I know, I know. It’s a very provocative headline. I’m blushing a bit to be honest because I love Joe Root. He’s one of my favourite batsmen, and probably the best player England have produced since Graham Gooch. The last thing I want to do is slag off the England cricket captain.
Consequently I want to add the following caveat before I critique his bizarre suggestion yesterday that The Hundred will actually help England’s ODI team, even though the ECB have downgraded domestic 50 over cricket to accommodate it. Basically, I wouldn’t expect anything else from an England skipper these days.
Sadly the days when someone like Ian Botham could be both a maverick and England cricket captain have gone. The captaincy now brings with it corporate and political responsibilities. He’s the figure head of English cricket in many ways, and therefore he has no choice but to toe the party line (no matter how absurd it is).
Joe isn’t the only one who has followed this mandatory path either. Eoin Morgan used to speak his mind before he was captain too. And Eoin has also done his very best to support The Hundred at every opportunity. It’s part of the job description after all.
It’s funny how England players suddenly change their perspectives when they become skipper. Back in 2014, when Morgan was just one of the lads, he spoke warmly about Kevin Pietersen and argued his sacking was unbelievable:
I think it’s unbelievable in a way, because certainly he could still be playing for England quite easily … it is sad to think that probably the best cricketer I have ever played with is not playing any more … a guy I have had huge respect for, for a very long time, and learnt a huge amount from isn’t playing.
And yet, as soon as he became captain, one of the first things he did was to rule out a Pietersen recall – despite the fact that they were friends and it had previously been reported that Morgan would “love” to have him back in the side. Eoin also got very tetchy at a press conference when asked about the possibility of KP’s return:
I think that’s a terrible question. Kevin is not in the side, he won’t be in the side for the foreseeable future, so there’s no point in answering that question. Kevin’s situation hasn’t changed over the last year. It’s been reiterated over months and days. It was reiterated before Christmas by the chairman of selectors and I’m reiterating it again just to clear it up. Thank you. I’m very happy with the group of players I have, I think this is the best group of players we have to drive the England team forward.
It’s amazing what a word in the ear can do. Even Tony Hawk would’ve been proud of that 360 degree turn.
A similar pattern can also be detected in Alastair Cook’s utterances on Pietersen’s sacking. Although Alastair was desperate to have his say at the time (back in 2013), all he could do then was support his employers:
The last thing we wanted to do was make Kevin a scapegoat for what happened in Australia. That is not what it was about at all. But at a time you have to say this is what we want going forward and that was the decision we made. For people to say it was a decision made on a toss of a coin is wrong and I think very disrespectful to those who made the decision because a lot of effort in the first place went into getting him back in the side in 2012. A lot of effort and thought went into making the decision now.
The tell tale sign, however, was when Alastair admitted that the whole situation was “frustrating”, especially as he was unable to reveal his personal feelings. Roll on five years however, when Cook was no longer captain, and he finally revealed that some of those frustrations were with the board, and he ‘regretted’ what happened.
I argued repeatedly at the time that KP’s sacking wasn’t Cook’s fault (contrary to popular belief), and it was the board’s cynical decision to portray the saga as a ‘Pietersen versus Cook’ issue. The ECB’s goal, I assume, was to very unfairly make England’s popular whiter-than-white captain the lightning rod for the controversy (to the baord off the hook). It subsequently emerged that I was onto something. Here’s what he said about the saga in 2018.
I was involved in the decision at first, but the England captain doesn’t have the final say on hiring and firing … I said “why don’t we give him some time off, we can go away and maybe KP can come back later on”. But Paul Downton wanted clarity, a clean break … the fallout was pretty nasty and I don’t think the ECB handled it well or appreciated how social media worked very well then. I bore a lot of the brunt of it … but there were a lot of other people, way above my head, also involved … I felt like I was being left alone as the captain.
Now I don’t blame Alastair for saying what he needed to say at the time. He was in a weak position (having lost the Ashes 0-5) and I wouldn’t have rocked the boat either. People who rock the boat don’t get on very well at the ECB – just as they don’t in many walks of life. It’s why KP didn’t last long as England cricket captain. And I’m sure Joe Root is mindful of this.
