Put Cook out of his misery


If Alastair Cook can’t handle criticism, he’s in the wrong job.

In comments you will have probably read yesterday, the England skipper lashed out at his detractors in an interview with the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew ahead of the Headingley test.

Just to remind you of what he said:

“Something needs to be done because, for the three years that I’ve been England captain, I’ve in my eyes been criticised for a hell of a lot of that time. Yes, when we lose games of cricket as captain, you will be criticised. But I’ve also won a lot of games of cricket for England and more one-day games than anybody else as England captain.

“I’ve won an Ashes, I’ve won in India away, which I’m very proud of. So to be criticised for three years totally with those results I find quite hard to take, to be honest with you”.

When asked by Agnew if he thought the criticism was personal, he replied: “I think it is, yes.”

Frankly, what does Cook expect after leading his team to a humiliating 5-0 whitewash? Skippers have been fired for far less. He’s incredibly fortunate to have remained in post at all.

And compare the flak he receives – rarely at the most vituperative end of the spectrum – to the poisonous personal abuse heaped on Kevin Pietersen from all quarters for years on end. By contrast, KP has borne it mostly with a dignified silence, rather than running in tears to mummy in a public display of self-pity.

Cook rarely chooses his words with precision, but notwithstanding that, a few of his phrases deserve particular scrutiny.

 “I’ve won an Ashes, I’ve won in India away”.

Cook hardly won those series alone. He made three centuries in India – a fine achievement – but Pietersen and Panesar were central to the Mumbai victory. Last summer, his form shrivelled and he had Anderson, Swann, Broad and Bell to thank for retaining the Ashes.

Imagine what the reaction would be had Pietersen tried to take personal credit for series wins, with a string of “I’ve wons”.

Then there’s: “something needs to be done”.

What, exactly? Is he labouring under the impression that the ECB have the right to control who says what about English cricket? Given the ECB’s culture of authoritarian entitlement, arrogance, and control-freakery, in which he’s spent most of his adult life, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s how he thinks the world works.

Cook’s attitude smacks heavily of “move on”, “outside cricket”, shut up, be grateful, do as you’re told. As does another comment he made:

 “Support and positivity is what this England team needs”.

It’s not for Cook or indeed anyone else to tell supporters how to think or what to do. And if a common sense of purpose is so important to him, he should have thought twice before colluding with Paul Downton in the deceit and skulduggery around the sacking of Pietersen, itself an act of self-serving cowardice. Cook called that decision “brave” – well, now’s the time to show that courage. If Cook genuinely believes that removing KP was the right thing to do, he must stand by it, which means accepting that it has left the English cricket community in schism, and inflicted wounds so deep they may take years to heal.

Cook’s remarks are widely assumed to be a direct response to what Shane Warne’s had to say about him, which Agnew specifically raised. The captain did not reference Warne by name, but regardless, it would be a shame if he and observers focussed on what the Australian thinks, rather than the people who really matter – England’s supporters.

If Cook did mean Warne, that’s interesting – because Pietersen was once reprimanded by the ECB for rebuking Nick Knight’s criticisms on Twitter. Will they now similarly sanction the skipper?

Agnew’s interview formed part of a general turning-up-of-the-heat on Cook by the media yesterday, which was unexpected given their generally positive appraisal of his captaincy at Lord’s. Cook’s outburst – and an unwise foray into the legality of Sachithra Senanayake’s action, at the press conference – has met with a scathing response from the press. If the skipper has lost his friends in the papers, he really is in trouble.

My first response to Cook’s comments was anger, but that’s since softened to a more general sense that here is an increasingly wretched figure who should be put out of his misery. As I wrote during the Lord’s test, he was anointed as future captain while still in his cricketing infancy, without him having much say in the matter, and despite his never having shown any desire of aptitude for the job whatsoever.

Cookie is no rookie, and the talk of him being given more time to grow into the job is nonsense. The test match which has just begun at Headingley is his twenty third as captain; he has led England as many times as Mike Gatting, and more than Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, Bob Willis, Douglas Jardine, Alec Stewart or Tony Greig. If you rank England captains by their number of tests as skipper (with five as a minimum), Cook is fifteenth out of forty four on the list.

But the more experience Cook accrues, the worse things seem to get. As yesterday’s cri de coeur starkly revealed, Cook is being psychologically destroyed by the captaincy (the ECB are, after all, rather adept at ruining their players) and the entire edifice of Team England is collapsing under the weight of his misery. As Dmitri Old put it, this was Cook’s Kevin Keegan moment. It’s time to pull the plug.

That said, cricket’s plotlines have a profound tendency to confound expectations. The game itself is its own greatest storyteller. As the pressure on Cook builds to breaking point, there is an inevitability to what will happen next. Tomorrow, Cook will make a century.



