According to Shane Warne, the man who has had no surgery whatsoever since retiring from test cricket, Alastair Cook’s captaincy is in a critical condition. It’s in such a state, in fact, that it could well cost England the Ashes.
We’re used to ex-players sounding off before the big series begins, but Warne’s words seem especially harsh. This isn’t Glenn McGrath predicting, rather predictably, that the Aussies will win 5-0; this is the best test captain Australia never had brutally rubbishing the England captain’s abilities.
So is Warney correct? In our opinion the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. By describing Cook’s captaincy as unimaginative and negative, Warne is probably right – although ‘cautious’ or ‘conservative’ would be a kinder.
There’s little doubt that Michael Clarke is a more incisive captain, but is Cook’s style really likely to cost England the urn? In a word, the answer is ‘no’. The team with the most in-form players will win the series. Captaincy is part of it, but not enough of it to prove decisive.
Furthermore, England have won the last 3 Ashes series playing conservatively. The Aussies play enough bad cricket, and make enough mistakes, to justify Cook’s approach.
The other problem with Warne’s analysis is that it will undoubtedly fire up England. Cook might seem to lack inspiration on the field, but there’s no doubt the dressing room respects him.
Cook is very much the leader of England’s team. The players are united behind him. I bet Michael Clarke wishes he could say the same. Warne should know that captaincy isn’t all about fielding positions. It’s also about camaraderie and man management.
What’s more, Warne should remember the words of Ian Chappell in 2010/11. Before the series, Australia’s greatest sporting orator accused Cook of being a weak link – a batsman with technical problems the Aussies could exploit. Cook went on to score more runs that Merv Hughes has had hot dinners.
The lesson is clear: deride Cook at your peril. Every time Cook has been criticised in his career he’s come up trumps. Lets hope the Aussies keep talking eh.
Your captaincy reflects the team that you have to captain. Clarke knows that his team blows very hot and cold so his captaincy has to try to take advantage of that. This means that at times he has to try and use captaincy tactics to try to force a result. Cook has the luxury of strength in every department. There are very few if any weak links in the England side so cook can let the game play out and just work to a pre set plan. He knows that in most cases his batsmen will score runs and his bowlers will take wickets. There is no need for flair and imagination if you know your guys will come up with the goods most of the time. Clarke is going into every game knowing that he has weaknesses in every area and has to plan for either his bowlers or his batsmen failing to come good. I’m pretty confident that if Clarke had as strong a team as England do he wouldn’t be half as imaginative. It just wouldn’t be necessary.
Good points, Mark. I think many fans, me included, get a bit frustrated with England’s tactics of sitting in the game and waiting for things to happen (rather than making them happen) but the fact is it’s been a very successful ploy against Australia. Many of their batsmen find ways to get out, so Cook is quite smart to use a containing strategy. Where it falls short is against top class players like Amla / Kallis who have more patience than the bowlers. This hasn’t been a problem for England against recent Aussie batsmen with few test hundreds to their name. If Eng do lose the series, it will probably because Cook has scored too few runs rather than set too few attacking fields.