Nobody Does It Better

I sometimes wonder what Alastair Cook might have been in another life. What job would have suited him in a world without cricket? Because he scrubs up pretty well, and looks rather dapper in a dinner jacket, some might see him as a James Bond character – making the ladies swoon with his clean cut Englishness.

However, he’s probably not quite daring enough to be a secret agent. In fact, sometimes I think he’s more like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings. “Is it still raining at Edgbaston? I hadn’t noticed”.

If one was to ask the West Indies, they might say Alastair would fit in well at the Gestapo. After all, he’s become an expert at breaking the opposition. Cook was born to grind opponents into the ground and destroy their resolve. When he was finally dismissed for 243 yesterday evening, the Windies could barely manage half a celebration. They were just glad it was over.

Obviously some people in the mainstream media (and social media) have gone all gooey eyed over Cook’s latest epic – it’s always thus whenever Alastair does anything impressive – but it’s always best to see things in context rather than going over the top.

The truth is that Alastair hasn’t been at his best for some time. Before this game he’d only scored two hundreds in his last 47 test innings. And for all the criticism of Joe Root’s conversion rate, Alastair had only converted five of his last 31 half-centuries.

My personal views on Cook haven’t changed since his first year in test cricket. I don’t think he’s a great player – whatever ‘great’ means – because I don’t think his technique is quite good enough to withstand the very best fast bowling. Names like McGrath, Harris, Morkel and Philander spring to mind. What’s more, he can’t dominate high class fast bowling in the same way that Gooch, Vaughan, Stewart and Trescothick occasionally used to do. It’s always a matter of survival with Cook … hanging on for grim death.

However, as yesterday proved once again (just like his other three test double hundreds did) Cook has everything else a high class opening batsman needs in spades: focus, grit, determination, and an absolutely relentless appetite for runs. Whereas Joe Root occasionally gets out because he loses concentration (probably because it’s all a bit easy for him), Alastair is never ever satisfied. He wants every single run he can reap. And because of this the statistical achievements just keep mounting up. Basically, he’s one hell of an impressive character.

Yesterday’s epic therefore didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: Cook is remarkable in many ways. His longevity, both in terms of his stamina to play long innings as well as his long-term fitness, is unparalleled in modern English cricket. When it comes to cashing in against ailing attacks (or in benign conditions) nobody does it better than Alastair. And I doubt nobody ever has.

However, let’s not forget that Cook has had a somewhat underwhelming summer. He’s rarely looked comfortable unless Philander was off the field or Morkel was having a breather. Soft runs against the West Indies doesn’t change this. And boy were they soft runs. The big issues at Edgbaston shouldn’t be the ‘day-night’ thing, it’s the extremely sad demise of West Indies cricket. It almost makes one want to cry.

Because of all this, I still think Cook has something to prove this winter – which might seem like an odd thing to say about a player with 31 test hundreds and almost 150 games under his belt. The fact is that Alastair’s Ashes record isn’t particularly good. Yes he was superb in 2010/11 when the Aussies were in disarray and Siddle and Hilfenhaus were opening the bowling, but he’s disappointed in his other five Ashes series. In fact, he’s never scored a single Ashes hundred in England – a quite remarkable statistic that not many people know.

What’s more, as mentioned above, Cook’s record against top class fast bowling is somewhat underwhelming. The statistics prove that he’s at his best against attacks that don’t test his technique, or on flat subcontinental wickets that offer the seamers very little. It’s no coincidence that his last three test centuries came at Rajkot (a high-scoring affair where six batsmen men hundreds in the match), Abu Dhabi (another batsman’s paradise where Shoaib Malik made 245), and Manchester, where Root made 325 runs in the match on his own.

The truth is that Cook has rarely risen to the occasion and played in a blinder in games bowlers have dominated. He occasionally battles through by surviving and leaving the ball well, but he never makes batting look easy in games where others have struggled (like Root often does). This, of course, is the mark of truly great players.