  • Thanks for the rep. However, I can’t claim the Keegan comment as my own. It was on one of the BTL comments on The Guardian/Telegraph.

    I’m really torn on this. I think the Warne comments last summer were nonsense. They should have been filed under mental disintegration. It’s the same as the spinning of the series outcome as “it could have been 3-2 to us” that Australia tried to put on all of us. It finished 3-0 because we won three test matches, and Australia lost them. I fail to see if you collapse like wet cardboard (as Australia did at Durham) how that translates into a “we could easily have won that”. That spin gained traction, and it shouldn’t have done. I make no secret. I loathe Warne, great legspinner, ordinary person.

    We got blown away in Australia for a multitude of reasons, of which Cook’s captaincy was one. Warne can claim what he likes – last June he did not predict the impact Mitchell Johnson would have (not many did).

    But you just don’t do what Cook did yesterday. I’m all for speaking your mind, for saying what you feel, but this betrayed an enormous insecurity, and that’s not a trait you need in a leader of men, one who leads from the front. It may run well for him in the rest of this summer, but come the shot and shell we’ll endure in 2015, if he’s still at the helm, we have seen the most amazing turnaround, or Giles Clarke et al must have moved in at Cook’s Farm.

    • I agree with you about Warne on 2013. He was just saying that to wind us up. A mythology has grown up about that series which is very unfair on our players – we won it very comfortably, and Australia only got close in one match, but to hear what people now say you’d think we’d come within an ace of losing it.

      But Warne’s a red herring in the Cook saga. What matters is the criticism of thousands of England supporters.

      • “What matters is the criticism of thousands of England supporters.”

        Well you might say that Maxie but as the ECB and their lackies tell us all we are “outsiders” and “anti-Cook” and of course “Keyboard” nasties, ala, Mr Pringle, I think it is deaf ears time. A case of they don’t care and we don’t matter! Of course with Headlingley today more than half empty doesn’t really bode well for the ECB’s attitude to their armchair critics. If they want more bums on seats then the ECB needs to show more respect. Or maybe they just do not care. They have a lot of money coming from Sky so why should they bother about all of us.

    • One of you clever bloggers needs to write a post on what makes a good captain because I reckon most people that we remember as good captains were either blessed with a great team or simply had 1 great series.

      I’m curious about when people started to believe that Cook is a bad captain because he has a point – his side did win in India and beat both NZ and Australia at home. Yes, he was defensive and unimaginative (he learnt from Strauss after all) but they won. When the wheels fell off in Australia, much of it was beyond his control.

      I bet on England to win in England and Australia to win in Australia. It seemed like a “no-brainer” to me, we just didn’t have the bowlers to win in Australia. If you add to that poor fielding, crap batting, 2 senior players going home early and the amazing form of Johnson and Warner then I don’t think any captain in history would have made much difference to the result. I rate Michael Vaughn very highly but even he was apparently clueless. When asked by the Australian media what he would do to turn the tour around, he repeatedly said “pick Tymal Mills”. Yes, lets pick a county seconds bowler who could barely hit the pitch just because he’s a left arm quick. (Remember how successful it was when we picked a leggie just because Australia had one?)

      It should also be remembered that there were 10 other players on that field. Prior to Warne tormenting Cook, he used to pick on Monty. One of his criticisms was that Monty can’t set a field. It’s a valid point. I think a senior bowler should set his own fields with a bit of tinkering from the captain. (Broad: I want 10 slips. Cook: You can have 3 and learn to count) If the captain and bowlers run out of ideas, the senior players (those that haven’t fled the country) should be consulted. So either Cook won’t listen to anyone or no one in that side has much tactical nous.

      If I was a selector, I’d slash my wrists. If I survived, I’d drop Cook. He needs to return to county cricket, sort his head out and find some form. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is finding someone who a) has the skills to be captain and b) is silly enough to actually want the job. Surely we don’t have to go back to the days when we picked a captain and then 10 players?

      • I know what you mean, up to a point, Brearley was blessed with excellent players and weak opposition. Botham captained ten of his twelve matches against a virtually unplayable West Indies.

        But there are some observable things about Cook’s captaincy which argue irresistibly that change is needed.

        His batting form has shrivelled, and almost certainly that’s because of the captaincy.

        On the field, he exudes not one iota of confidence, energy, authority, or imagination. He is far too conservative, and in press conferences, never says anything to suggest he has much of a cricket brain.

        • Can’t disagree with any of that. I’ve often wondered whether Brearley was over-rated. In the first tour to Australia after World Series Cricket he lost 3 out of 3 (if we’d played 5, we’d have probably lost 5) but no one ever talks about that series because they weren’t playing for the Ashes.

