Warp and weft


Thanks again to everyone who’s taken part in our epic discussion thread which followed the conclusion of the fifth test.

Two comments, written from different perspectives, stand out in particular for their eloquence and quality of analysis. They deserve greater prominence, in the form of a stand-alone post.

The first is by our regular contributor Tregaskis:



It strikes me that the narrative has shifted on the back of England’s 3-1 series win over a hapless India. The weight of opinion has surged back in support of the team. This is wholly understandable with so many of the new, and relatively new, faces doing so well.

Ballance and Buttler, untainted by past failures have been sensational, and not just for what they have achieved, but also for the sense of solidity and excitement each has brought, in their own way, to the team. Who does not shift to the front of their seat a little when Buttler comes in? Root has been magnificent in an established middle-order position, with the caveat that he had a mare in Australia against exponentially better bowlers. Anderson was at his unplayable best when he stopped being a South Park caricature. I am almost carried away on this tsunami of euphoric support along with every other Polyanna.

The problem is the tide is littered with detritus, destruction and deceit – the flood of a murky culture that swamps and infects our national game.

Let’s forget the toe-curling press conferences, the misleading, apology-inducing interviews, the lies, the alienation of fans, the hubris, the unexplained discarding of test-winning players, an unquestioning press in breach of every bedrock ethic of their world-renowned, historically liberal employers. Let’s just adjust our eyes to the light as we look up to the skies and marvel at Cook on his elevated, cloud-clapped pedestal.

Cook has ceased to be a cricketer. He has become a soap-opera star. In an ECB-Disney co-production, Julian Fellowes, with a score by Elton John, has been commissioned to script a storyline that elevates a petit-bourgeois, sanctimonious, whiney, shell-shocked, wasp swatting, former chorister and flat-track run machine into a steel-cored, fragrant-wifed, scene stealing, genetically modified Beckham-Brearley super-hero. Harsh? No. Just an antidotal response to his hagiographic press.

Cook has scored three scratchy, tick-ridden, mind-numbing, luck-blessed innings after a run drought so long Leatherbum was alive to see his last century. Yet, inexplicably, Cook is now portrayed as the Don Bradman de nos jours, with the four additional runs attached.

The Guardian’s Andy Wilson did the kind of end-of-series, marks-out-of-ten piece that space-filling, thought-vacuum, intern journos file to curry favour. He gave Cook extra marks for his captaincy! It’s like giving Lance Armstrong extra marks for integrity! As Geoffrey Boycott might say, sorry but . . . this is the same kind of organised sycophancy that voted Margaret Thatcher The Today Programme “Person of the Year” 76 years in a row.

Cook is getting plaudits for setting age-group fields. The bar has been set so low, Flat Stanley could not slide beneath. Cook disintegrates mentally, when he is under pressure. It is disingenuous to suggest he is a natural leader who unites the dressing room through charisma and force of personality.

He failed to unite the last Ashes dressing room. He wilted against Sri Lanka. He was absent without leave during the first two tests against India. He now leads a largely inexperienced squad that is only too aware what happens to any player who is anything less than ejaculatory about the cult of Alastair. Cook is shamelessly basking in the light and glory of others. He inhabits a landscape sculpted by his more capable teammates. He’s Uriah Heep with Peter Mandelson handling his press.

It is lazy nonsense for the slough of journalists and posters to argue in favour of Cook’s continued captaincy because there is no alternative. There is always an alternative. Ian Bell has been poorly portrayed as an air-head shrinking-violet by those attempting to keep the field clear for Cook. Bell has captained England U19s, Warwickshire and England Lions, and is well regarded as a skipper by those who know him.

The 22 year-old Graeme Smith was made South African captain, after just eight test matches, to loud criticism that he “lacked leadership credentials.” The much-lauded Chris Robshaw captained England rugby after just one test, aged 23. Joe Root is 23. Whether or not there are alternatives to Cook as captain is being judged by closed minds rather than open imagination.