Consequently, England don’t really need Cook’s runs now – against a dispirited popgun attack. We need him to stand up and prove his perceived quality in the cauldron of an Ashes struggle. We need him to do what Gooch used to do at his best: dominate a world class attack and show the other batsmen that the opposition are mortal after all. And it’s not just Gooch I’m thinking of. One could point to Vaughan down under in 2002/2003, or Alec Stewart in Barbados in 1994. Other England openers of recent times have done it. Now Cook must lead the way too.

I’ve said for a long time that Cook will be England’s key man this winter. He simply must score runs for England to have a hope of retaining the Ashes. If Alastair can do that then we might finally be able to call him ‘great’ with some justification.

Therefore I ask everyone to hold back the hyperboles for now. After all, you’ll have nothing left in the tank if Alastair does actually produce some genuine, meaningful, heroics this winter. Never forget that Ravi Bopara also has three test hundreds against the West Indies. And Adam Voges also has three (with a top score of 269*). And where are they now?

Thus far this test match has demonstrated the tragic state of West Indies fast bowling far more than anything else. Which is why we celebrating individual landmarks feels just a little inappropriate to me.

James Morgan


  • Fair comment I think. West Indies would be better with Shannon Gabriel available but it’s hardly Marshall Holding Garner and Walsh (the attack that rolled the Aussies in 1984/5), part of one of the greatest teams ever (Greenidge Haynes Richardson Richards Gomes Dujon Lloyd were the top 7). When you look at that the current state of West Indies cricket is indeed a crying shame.

  • Have to agree with most of that perceptive article James. Disagree with the “nobody does it better – ever”. Matthew Hayden for one. Don’t know if Hutton ever faced ailing attacks but 364 ain’t bad.

    Yes, Cook is one of the best openers we’ve had and has played many important innings. I suspect we’d value him more if he’d been able to be part of a successful opening partnership over the past few years. Imagine Cook at one end and Tresco at the other.

    • 364 was apparently on a complete road. Hutton only declared at 903 when he was certain Bradman was injured and would not be able to bat.

    • I was going to mention Hayden’s 380 against Zimbabwe in this piece but forgot! I would have loved to see Trescothick open with Cook – although I always though Vaughan might have been a better foil.

      In many ways, Tresco’s premature retirement opened the door for Alastair to start his career early – thus making all these records possible. Maybe Cook could have batted 3? I think he might have done on occasion in order to incorporate all those fine openers.

      • Hutton’s 364 was on a road and against an injury-hit attack – but he played most of his Ashes’ career against Lindwall and Miller (plus some more than handy support) and at a time when the new ball was available after 55 overs.

        Nobody in their right mind begrudges a batsman easier runs against weaker attacks when they’ve stood up against the tougher attacks. The Indian bowling Gooch scored 333 against was pretty poor (Kapil was well past his best by then) but he’d scored 154* off the West Indies and 135 off Wasim/Waqar.

  • “he never makes batting look easy in games where others have struggled”.

    I think you could delete the “in games where others have struggled”, James.

  • Couple of other thoughts on this. You make Cook sound like the new Graeme Hick – a flat track bully. Also the WICB must take its share of the blame for the state of West Indies cricket. Poor pitches and their ongoing war with the players over contracts and availability have drained the team.

    • Don’t get me started on Hick. He was my boyhood idol! I never liked the flat track bully tag because New Road was rarely remotely flat during Hick’s career. I think his problems (like Ramprakash) were mainly mental and he would have done a lot better in international cricket had he played in an era of central contracts etc. We look after our players a lot better now. By the way, people often overlook how good Hick’s ODI record for England was … and the fact he once top scored in a world cup semi final. Those were the days :-) even though England were pretty crap back then.

      • The flat track bully thing is one of those lazy media catchphrases. If it were that simple, how come Thorpe, Vaughan etc never reached 405* ?

        I think we all know that Hick went out to bat for England with a certain Yorkshire voice ringing out “if you don’t get a big score, you’re dead”. Same for Ramps

        • I think Hicks problems were mental but just look at his introduction to test cricket.
          1991, the great West Indians
          1992, Wasim & Waqar
          1993, the Australian’s including Mr Warns.

          If only he’d have started one year earlier against the more friendly Indian attack history may have been different.
          Of course it may not have been, but as a massive fan of Hick I’ll always ready that excuse.