          I agree that Cook has to go. I just uncomfortable with some of the personal attacks, at least until I know (if ever) the full story behind the sacking of KP. It is hard, however, to come up with a scenario where Cook is not either weak or an arsehole.

          • Quite – there’s no way he can emerge well from KP-gate.

            As for personal attacks, it depends how one defines personal. I think he’s a coward and a weasel inasmuch as those were the attributes he displayed over KP. He’s the England captain – a very big cheese in the British sporting world – and if his professional conduct is flawed because of character traits, it is absolutely fair to point them out.

            Think about the enormous amount of extremely personal abuse handed out to KP over the years, and by mainstream journalists and commentators. But the minute we start tutting about their precious Cook (surely the most cossetted and cotton-wool-wrapped captain in history) they call it personal abuse and bullying.

  • It’s depressing when you read an article quiet critical of Cook only to be replaced a few hours later by one that has been watered down. But that is what happened with the Telegraph. Normally I am all for amending articles but I fear this is the ECB pulling strings behind the scenes.

  • Don’t think either Nick Hoult or Derek Pringle’s pieces were particularly critical of Cook, Timmy. in the first instance. Hoult’s was factual, Pringle’s (which came along later with a wonderful dismissal of the Ashes defeat) more the normal thing we expect from him.

    It was Andy Wilson’s piece in the Guardian that was critical, which was a bit surprising given how he’s laid into those of us “pro-KP and anti-Cook” in the past as being vitriolic. It clearly isn’t vitriolic when they do it!

    • Oh how true. Have you seen Vic Marks piece tonight. Very peculiar to my mind. Seems like a rant to me but others think it is tongue in cheek. To my mind it just sounds utterly stupid. Still as an “outsider” what would I know.

  • That Shane Warne, he’s gone down in my estimation. Now we’ve got to go to Headingley and get a win over Sri Lanka. And i’ll tell you this. I’d love it if we beat them. Love it.

  • Maybe Cook’s rant will fire him up and force him to come out fighting and playing well? Who knows. It is a wait and see job. I feel sorry for Cook at the moment. He is not PR savvy. Aggers reeled him in and instead of saying nothing he just ranted. Cook’s a very good batsman but not a good captain. I just do not think you can “train” someone to lead a team. You either can or you can’t. I have seen nothing to convince me that Cook can lead a team. What I have seen is that Cook can be lead round by the nose by ECB dipsticks and worse, Flower and Gooch – who did Cook absolutely no favours whatsoever. Leaders have to keep their mouths shut and concentrate on the game in hand and their players in their team. Outside stuff needs to be shut off and ignored? “Shane Warne doesn’t play anymore?” I do not think that the alleged intervention by Giles Clark on behalf of Cook with Sky bosses has done Cook’s reputation any good either. Just makes them all look pathetic. Come to think of it…..!!!

    • Spoke too soon. Cook has gone again for less than 20 runs. The ECB have to do something now. just ridiculous state of affairs.

  • Having been up and out early picking strawberries for breakfast a thought came to me. When cricket was ‘invented’ as much of the game was about having fun, enjoying each others company and skills (if any). The cricket god in the sky had suggested the game be played competitively and with spirit, with levity.Unfortunately, Giles Clarke misheard that message, he thought it should be played with leverage, in its broadest sense.
    Clarke has not only ‘bought’ English cricket as his own and in his own likeness, he’s even ‘bought’ world cricket now with his devilish pact with India and Australia. So what do we have – a game littered with systems, and limitations, with management speak and with folly. There is no spirit. It’s all about money. It’s all about winning. Giles Clarke has created a burden for himself and everyone connected with the game. What he doesn’t realise is that the game isn’t his. Unfortunately for him the game is far bigger than him and it will not suffer his reductionism. It will suffer through the process that people like Clarke try to instill. but he will not win because he is mortal, as well as stupid.
    So, what do we have. A cricket congregation that is torn, that is angry and that is confused. Those who wish to follow the Clarke Pathway, even in all earnestness, are becoming the victims of challenge. Clarke aided and abetted by Paul Downton and others curiously and discriminatorily called the English Cricket Board (ECB) not the EWCB (English & Welsh Cricket Board) – days of Empire you know! – have set about a task to renew the game in their own likeness. And what an ugly beast we have. There’s ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ now much in the same way George Bush claimed ‘you are with us or against us’ The ECB have declared war on the game and the millions of ordinary people who love it. An example of what it looks like is Alastair Cook’s face. An example of what it sounds like is Alastair Cook’s voice. Cook, of course, is party to all of this shenanigans. He is not innocent. He is the perfect example of the disconnect between the theory (ala Clarke) and the practice (he’s rubbish).
    All of this is impacting on those that watch the game. From the outside it looks totally crazy. I can’t imagine what it looks like on the inside, really, just what do they think they are doing?? The ECB, despite its claims to welfare, breaks people, breaks players and treats them, and the fans actually, with the utmost disdain. Maybe the players are too thick to realise it. Maybe they don’t care. But Cook’s position is untenable. Especially since his nonsense about wanting criticism to stop. I don’t much care for Cook. I do not think he has team management qualities and he’s never claimed to have them. But he wants the best of both worlds. he wants the status that being captain brings. he doesn’t want all the stuff that comes with it. If I was at the EWCB he would have been sacked after the Ashes. The reinvention and rewriting of history that enables him to keep his position is folly of the highest order. If Cook was in any way a man of understanding and foresight he would resign now. He isn’t and he won’t because he likes being the ‘big boy’ but only when everyone else is belittled as that keeps him at the top. What is happening says more about Cook as a man than it does about any of his detractors. The levity has gone………….. and so has the spirit.