The last three matches do not represent the end of the old era. Nor are they proof of the new era. They may just be the beginning of one or the other. After their victory at Lords, India were as toothless as Shane Warne after a chat with Paul Downton and a fat cheque in his back pocket. England blew away a house of straw. There will be brickbats and mortar fire ahead.

I encourage all cynics like me to embrace the green shoots of success with cautious optimism. I would remind serial apologists that three pyrrhic wins to not airbrush a year of abject failure from the records. At the same time, I urge all bright-side cricket lovers to temper their euphoria with a little of the disquiet that has energised these boards for the past nine months.


The second is by a regular TFT commenter who has the annoying but unerring ability to skewer my posts by the simple means of well-resourced and pungent articulacy.


The keys to this victory have been Cook’s luck with the bat (as much as his form), the return to form of Anderson and Broad, and a schedule that has crucified India, unable to arrest the slide in form.

What was telling was Anderson talking about the fact that they went back to concentrating on bowling good deliveries rather than bowling to rigid plans for individual batsmen. Hopefully this will see a less structured approach in the future.

My main problem with Cook’s captaincy has always been that it looked as if it was captaincy by numbers – Southampton was the only game that it looked like he was making decisions that didn’t follow a prescriptive plan. Unfortunately, India’s rank capitulation meant he wasn’t required to make any decisions after that has so for me, the jury is still out on whether Southampton was a blip or an actual change in attitude.

What is clear is that any captain is determined by the quality of his bowlers and the standard of opposition (Remember, even Brearley had Botham at his absolute height backed up by Willis and never faced the West Indies)

As far as the ‘non-sniping’ part of your post, I heard Cook thank supporters at the presentation. And the whole ‘Downtonism has triumphed’ line is a bit OTT. For a start, what is ‘Downtonism’? He is tarnished for his part in the KP sacking which was unpleasantly done by the ECB, especially that interview earlier in the summer where he should have just kept quiet. There were enough cricketing reasons to move on from KP without the spiteful ‘disengaged’ nonsense.

Since then, all Downton has done is publicly back the under fire captain – is that so terrible? Having backed him in the aftermath of the Ashes, whether you think that was right or wrong, they had to back him through this summer, or risk going back to the bad old days of the late 80s and early 90s.

The test for Downton and Moores is how they handle the next twelve months and the key issues of the one day side and whether they remove Cook from it, which is the right thing to do – Hales, Vince and Roy all have to be given their chance between now and the end of the year in the lead up to the World Cup, so that when the triangular tournament starts in Australia in January, the one day batting is settled on.


  • An interesting thought: “What is clear is that any captain is determined by the quality of his bowlers and the standard of opposition (Remember, even Brearley had Botham at his absolute height backed up by Willis and never faced the West Indies)”

    Look back at Richie Benaud’s captaincy of Australia. The selectors should probably have chosen Neil Harvey, who was the senior player, although both were Shield captains, i imagine that Benaud’s experience of captaincy amounted to about 3 matches at most. His Autralian team included 3 greats in Harvey, Davidson and himself. In time, future greats such as Mckenzie, Lawry and Simpson came along. So it was not a side stuffed with quality and yet he beat every team he came up against – English sides including May, Cowdrey, Statham, Trueman, Laker, Graveney, Dexter (nb the then top Test wicket-taker and 2 batters who scored 100 centuries); a West Indies side including Worrell, Sobers, Gibbs, Kanhai, Hall, etc. Cook’s record does not begin to compare, does it?

  • With the appointment of Cook as captain for the one day series TINA has gone up In flames. TINA of course is (there is no alternative.) We Cook sceptics have been told TINA all summer. But that argument looks a bit lame now. Because in the one day game it’s TIA (there is an alternative.) Now I never fully accepted TINA in the Test match form. If Alice had pushed Cook down the stairs another captain would have been found. But I have to admit alternatives were not exactly strong on the ground. That in its self is a whole new topic there.

    Why are there so few alternatives? Fate? Just one of those things? Or is this a legacy of the Flower regime? Where individuality of thought is not encouraged. Where conformity and obedience is what is wanted. Players are subservient to the captain. The captain is subservient to the coach. The coach is subservient to Downton. Nothing the English establishment like more than hierarchies. A right wing historian recently argued that Camberwick Green should be shown regularly on TV as it taught the public their place in the hierarchy.

