It’s Easter. The time of rebirth, chocolate, and rabbit casseroles. So let’s start with the first of these three pillars of Christian civilisation … and forgive me if the flow of this post seems random and doesn’t quite work. I’ve had no sleep, I drank too much beer and wine last night, and I feel about as coherent as … a not very coherent thing.
Stuart Broad is the first topic. He rose from the ashes of, erm, a dismal Ashes display to claim 6-54 in New Zealand’s first innings. I’m please to report that he bowled like the Stu-pot of old. He had rhythm, his legs were pumping, and he bowled faster than he has for about two years. What’s more, he even pitched the ball up. Shock, horror!
Broad is a completely different bowler when he’s operating around 140 kph. It doesn’t really matter that he can’t really move the ball away from the right-handers. When he hits the pitch hard using his considerable height, and then nibbles the ball a tad off the seam, he’s a handful. Welcome back Broady. You looked washed up in the Ashes but last night you looked fresher than a white T-shirt that’s just been washed in a leading detergent and then ironed by Jessica Alba.
Next up we should talk about the battling performances of Stoneman and Vince – two players who were arguably drinking in the last chance saloon. No pressure lads. I thought the former immediately looked more comfortable in the second innings. This might have been because the pitch is now good for batting; it might even have been because he thought “sod it, this could be my last test so I’m going to enjoy it”. I really don’t know. Either way it was pleasing to see.
James Vince also made a really good impression – enough to earn him at least another two or three tests I imagine. In many ways it was a typical Vince innings, but with one major difference: rather than looking like a million shekels and then getting out, this time he didn’t get out. It’s amazing how not getting out improves one’s chances of scoring runs.
The final thing we need to talk about is Alastair Cook, who was dismissed for a low score yet again. Is the little lamb about to take up lambing full time? I severely doubt it, as he’s as stubborn as a ram that wants to crack a hole in a dam, but his recent statistics are pretty damning. Here are his last twenty scores in test cricket: 46, 10, 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2, 14.
The catchphrase everyone seems to be using is ‘feast or famine’ when it comes to Cook. Obviously there’s a lot more famine than feast … and the two feasts occurred in the most benign batting conditions against weak or weakened attacks. It’s also worth pointing out that Alastair has only made 5 hundreds in his last eighty innings.
Most players, of course, would have been dropped by now. But whenever Cook goes through one of his famous lean spells, he’s given far greater opportunity than anyone else to turn things around. Some of this is because when he often goes through a purple patch when his quirky technique finally clicks; some of this is because there’s never been anyone half decent waiting in the wings to replace him; and some of this is because … he’s Alastair Cook.
A bit like Sachin Tendulkar, I imagine that Cook will be allowed to choose the time he retires. I doubt it matters how many low scores he gets. I doubt anyone will have the nerve to put their arm around him and tell him to move on – especially as the ECB’s director is a good mate of his. What’s more, I doubt the media will put any pressure on the selectors to drop him whatsoever. They all like him too much.
The other problem for the selectors is that Cook is bound to score bucketloads of runs in the county championship if he’s ever dropped from the England team. Alastair has made a career of scoring huge runs against limited opponents so he’s bound to be prolific in domestic cricket. I severely doubt he’ll do an Ian Bell and completely fall apart. He’s far too strong mentally for that.
If Cook is scoring double hundreds for Essex, he’s going to make the selectors look rather silly … especially if his (inadequate) replacement in the test team struggles. I doubt the selectors would want to risk this. What’s more, it’s going to heap even more pressure on his replacement to succeed when the inevitable “bring back Cook” campaign begins. Basically the best thing for all parties (except Essex!) would be for Alastair to just walk away from cricket altogether when his international career expires.
Before I sign off, and try to get some bloody sleep, I should quickly mention David Warner’s press conference. Unlike Steve Smith he refused to say that nobody else was involved in the ball tampering conspiracy. What’s more, he refused to say outright that this was the first time he’s tampered with the ball. Hmmmmm. If he was a politician he’d have Jeremy Paxman screaming “answer the question”!
The other thing that struck me at the press conference was how high Warner’s voice became when he started blubbing. He sounded like a man suffering from a SPATFA – that’s a fictitious specific penile and testicular abnormality that affects Aussies rules players with skin tight shorts. Those familiar with the broader Twelfth Man discography will know what I mean!
Obviously the three cheating amigos have received quite a lot of sympathy in recent days – a backlash to the hysterical reaction back home in Australia. However, much as a it’s uncomfortable watching grown men cry in front of the cameras, I refuse to have any sympathy for Smith, Bancroft, and Warner in particular. Why? Because they don’t deserve to become victims. Having said that, I think a little perspective wouldn’t go amiss. These guys cheated but they’re not murderers.
And there endeth the Easter lesson.