The problem with Joe’s comments on The Hundred, however, are that they’re completely unbelievable. And therefore they’re somewhat insulting supporters’ intelligence. Here’s what he said about The Hundred (in relation to England’s ODI fortunes) yesterday in more detail:
By playing the Hundred, you’re exposing our next generation of players to play against some of the best players in the world. Regardless of the format … Look at the guys in the current white-ball team who have gone off to play in the IPL: they’ve come back better players for it. I feel the Hundred will have a similar impact on more English players. Of course it’s important we look after our 50-over cricket and, long-term, don’t let it slide off a cliff. But I don’t think playing the Hundred will dilute our chances of winning the next World Cup.
Pull the other one, Joe. Yes our players will benefit from participating in an IPL-style league but playing 100-ball cricket (or even T20 cricket) is only going to teach them how to hit out. It’s not going to teach them how to build an ODI innings or pace and ODI innings correctly. This is exactly the kind of mentality that led Ed Smith to pick Jason Roy as a test opener – the flawed assumption that the level of competition one plays is automatically more relevant than the form of cricket one plays.
The other glaring hole in Root’s logic is that the next generation of talented youngsters will now have to make their international 50 over debuts without any domestic 50 over preparation. After all, the last time they played a 50-over game will be a distant memory. What’s worse, young players who have yet to play a List A game for their county could now face the prospect of making their ODI debut having never played a single professional 50 over game in their lives (unless they’re lucky enough to play the odd fixture for The Lions). How can this do anything other that hurt England’s ODI side in the long run?
The negative effect the Hundred will have on first class cricket, however, will be even more severe. We’ve already seen how the ECB’s fixation with white ball cricket has hurt England’s test team, and Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit is just going to make it worse by consigning the championship to the fringes of the season forevermore.
But not according to Joe Root. When questioned about the decline in first class cricket yesterday the England cricket captain tried to shift the blame from the schedulers (i.e. his employers) to the groundsmen of all people:
The key is making sure the wickets for Championship cricket are good. Some of the wickets have not been good enough this season. We have to make sure we’re producing wickets that allow guys to get in and make big scores. You want the next group of batters to know what’s it’s like to score big hundreds; to deal with scoreboard pressure; to bat for two days to stay in a game and earn a dull draw. And you also have to find a way to take wickets – to take 20 wickets – on flat ones. I’d like to see wickets improve. And that ultimately comes down to the counties.
Ah right. So it’s not the ECB’s fault for marginalising the championship. Apparently we can all enjoy a utopia of marvellous cricket wickets in early April and late September if only the counties and curators would pull their fingers out! I’d like to see Root try to prepare a superb batting wicket with a bit of assistance for the spinners on the 1st April when the square’s as green as an elf’s tights.
Now I do have some sympathy for Joe; so please excuse the sarcasm. It can’t be easy being England cricket captain when you feel compelled to argue that white is black and the moon is made of Wensleydale. However, try not to insult the groundsmen in addition to our intelligence.
The bottom line, of course, is that nobody should ever take anything current players say (especially captains) seriously. Instead we have to look at what former England players say (ones who no longer have a dog in the fight) for a more authentic representation of what the professional game really thinks.
And so we come back to Alastair Cook. Here’s what he had to say when the ECB launched The Hundred last year:
There has to be a place for five-day or four-day cricket … The difference, for me, is the satisfaction of a long game compared to the thrill of a shorter game. There’s a bit of caution with me. I still think you have to protect the traditional cricket. It’s obvious to see how every tournament of that is thriving where Test cricket isn’t thriving as it was, say 10 years, ago. At the moment, all the money is in the shorter formats of the game. There must be a way of combining the two and protecting Test cricket because of all that it stands for.
Would Cook have said this if he was still England cricket captain? Of course not. He’d have waxed lyrical about The Hundred and spoken enthusiastically about how it was a great opportunity to grow the game. And when quizzed about the declining standards of first class cricket, he probably would’ve blamed the EU or the Daleks.
Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a few years before we find out what Joe Root really thinks. Although, to be honest, the prospect of earning huge wads of cash might influence his thinking somewhat. After all, we all believe what we want to believe at the end of the day.
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