  • I think Cook has done OK considering he has only 3 strokes. Making the most of his opportunities. You are asking for blood James!

  • Good article James. Pretty much sums up my view of Cook.

    Even if I do write for a blog that supposedly ‘only writes hateful things about Cook’.

  • Yes agree, great from Cook. But put it in perspective. This was against no better than bufett bowling, in fact almost net practice. No problem with England having a field day here, but come on people, this is hardly a “Test” match! This lot should have been given one test if that. Its not going to tell us anything about which of the newer players are ready for Australia. Add rain, cold, pink balls and 10 o’clock at night in Birmingham – hardly tropical delights. No thanks.

    • I didn’t see any of this when England were cannon fodder for the Windies and Australia. I remember England getting tanked over 3 days by the Windies and the Ashes being decided after I think about 13 days of cricket down under.None of the Windies or Aussies fans, players or punits whinged about the shellacking handed out and none of them decided not to count English wkts or runs scored against them.

  • only on here and with certain so called England fan are there these back handed comments about Cook and what he has done over 140 plus tests. You can dress it up how you all want, but in the end it all comes down to KP and Cook’s alleged part in his demise. You see in the end all you are is some punter who has never played the game at a top level. The people who’s opinions really count are the top players, those still playing and those doing the punditry and they seem to be almost united in their praise of Cook as a top batsman. It must be particularly galling for some of you to still see him there churning out the scores, whilst the object of your dreams in not an afterthought in test cricket and spends his time making loads of money, playing a form of cricket that is chewing gum for the eyes. Wonder if this will get printed or will the KP appreciation society get all het up and block it.

    • Hi William. I’ve written many, many times that I don’t think Cook had much to do with Pietersen’s sacking at all. I also wrote many critical articles about KP getting out carelessly and then shrugging his shoulders and saying ‘that’s the way I play’. You might be confusing me with a former editor of this site who left two years ago.

      In this article I wrote that Cook was ‘remarkable’, ‘relentless’, and that ‘nobody does it better’ when it comes to batting long and grinding opponents into the dust. Yet somehow you’ve interpreted all this as a back-handed compliment! Why does pointing out the very few areas he can improve in somehow make this a negative post? Why is anything other than 100% praise deemed as illegitimate? I would’ve though that an article expressing the same old platitudes published elsewhere would have been a rather boring read.

      By the way, Cook himself doesn’t think his technique is perfect, and is quite open about his occasional struggles. As for the pundits, Michael Holding once said “Alastair Cook? I’d fancy a bowl at him’. Yet none of this – none of it- detracts from what a fine servant he’s been for English cricket. I admire him immensely. I just wish others would show more balance. It’s like all the football pundits who used to portray David Beckham as some kind of genius when in reality he was just a very good player who did one or two things particularly well.

      • and for what its worth James, for me Gooch is the finest opener for England I have witnessed. He scored runs against the best the Windies and Aussies had to offer, at their peak as well. His 150 plus not out against the Windies at a freezing Headlingly is one of the greatest innings I have ever seen. I remember him saying that Warne wasn’t that difficult to play against as the ball was only coming down at 50 mph, great tongue in cheek comment. Only problem I had with him was his toupee,

      • a question James, nowt to do with Cook etc. In 1999 England were rated the worst side in cricket. There were no bleating from our opponents about how awful England were and that England
        should be relegated to some sort of outer world to play with the likes of Mongolia. So why the weeping and gnashing of teeth and attempts to downplay the smashing of the Windies in this test. I don’t seem to remember the Windies or anyone for that matter having any sympathy or downgrading their win, runs and wkts when smashing England on a oh too regular basis.

    • “You see in the end all you are is some punter who has never played the game at a top level. The people who’s opinions really count are the top players, those still playing and those doing the punditry…. ”

      As hilariously, self-unaware a comment that I have had the privilege to read. Shut down now Talk Radio. Close the Twitter feed you sports clubs and media outlets. Get rid of all those TV phone-ins Sky et al. Ian Botham has said something and it is GOSPEL.

