If hell is other people, Cook can be forgiven for preferring the company of sheep and baby deer. With Cook in the cross hairs more often than the fawns on his Bedfordshire retreat, those of us old enough to remember the famous Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, would be forgiven for thinking someone in the England dressing room must, by now, have remarked to the skipper, ‘Bummer of a birthmark, Al.’
The Other People in Cook’s particular hell are Piers Morgan and three trolls in India, who have hijacked social media and deliberately undermined the England captain by publishing on Twitter every batting failure, every tactical calamity, every loss, every dumb-ass whine.
That such information should leach into the public domain is not just impertinent to Cook, but if allowed to continue unchecked could endanger the reputation of every crap cricketer in the country.
The scholarly but naïve Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, has much to answer for with his misguided support of the American-born truth-monger Edward Snowden. He has encouraged every fringe idiot with a smart phone and 20:20 vision to disseminate actual facts at the expense of the carefully controlled release of redacted truth and well-meaning mendacity that has served this country so well for centuries. Thank goodness Rusbridger’s liberal instincts and so-called journalistic ethics have yet to reach the cricket pages of his pernicious rag.
Cook’s persecutor in chief within cricketing circles is the follicly challenged former Aussie tail-ender Shane Warne. His main charge is a clever-dick observation that Cook, rather than having captained England in 23 Tests, had merely captained his first one in charge 23 times. It is a smug comment from a man chiefly known for his failure to ever captain Australia. In England, Shane, you need a good head of hair to be a test cricket captain! Which also rules out Matt Prior.
Which segues me nicely to my main theme. Alastair Cook is the only man capable of leading this England cricket team.
Unlike his bowlers who indulge in brainless, long-haul spells till their broken bodies are blistered and bloodied, Cook has had the good sense to carefully manage his workload, preserving his energy by batting in slow, short bursts at a time.
According, Nick Pierce, the ECB’s chief medical man, Cook’s legendary inner steel is not some self-obsessed reference to focused determination, it is a clinical acknowledgment of years of orthopaedic reinforcing. His body houses more pins, screws, rivets and plates than a dockyard toolbox. It follows a copper-bottomed, iron-clad investment-protection programme rolled out by the ECB as soon as they identified Cook as the preferred model for a modern England captain.
In a groundbreaking neurosurgical procedure, Cook’s hypothalamus was removed and replaced with a small receiving device that keeps the skipper in constant contact with the statistical modelling and sabremetric-analysis programs on Peter Moores’s laptop.
The same device allows Paul Downton to prep Cook from behind the scenes during press conferences in much the same way as backroom expert Albert Brook prepped on-air anchorman William Hurt in the movie Broadcast News.
An unintended side benefit of removing Cook’s hypothalamus is that his sweat glands no longer function. Dry hands, dry ball. Stuart Broad sweats like a pig, so that rules him out.
State-of-the-art cyborg technology does not come cheap, and the ECB have invested too much in upgrading Cook’s anatomy to consider pulling the plug on him now.
Cook’s other unique qualities are very human indeed.
After losing the Melbourne test in Australia, Cooky got the team together for a players’ meeting. He came up with the inspired idea of a bonding session, and chose an ECB version of Britain’s Got Talent. The whole event was regaled at a recent lunch I enjoyed with the boisterous Andy Flower.
Pietersen decided to give the lads his version of Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, but the judging panel thought it would be funny to red-buzzer him as soon as he started the familiar whistle. With the playing squad and 120 backroom staff chanting ‘doos, doos, doos’ at the departing Pietersen, the humourless South African went into a major sulk. Honestly, the guy always plays the victim.
At the top of the bill, Alastair Cook gave a faultless rendition of Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga, which had the playing squad and 130 backroom staff weeping. In those spellbinding five minutes Cook transformed a dispirited and broken playing squad and 140 backroom staff into a brotherhood united in their adoration of the skipper.
As Graham Gooch told me at the end-of-tour dinner, Cook’s a cappella aria was wholly responsible for lifting the boys to a morale-boosting 281-run loss in the Sydney test rather than the expected innings defeat. He really does make a difference.