    This is all good knock about stuff, but there is a serious point here. Are we creating a pool of players who are taught not to think for themselves? And in the age of the power hungry coach is a dynamic, independently minded captain seen as suspicious by the coaching fraternity? Personally the worst cricket news of the summer for me was that Flower is now back. And will be bashing out all individuality and flair of the next generation of players. An endless conveyor belt of Cooks coming over the horizon. AAAHHHhhhhhhhhhhhh

    • “Are we creating a pool of players who are taught not to think for themselves?”

      I had really thought that was the case, but I must say I’m mightily cheered by the arrival of Ballance, Buttler and Moeen. They all seem to be able to play cricket and think at the same time* and have a bit of an independent spark about them. And it seems too late now for the ECB setup to grind them down. One can only hope so.

      * except for Mo against the short ball, but that’ll change.

    • just to clarify my comment, when Benaud became the Australian test captain, it must have been a left-field selection. There are always alternatives. Cook had no captaincy credentials before he was annointed captain. He has captained in more matches than Benaud and with a record markedly worse…and yet he is some kind of god. The thing is, I guess the Austgralian selectors looked at the squad and thought…this guy benaud has a reasonable but not outstanding record, but he has done a journalism course at the BBC and has a personality. perhaps he might make a good captain. These days, no cricketer has any life outside cricket. It comes down to selecting which person is best on twitter or angrybirds or farmville. Central contracts might have a part to play in this. They simply lack experience of real life, interacting with people who will not blindly follow your orders – eg the average security guard or ticket inspector or publican. Could Cook persuade a bus driver to hang on a few moments while his wife and kids catch up…? Can you imagine our steely-eyed, steel-jawed hero doing such a thing?

      • This is a point I’ve been making here for some time. Unless appearances are completely misleading, one gets the very strong impression that Team England robs its players of any sense of self-responsibility or real-life decision-making. Every single thing they do – from what they eat to what they say in media interviews – is (it seems) controlled from above.

      • It’s the way of modern professional sport that from their mid to late teens, they live in a bubble with their lives and schedules mapped out for them, and are media trained to say as little as possible, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Don’t think it’s just a Team England or a cricket thing. International players are worse because England cricketers spend almost no time around their counties once they’re on a central contract and are parachuted into countries for international tours with little or no time off to live in the real world.

        As far as Benaud goes, was he such a left-field choice? It was between him and Harvey, but Harvey had been a slightly controversial figure – criticised after the 56 Ashes tour and had embarrassed the board by talking about his poor financial situation publicly. In 58, when the captaincy was available, Harvey was actually playing under Benaud at NSW – Harvey captained an Australian XI against the tourists who got thrashed, and Benaud’s NSW played well, after which Benaud got the job, which he did very well.

        One view is that Benaud was the safer ‘establishment’ choice over the more controversial and outspoken Harvey……..sound familiar?

        I don’t think anybody sensible is comparing Cook’s captaincy to Benaud or Brearley, just like few sensible commentators are comparing his batting to Gavaskar or Greenidge.

        • Hamish, I agree with you about modern sportsman living in a bubble. However I think it is worse here in then UK. It was noticeable how much more mature and open the German footballers were in the World Cup. They were able to talk to the media (foreign media as well) quite openly without ‘minders’ to baby sit them. American sportsman are more open to the media. (That does not mean they never screw up) Of course our media are particularly unpleasant and moronic. Which does encourage players to be defensive.

          Alex Stewart tended to spend his tours locked in his hotel. He would take his own food in tins with him. And did not get out much and see the country. (Maybe less so in Australia which was much more like UK). Whereas Gower and Botham tended to go out and enjoy themselves. Yet Gower and Botham were viewed with suspicion by the England management. Stewart is seen as a model professional. Individuality is not encouraged in English sport. It is looked on as suspicious, dangerous even.

          One of the reasons I view Andy Flower’s appointment as Lions coach with despair is that he epitomises the “don’t think for yourself, just obey” style of management. 87 page diet sheets and laptops are his style. He is a minutiae person, but quite often does not see the bigger picture.