    • In the 60 minutes or so it took Cook to score 15, Gayle scored 80 (out of a total of 95) off 56 balls for the West Indies to win … a Test Match!! Spirit.

    • Thanks, Boz – well said, and hear hear. Clarke regards the game as his own personal fiefdom. His arrogance, stupidity, and condescension, are unbelievable to behold.

      • It’s strange really Maxie that these ECB dipsticks think they are fireproof. They still think they can leak stuff about KP and get away with it. One of my Tweet folk reckons leak from ECB is allegedly Colin Gibson!!! Know anything about him. Anyway put my tweeting folk on to your blog. As I said it is so good and you are not afraid to say what needs to be said.

        Hopefully, all this stuff will come back to bite their collective arse and they will be sent packing. I’ve probably said this before – so excuse the repeat – but day after ECB issued apology to KP over Downton’s gaff with Aggers, Downton got into a rage with Piers Morgan at Lords and allegedly was puce coloured! Again he slagged off KP in front of all the diners – nearly lost their lunch as spat was so loud. I mean how much longer can this situation go on. How many gaffs do these miscreants need to make before they get the chop? They are still using their lackeys in the press to funnel their contempt of anyone who says anything against them or Cook. Derek Pringle never stops. Someone ought to give him a gag and tie his hands behind his back. Unbelievable mess.

        • Thanks, Annie – very much appreciated.

          Part of the problem is that the players and media are far too close. The other day Cook said that Nasser is one of his best friends. Imagine a cabinet member saying that about Nick Robinson.

  • First post here, and despite my nic I am English and living in Lincolnshire.
    One point from all of these issues is that the fall out, if allowed to continue, will ultimately affect the grass routes of the game here. Youngsters will eventually learn that the game’s “elite” are not to be critisized, backed up by a media that tugs the forelock to those in power. Such repression of the truth will no doubt, see potential young English cricketers opt for other sports, with a less authoritarian attitude.

    • Oh Welcome fellow Fendlander!!! What a good point. I think you are absolutely right. How will ordinary schoolboys and girls feel about getting into cricket if they see it is so elitist. Indeed. The ECB PR war they waged some months ago has been well and truly lost. Such unprofessional carry ons. As some bright spark said on the Telegraph: perhaps they ought to bring back the Carry On films: “Carry on ECB – Nutters in charge at the crease!”

    • Thanks for posting and great to have you with us.

      I agree – the current ECB management, consciously or not, are trying to rewind the clock to the feudal era of sinecured autocracy. I’m currently reading the autobiography of Harold Larwood, who, like others since, was treated by Lord’s with a staggering degree of betrayal, arrogance, and duplicity.

  • Good read, Maxie.

    As I nearly said in my BTL comment to Vic Marks’s strange piece in the Guardian, Cook’s manic outburst against Warne made him sound like a mad colonel from Leamington Spa firing off a rabid missive to the editor of the Telegraph letter’s page about the amount of litter outside the local conservative club.

    His continued barbs against Senanayake and outburst over the Mankading of Buttler are ill fitting an England captain and betray a lack of composure and perspective.

    The pressure will increase exponentially as his run drought continues. With Robson’s century, only number 11, Jimmy Andersen, now has a lower highest score than Cook in this series, and he has played two fewer innings.

    • Blige me. That is not a record Cook should want to keep. Where is the batting coach in all this?

    • My prediction he’d get a century yesterday proved inaccurate, but what about he scores a series-winning ton tomorrow morning? Can you imagine the gushing drivel the press will spew up?


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