      • well said, get rid of twitter I say. Its first four letters sum up those who use it. Who wants to listen to unqualified numpties who tell great sportsmen what they are doing wrong. Its quite embarrassing I think, don’t you Jonno. Unless of course you think you do know more about cricket than Ian Botham.

        • I don’t know about not knowing more than Ian Botham, because I never faced the West Indies, but a mafia hitmob. However, I wouldn’t have selected Pippa’s ex just because someone told me he could bowl a doosra.

          • sorry you lost me there mate, who is Pippa and who is her ex. And when did you face down a mafia hitmob?

  • you seem also to forget that he has a ton against Warne and McGrath at the WACA, which I was lucky enough to witness. Its not his fault that both retired after that series or that he was too young to have been picked to face them in their pomp. He has also scored tons in SA against Steyn etc. I was there when England retained the Ashes in 2011, and he scored runs by the bucket against Harris, Siddle and Johnson. He has the most tons by anyone in India, I see you have managed to airbrush most of that out of your article

    • I have written time and again about how good Cook was in India. He was superhuman in that first series as captain and did more than anyone, including Swann, Panesar, and Pietersen, to win that series. He’s very effective in the subcontinent because the pitches rarely help the seamers. You can get away with an imperfect technique. Just look at what happened to Keaton Jennings – a ton on debut but then his technique exposed in England.

      I’m afraid I must pull you up on the points you make about Cook’s record in Australia though. He averaged 27 in that series you mention (the one when he made a ton at Perth) so it cannot be presented as a successful experience. In the 2010/11 Ashes, Mitchell Johnson couldn’t land it on the strip, and Ryan Harris only played in two of the tests I recall and wasn’t fully fit.

      Yes Cook did make a ton against Steyn about six years ago (Bell top scored in the match I recall) but his overall record against South Africa is moderate – averaging just 31 in South Africa and 35 overall. It’s no coincidence that he averages less overall against SA and Aust (with their battery of fast bowlers) than he does against other opponents. I’m not saying he’s a bad player of fast bowling, far from it, but he does have vulnerabilities that plenty overlook.

      Once again though, I don’t see why an article that’s overwhelmingly positive should be interpreted as dig. It’s almost as if some people are only willing to consider unqualified praise. Had I written an article praising Jimmy Anderson (but pointing out that his record with the Kookaburra ball down under isn’t good) would people react in the same way? There’s always been something about people leaping to Cook’s defence come what may – even over the mildest criticism. I’ve never quite understood it.

      • It’s called religious extremism, James. Even a balanced, objective and factually grounded appraisal of their idol’s career and performance will be met with cries of, “heresy!” You didn’t even mention KP (why would you?) yet it’s telling that our friend William felt the need to introduce l’affair Pietersen to the discussion as a straw man argument.

        • Cook is not my idol. I don’t think he should have been skipper in the first place and he only got the job as there were a lack of applicants. He got away with being picked when hopelessly out of form for ages. What I will add to the argument is the hysterical reaction to the KP affair, I was KP’s biggest fan. Saw his debut and his Ashes winning innings at the Oval. But since his dismissal from the England set up there has been such an un English reaction to it all. First of all one would have thought that mass murder had been committed instead of the sacking of someone who it seems would have started a row in an empty room. Strauss, Downton and Flower were all out of the public eye at this time. So Cook was seen as the whipping boy and boy did he get a whipping. That’s what got me. We have people on here, who on another blog, stated went after his wife. It seemed she was the evil presence behind the entire affair. We have a people who have been on here, on other blogs going after Broad, because of the Twitter account nonsense. They stated that he had attended a charity event for children suffering from cancer and verbally abused them. This is just some of the quite mad reaction to the sacking of one player, and whilst not being a Cook fan in the slightest, I would prefer to see 1 hour of KP than 2 days of Cook, the reaction on here and elsewhere smacks of people who have done well to hide the antipathy towards Cook but it leaks out all the same. And that is what is called religious extremism chummy,

          • The children’s charity event was attended by ME, and as per usual you have lied about what I said.

            So to be clear: it was an Investec event raising money for a children’s cancer charity. Stuart Broad was too hung over to attend. His father Chris took his place. He and host JP Agnew were asked about Pietersen, given that it was May 2015 and the Strauss/Graves/355* farce had just taken place.

