a problem. He also has an unfortunate tendency to come across as ‘one of the boys’ (or Stokes Lite). I agree Broad is a non starter. That means the only reasonably established test player with captaincy experience is Woakes, who took the Lions to a successful and happy tour of Sri Lanka – but even I would concede he is unlikely to be given the job (I am pretty sure Whitaker requires an interpreter for the Brummie accent).

    As for the Bell exception; Bell certainly shelled catches late on but that was more down to being in the slips. I cannot recall seeing Bell in the slips at Edgbaston and it is beyond me why the idiots moved the best short leg in the country (and a decent out fielder) into a position he neither wanted or was very good at. Another own goal by Cook and Bayliss (unless it was part of a grand plan to ditch him).

    • It’s an interesting point re: Bell’s fielding. There’s always an assumption that good batsmen are good slip fielders too. I’m a batsman myself, and because I’m about as mobile as Dwayne Leverock in the field (albeit slightly less rotund), coaches / captains have always tried to put me in the slips. I’m useless there. I always seem to pick up the ball late, and I switch off too easily between deliveries. A fielder needs to find his best position and stick to it as much as possible imho.

    • England’s slips have had the feeling they are allocated by seniority for some time. Lyth was one of the best slips in the country but hardly fielded there for England. I don’t understand why Stokes isn’t the regular second slip.

      Liam Dawson is (or was until a broken finger) one of the best slips in the country. If he plays tomorrow (which sounds possible with the news on Broad not looking promising), what’s the betting he’s sent to boot hill like all debutants?

  • Can’t YJB captain? He seems to be tough and sensible. Does he have any captaincy experience? I’d take the gloves off him and bat him at four; or five if Jennings clicks.

    Also, you seem to totally oversell Cook’s coming back into the rank and file being such a big deal. He just doesn’t come across like the kind of guy who the young ‘uns look up to or run to for advice. Despite what they might say to the press. Cook just has never seemed like an inspirational figure. He almost looks like he’d find giving a pep talk somewhat awkward. As for tactical advice, he’s not really been a fountain of strategic knowledge or quick decision making even when he is captain. How much is he really going contribute once he’s just a batsman. Non-issue if you ask me. I think it would be best for Cook and the team if he gives up the captaincy, puts his head to the grindstone and starts piling on the runs.

    • I really don’t believe Cook is that passive in the dressing room. I think the team genuinely like and respect him. The guy we see on camera (he’s obviously a tad media shy) isn’t the same guy who talks to the players. I’m not trying to make out that he’s some kind of motivational speaker or tub-thumper, but I do think his style is somewhat similar to Strauss i.e. calm but authoritative. I think Cook had developed a bit of a strut in the field in recent times … although that’s gone missing on this tour.

      • I don’t think he is passive either but I do think it a bit of a stretch imagining junior players runnning to him for guidance when he is not a captain and that that would somehow undermine the next skipper.

        I do agree about the similiaraties with Strauss though. Where I disagree with you is that England would lose Cook the batsman if they lose Cook the captain. From how the Strauss episode played out, I’d think it all the more imperative that Cook sets down the captaincy and focuses completely on resurrecting his batting. In hindsight I’d reckon all three of Atherton, Hussain and Strauss would agree that they could have played for longer and better if they’d stepped down as captains earlier.

        • You may well be right. I’m just pointing out that everyone takes Cook continuing as a batsman for granted. But we don’t actually know what his intentions are. He might well have had enough. We just don’t know. As far as I’m aware he hasn’t actually expressed any desire either way.

  • Small point of accuracy – in Rajkot on the final day Cook went from 50 to 100 in 72 balls with 7 boundaries – it’s not Adam Gilchrist, but describing it as turgid is a little bit OTT, especially since India were bowling to stem the runs.

    As far as going back to the ranks, I don’t think he’d have a problem – he seems the type that can probably compartmentalise batting from captaincy and I think more than anything in cricket he likes being an opening batsman.