        • I didn’t see this before now. But let’s agree that Benaud got the national captaincy on the back of zero experience. Without checking, I would wager that Cook has captained more matches than Benaud in the whole of his career. And when he was appointed, his Test record was mediocre. The comparison shows that there is always an alternative.

    • I love the idea of TINA – I think that acronym will stick!

      “Nothing the English establishment like more than hierarchies”.

      And there you have the answer to any inquest into almost any of English cricket’s darkest hours. Pietersen’s downfall began not with the texts but with the Moores e-mail in January 2009 which led to the loss of the captaincy. His crime was to – accidentally – destabilise the hierarchy.

  • Wow I feel really depressed. The worst thing about last winter was that we were thrashed by a decent not great, not even brilliant Australian team.

    The idea that you keep a failing captain because TINA is ludicrous. What do we have to lose? Perhaps if Bell was chosen the added responsibility would raise his game. His work with Mo is a great example of leadership and man management. Ballance maybe? He has a bit of the Graeme Smith about him in rock solid batting?

  • “Thanks again to everyone who’s taken part in our epic discussion thread which followed the conclusion of the third test.”

    *Third* Test?

    Have you been nobbled by Downton or is selective amnesia spreading to bloggers?


      • What? like the ECB?? hehe

        Talking of amatuerish, so Broad is having surgery on 4th September. Surgery on a knee that has been pounded into the ground by the ECB for years now. Not sure surgery is an answer that will help, despite all the rehab of recent times. The administering of regular and I would argue, too frequent, corttisone injections in order to keep him going could in the end see Broad unable to play again – so much for the caring ECB – injuries like this are not just majicked away but I suppose the world cup is more important than any mere mortal – he could have been better managed but ‘tendonitis’ is not easy to overcome (if that’s what it really is)

        • Yep amateurish and, I’d say, stupid. They did the same with Trott, Prior and had Rankin playing with an injury in Sydney.

          It’s clear that England’s sole objective this summer was to pick a team to beat Sri Lanka and India. An intelligent management, in a new era, would have used this summer to try out several potential cricketers and come up with a squad of 14 or 15 – 3 openers, half a dozen middle order, 2 keepers, 5 seamers and a couple of spinners. Hang the results, although I believe players like Hales, Taylor, Vince, Rashid would make a strong line up.

          • I think picking development sides against two major cricketing nations would be considered amateurish.

            International sport is about winning – the best team should be picked. Remember the fuss that Anderson kicked up when he was ‘rested’ a couple of summers ago?

        • While we’re at it, we could blame the ECB for the global economic crisis and the Kennedy assassination.

          The schedule has been crazy, but if they weren’t going to operate now, then when? The last 18 months since the start of the Ashes have been non-stop.

          It’s part and parcel of being a professional sportsman that they play through injuries and get them treated when there’s a break. In cricket, just like football, rugby and tennis, there is no off season any more for these things to be heal. As posted on another thread, a representative of the PCA said that the players like the financial rewards….

          • Think you’ll find that in football players do indeed get rested when they’re injured. My main point is that Man U, Arsenal etc have more than 11 players able to do the job and so should the England cricket team.

            • That’s because Man U and Arsenal are club sides – completely different to a national side.

              Show me a club footballer that would be happy to be rested for a major game like a cup final or top of the table clash.

              Have you ever thought that Broad might have been resistant to missing either of the Ashes series in the last 18 months, or the T20 World Cup of which he’s captain, or the current summer series? Given his performances improved towards the end of the series, we can assume that he hasn’t been doing further damage to it.

              At the beginning of September, the next key date is the world cup 4 months later – that is the longest break that he is likely to get as an international cricketer, so it seems the best time to schedule an operation like this.

          • let’s just hope they can afford the wheelchairs then ….your argument doesn’t stack up and, despite your comments, suggests a more developmental way of running things would help the players perform better for longer and of course, may aid results and please the ECB in a more humane manner – but the ECB do not have a monopoly on ‘commonsense’


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