I am told that Ian Bell and Joe Root are tone deaf and couldn’t even remember the words of their caterwauling effort. Their attempt at Rossini’s Duetto buffo di due gatti sounded like a couple of cats fighting over a lyric. Quite dreadful. Neither of these guys has ever had any formal choral training, so how do all the gnomic know-nothings, who don’t even have a debentured seat at the Royal Albert Hall, expect them to be able to captain an England cricket team?
Micro-bloggers only see Cook when he is batting or fielding, but being an England captain is not about being good at cricket. It is more important than that. Following the loss to Sri Lanka, I had a few beers with the impressive Peter Moores, who gave me some fascinating insights about Cook’s talents that none of you outside the inner sanctum ever get to see.
While Jimmy Anderson was blubbing over the wicket on losing the series for his captain, Cook was in the dressing room building a record score on Stuart Broad’s Wii Cricket Challenge. ‘Cook was magnificent today,’ said Moore, a self-confessed stats-geek. To prove the point, he fired up an app on his tablet that showed by adding Cook’s Wii score to his test scores, his true batting average this year is 3,960, so form really is not an issue. And as an aside, England captains do not cry like a girl, which rules out Anderson.
At a private dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck as a guest of Giles Clarke, I asked some pretty searching questions about the
menu skipper’s position. Clarke smiled knowingly and turning to the Waitrose commercial director said ‘One for you, I think.’ The Waitrose man finished his mouthful of thrice-cooked oyster tempura in a barnacle-infused bladderwrack micro-foam and turned down the ambient sound of crashing waves and mournful seagulls.
‘What you have to understand,’ he said, ‘is that we possess the most sophisticated algorithm program in the industry. Our number crunchers factored in Cook’s scoring rate, the various contractual calls on his time, and the value of our sponsorship deal. It turns out that if he scores more than 20 in an innings, he won’t have time to fulfil his obligations to commercial, print and broadcast stakeholders. Simple deal.’ The commercial reality is that no one with a better average than Cook could ever be captain without bankrupting the ECB – which rules out everyone else in the squad.
‘So, you see,’ concluded Clarke, ‘Alastair and his fragrant family not only perfectly match the Waitrose demographic, but his time at the crease is perfectly judged to fit the Waitrose paradigm.’ It is lack of access to this kind of expertise that prevents George Dobell from being a proper journalist.
After the loss to India, I joined a panel of cricket writers on TMS. During the tea interval Paul Newman launched a passionate defence of Cook. He pointed out that the captain had been really unlucky in the diverse ways he has got out recently. The Mail man, pointed out that the buff skipper had yet to perish hit wicket, run out or handled ball. ‘Until Alastair exhausts every way of getting out, he is the only man for me,’ he gushed. At which point the Telegraph’s Michael Henderson snorted uncomfortably at the possible homoererotic sub-text.
Derek Pringle was concerned about the lack of good lookers in the England squad. ‘Cooky is a square-jawed, Boys’ Own hero,’ said the much-loved Telegraph man, adoringly. ‘Virgin daughters of investment bankers swoon before his size twelves, if you know what I mean,’ he innuendoed. Some things really should stay in the dressing room!
Pringle then cut through all the crap put out by keyboard quarrellers with this telling observation. ‘There are no alternatives to Cook. Ian Bell simply is not tall enough to be an England captain.’ Which seems to rule out James Taylor’s prospects, too.
The avuncular Vic Marks, sucked on his meerschaum pipe and washed down an oozing gobbet of Ilchester brie with a measured sip of Burrow Hill cider. In a melifluous voice of gentle authority, Marks wondered whether the more senior players, who have served England according to their own strengths over the years, were looking in need of a thoroughly deserved break.
Marks was sanguine that one or two players picked for the current England Lions squad showed promising signs that they had what it takes to be …”. Before he could finish, Paul Downton emerged from the shadows at the back of the studio and smiled with Pintereque menace as he patted Marks gently on the back.
Still smiling, he announced that Andy Flower was taking over the Lions team, reassuring listeners that the current leadership group was in good shape. ‘Andy Flower,’ he grinned ‘was the equal-best coach of his generation, and the ECB’s new era was in safe hands.’
Mike Selvey, who had spent the entire broadcast staring admiringly at his own reflection in the studio window, was asked for his comments. In an unusually curmudgeonly retort, Selvey said everyone was a trolling twat and he was sorry but he was leaving the country. At which point panel chair and former England bowler Jonathan Agnew intervened with ‘who’s for cake?’