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.