    • Hi Hamish. England scored more slowly on the fifth morning than they did on the fourth evening. I thought Cook was too cautious and didn’t try to accelerate until far too late. We had a number of attacking players left in the hutch. Just my view mate.

      • 4th evening 114 off 37 overs, 5th morning 96 off 29, so actually marginally quicker. I’m pretty sure the plan in the morning would be to bat out the first hour to remove the chance of a collapse which they did successfully.

        I’m taking issue with the fact that you said that Cook batted turgidly on the 5th morning and cost England the chance to press for victory, when in fact he increased his scoring rate significantly (0-50 off 122, 50-100 off 72). If anything it was Hameed got bogged down on the 5th morning, scoring 20 runs off 61 balls, but we can’t really be too harsh on him at this stage.

        • I said ‘some felt’ he cost his side the chance of victory. Personally I think that’s a bit harsh but I do think he batted too slowly in the circumstances. With Hameed going slowly there was even more need for Cook to seize the initiative or get out and let Stokes / Bairstow etc do some damage. When Stokes eventually came in he managed to score at a run a ball I recall? I think 3 an over when you’re setting up a declaration is too slow. Either way, that’s all in the past. It’s Cook’s current form and wellbeing that’s the issue here.

  • I personally feel its a good time to switch the captaincy. Each captain has their shelf life and I sense Cook has had his for many of the reasons stated above.
    There’s a summer against a good South Africa and a poor WI for a new captain to bed in before taking on the ultimate tour.

    A question when is a player considered a senior player?
    Only Root has now played 51 tests.

    • I know 51 Test might not seem a lot when a team plays 17 a year but there will be a fair few players we think of as having full careers who played about that. Trott played 53, Swann 60, Gough 58, Giles 54 are a few examples.

      Atherton was made captain in 1993, four years after his test debut in 1989 he had played 27 Tests and averaged 34.70

      • Atherton faced miles better bowling than root and not as many weak attacks.. let alone advances in bats, fitness, smaller boundaries which would add a bit onto athertons ans remove a chunk off roots

      • Donald
        Shoaib (might be a bit too early )

        Slighty better than roach, holder, Matthews, siddle etc etc

      • What would be interesting is to actually see what quality root has faced (were they injured like steyn was etc)… I suspect roots faced very little and when he has.. he’s probably been found out (ashes 2013/14 by Harris/Johnson for example)

  • Cook isn’t a natural leader of men and he isn’t dynamic (not the same as reckless) in the field. He is however one of the few remaining test quality batsmen left in the world and I’m hoping that captaining the train crash that has been the ecb since ashes down under hasn’t taken its toll and drained his mental powers.

    He’s getting out in ways that aren’t of a man who is patient and waits for the ball is his areas etc. Those that think root would be better are deluded.. he’s looking very flustered at the crease and doesn’t seem to be able to decide to play test cricket or white ball run a ball stuff..

    I hope cook continues as there is no one else but I hope his mental form doesn’t desert him and deprive England of one third of it’s only test batters

    • It’s funny, a couple of years ago the acronym TINA (in relation to Cook’s captaincy) was the cause of much bitterness and a source of satire in these parts. Heaven knows, he’s hardly developed into England’s Steve Waugh since then. Yet now that we’re faced with the reality that we are (at the very least) probably much nearer the end of his captaincy than the beginning, it really does seem that there is no truly compelling alternative. Anderson and Broad are both unsuitable and fading and we’ve already said goodbye to several other senior players – some not for the best of reasons. Arguably England went through something like this in the ’90s after the Gooch/Gower/Gatting/Botham generation had all departed – although of course the two eras are entirely different in many other ways. Just a crazy thought: what about Moeen? I know he’s got zilch captaincy experience, but our wonderful selectors wouldn’t worry about a little detail like that. Seriously, following the tactical deficiencies of Cook’s tenure just how bad could he be? And after all, short of keeping wicket Mo’s been given just about other job in the team so why not add to his collection? He only needs now to bat at another couple if positions, convert himself into a seam bowler and take the captaincy for a bit to qualify for his Duke of Edinburgh award…


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