            Chris Broad described KP as “a cancer” twice in his response. I thought that was unspeakably crass and still do. This story has not changed one iota since I first posted it from the event on the day.

            The end. Now go away.

            • Really, so you are either Anton or that other strange chap with a strange moniker, who were convinced it was all a plot by Cooks wife and the MCC leadership.

            • or did you use the title Iwishitwhere. That sounds more like you. Where have you been in the last few years old chum

  • oh and I nearly forgot the blog where one writer stated he was praying for Johnson to cripple Cook so he could never play again. Failing that he would love to give Cook a kicking if he could get the chance. Also another one was convinced that this was all a plot by some sort of MCC Illuminati. People praying for England to lose, to get stuffed by SA, Australia, by Hackney Marsh utd etc. Madness, sheer utter madness. Oh and extremism by the shed load.

    • You still haven’t told us what, specifically, is so inreasonable about James’ article above. The one on this page of this blog, today. The one you’re supposedly responding to. The one that didn’t mention KP, or Broad, or Cook’s wife, or the illuminati. Which writer said he hoped Johnson would cripple Cook? I’d be pretty confident it wasn’t James or his former colleague on this blog. Cook’s century at the WACA was as a 21 yr. old in December 2006. Great innings – you’re lucky to have been there. Trouble is, all the other three of of his four Ashes centuries came against a much less storied attack on the 2011 tour (Johnson then was not the demon of 2013). That’s six-and-a-half years and three Ashes series since he last scored a century against Australia. Despite his prolific early performances, his career average against Australia is only 39.2. Hardly the hallmark of an all time great. In all test cricket, he has managed just 6 centuries (including this week’s help yourself fest against the Windies) in his last 99 innings. Again, hardly a legendary record. And yet the frightening thing is that despite rarely scaling the heights anymore, exhibiting vulnerability against high quality fast bowling and being generally rather less consistent these days, he remains one of our most effective test batsmen. There’s no way a convincing argument could be made for dropping him from the side. That says as much about the general quality in the English game these days as it does about Alastair Cook.

      • I’m still getting over “antipathy leaking out” being religious extremism. Doubt if IS would rein back that far

        • if you had read what I said Benny, it was I who was accused of extremism etc. I couldn’t give a toss if Cook was skipper, batsman or coach driver for the team. I am not a fan no will be. .

      • where did I day he was an all time great or a legendary player. My gripe is the total insanity of the entire affair. I love my sport, I am off for my 4th Ashes trip this winter. Not with the Barmy Army I may add. But I also have perspective about sport and sometimes I wonder if people actually realise whats going on in the world around them when they start all this utter crapola about who should be playing and who shouldn’t and the reasons why along with conspiracy theories. I am at a loss as to why people cant just enjoy the sport or any sport for that matter, for the drama, occasion, the skills and the moment. As for those sad individuals I mentioned, at least two of them have commented on here in the past. One was a member of the Broad and Cooks missus, I don’t know her name, are evil brigade. As for James’s article, well I do honestly believe that he always damns Cook with faint praise. Call me picky, but there you go.

  • A measured article, James – and yes, Cook’s form is going to be decisive in Australia, as we’re not even sure who will be opening with him, or coming in a three…

    I really have no idea where, or why, Pietersen should come into this.

  • Very sad for people who remember the old Windies teams. It’s like watching Muhammed Ali v Larry Holmes.

  • Regarding Gooch it wasn’t the pace bowlers that did for him but the likes of Alderman and Hadlee. The faster they were the better he got.

    • In fairness Cook has struggled nearly as much against quality medium-fast bowlers such as Philander as he has against the quick boys. James is right about Cook’s early career and even in the 2010 home Pakistan series, he was greatly out of sorts against that highly gifted but sadly infamous outfit. He would vindicate himself up to a point with a hugely spirited ton at the Oval yet many of the flaws that have limited his career up to a point were evident from before then until now.

