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.