      Unlike others I don’t see the last four years as being as much about a decline as things correcting themelves out. In 2013 when Cook was continually shot out by Harris and then Johnson in Aus, he was approaching his 29th birthday. Yet they honed in so expertly on his weaknesses on the front foot in the 4th-5th stump corridor that has become a template for even the more moderate seam attacks to have him in trouble early doors. I mean he hardly looked brilliant v India in 2014 or in the West Indies the following spring. Heck even Sri Lanka early last summer started off pretty well against him and they hardly had much of an attack.

      I’m certainly not surprised how Cook’s test match summer has gone so far, although I’d say he comes out of the SA series with a bit more credit than he might have done. I’m not expecting too many miracles from him or the England team down under this winter, but his own limitations against high quality pace bowling alone won’t be to blame for that.

      • It has to be said this is one of the worst touring sides to visit our shores, but I wonder if people said this about England in the 1980’s or even the Australian’s.
        Unfortunately this doesn’t seem like a cycle that the West Indies can get out of. I’d read beforehand that their bowling was improving, it certainly doesn’t look like it.

        As for Cook, it seems a lot of the old arguments are being rehashed above, whilst I don’t feel the need to re enter those. I will say one thing, in the words of another great 70’s song. Be thankful for what you’ve got.

    • Gooch averaged 52 against NZ so he didn’t struggle too much against Hadlee! Hadlee also wasn’t that similar to Alderman – he was disticntly sharp in the first half of his career and was more of a seam-bowler than a swing-bowler.

      Gooch played two home series (1981 and 1989) against Alderman. In the first one, all of England’s batsmen who’d just played two series against the West Indies struggled. Gower and Willey were also dropped and Boycott and Gatting only made decent runs in the final Test on an Oval featherbed. In 1989, Gooch had developed a horrible technical fault (he lost almost all his off-side shot-making) that would’ve struggled against any quality bowling. Look at Gooch’s records in series that surround that Ashes and they aren’t great. When he sorted his technique out in 1990, and helped by some good weather and flat pitches, Gooch scored a stack of runs off swing-bowlers like Manoj Prabhakar.

  • Until the Windies discover a way of attracting sporting talent away from the scholarship system in the USA, which presently takes the cream of this by virtue of being able to offer fame and fortune that few cricketers can ever attain, they will never be able to produce great cricketers.
    It is time, in the interest of international cricket in general, that other cricketing countries offered young West Indian players a route to better themselves, so they are not lost to US college Athletics and Basketball. Many are born into abject poverty and are all too easily and understandably seduced by the trappings of life in the fast lane in the USA. They should all be made to watch documentaries like ‘Hoop Dreams’ about the pitfalls of this, where talent is not enough and dreams are shattered by injury, attitude and ego, crushing young people in the quest for instant sporting success.
    To me, the most abject aspect of this present West Indies side is their body language when things are not going well. Even their captain is infected. I am amazed that with a coach like Stuart Law, this has not been addressed.
    I was at Edgbaston today and could take little from the day as humiliation was on the cards from the word go. It was men v boys and worse, spineless. It is unfortunate that this test series looks like it will produce no reliable evidence of potential ashes quality. It’s fill your boots time for batsmen and bowlers.
    No one has ever doubted Cook’s ability to keep his concentration, but even he must be aware the first day’s play here was almost like a practice match. We would have been given more of a test by any county team.

    • Every time people are reminded of West Indies’ decline, someone always mentions basketball without producing any evidence. Here we go again!

      I’m not looking all the figures that I’ve quoted here before but it is not as simple as has been said. Basketball has grown in popularity in Jamaica but not elsewhere in the West Indies. I’ve not been able to find any evidence of large numbers of Caribbean students in US college basketball or the NBA. I have found references to the largest number of foreign students coming from Eastern Europe. I’m not a basketball fan by the way – I am just trying to get the facts straight. The causes of the West Indies’ decline are many and complex and can’t be put down to our favourite hobby horse. I’ve often written here and elsewhere about financial doping but West Indies get a heck of a lot more money than Afghanistan for example.

      I haven’t watched a ball of this series and won’t be watching any of the rest. Good luck to those following this until September 29th! If it was NZ or Bangladesh or Afghanistan touring, I’d expect England to win well but I’d be watching. At least with those teams, it would feel like part of a learning experience and a narrative of improvement. The West Indies’ decline is just devoid of any hope. It isn’t cyclical, it’s terminal.

      One think I would agree on is that ‘Hoop Dreams’ is a brilliant film that everyone should watch. On the subject of recommendations, I’d recommend anyone interested in corruption in sport to read the work of Brian Tuohy like ‘The Fix is in’ (or listen to some of his interviews on Youtube). His work is based on FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act so it isn’t just tittle-tattle.

      • I always think the Basketball example is a bit of a red herring too.
        They seem to be able to produce enough cricketers to cobble together world champions at T20 level, so there’s still some talent there.
        If you take the politics out if it, you can narrow it down to pitches. Every test I’ve seen in the Windies in the last few years has been played on slow, low turgid pitches. How is that going to encourage young kids to bowl fast?

  • loads of folk have been calling this a mismatch, lets have 2 leagues and that this is not test cricket. Well I was down in Oz when England lost the opening Ashes Test and one of the headlines the next day was “Australia wins First Test, HO HUM”. That was when some Aussies were saying that the Ashes were now secondary to them and they should concentrate on taking on India and the Windies. Rod Marsh had labelled Englands attack pie chuckers during this tour. Point I make is that England were once total pants and used to celebrate getting a draw against the top ranked nations. The Windies would thrash them with ease. We had the spectacle of Botham in Antigua having a mouthful of the local rum whilst fielding in the deep on the Gower tour of 86, where the team give the impression of being on a jolly instead of representing their country. So its all swings and roundabouts.

  • Go into the web sites of all major US sporting scholarship universities and see how many of their recruits are born in the Caribbean, or are of Caribbean parentage, so eligible to play for the Windies. It is not just Jamaicans. Indeed the problem with drug gangs is as important an influence there. The incentive has to be able to compete with this to prise youngsters back to their national sport. Clearly this is a major problem, Basketball is just one of the many alternatives kids have. The prime one being athletics. Almost all the US national sprinters hail from Caribbean descent. This is not a co-incidence.
    With the arrival of one Usain Bolt it is hard to see any change on the horizon.

  • Cook has been an exceptional opening batsman for England, and will continue to be until he retires. Yes, technically he is not the best opening batsman, or batsman you will see, and he certainly isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing to watch, but what he does well is what all great opening batsman in cricket have ever done: have herculean powers of concentration, and knowing his own game inside out.

    Cook is a back foot player, which allows him to play the ball as late as possible. His strength is square of the wicket, and he forces bowlers to bowl where he wants them to bowl, by sheer attrition. I admire Cook immensely, he is certainly one of England’s greatest players, but he has been exposed at times due to his technical deficiencies regarding the fuller, straighter deliveries. Bowlers like Philander, McGrath, and Ryan Harris when he was fit really troubled Cook. This is a big reason as to why he will never be England’s greatest ever opening batsman, as he does not have the all round strengths of past greats and legends who opened the batting for England. Sir Jack Hobbs – The Master, will always be the greatest opening batsman, and possibly batsman (Wally Hammond would make a very strong case for this title) England has produced, and he is closely followed by Sir Leonard Hutton, and Herbert Sutcliffe. I would also rank Graham Gooch ahead of Cook. Gooch was an exceptional opening batsman, especially during the second half of his career. A great technician. Shane Warne has also said Gooch was the best English batsman he’s ever bowled to.

    It will be interesting to see how Cook goes during the Ashes. Josh Hazlewood hits a natural length similar to that of McGrath, and he also shapes the ball more naturally than McGrath did. Starc will be charging in bowling quick, and Nathan Lyon is an exceptional off spinner, who can really get the ball to turn and bounce very sharply. Cook has the chance to cement his place among English cricketing greats during the (English) winter, against a solid Australian outfit (they were very, very weak in 2010/11 when Cook scored big runs that series, he also looked promising as a 22 year old in 2006/7 against the best team I have ever seen, and probably will see in my lifetime) if he doesn’t, will he get another chance to do so? Cook will turn 36 a day before the boxing day test in the 2020/21 Ashes in Australia, will it be too late by then?


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