Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love. A place where the name suggests accord and liberty, while 80 miles or so down the road in Baltimore, there’s a fire burning, and people are mad as hell.

But enough of that. I thought brotherly love might be an apt theme for my last post for a while from this side of the pond, as I’ll be heading over to Philly tomorrow, and straight out of it before the rush hour traffic hits. And in the spirit of brotherly love, I’d thought I’d look at what’s been happening the past few days and especially in relation to the man who seems to inspire it throughout the media and a large swathe of the English cricketing public. We are talking about our captain.

Or, is he as thick and creamy as the cheese spread that also takes the name? No comments on that from me….

The attitude that we’ve seen taken to Alastair Cook in the past year or so has been greeted here with a sense of wonder. There was the backing of him post-Ashes when there really wasn’t one of us who posts here who thought, in their heart of hearts, that he could carry on after that disaster. But in an amazing turn of events – and please, press, remember this when you keep harping on about KP’s press team – somehow, someway, he dodged all the bullets when it came to keeping his place. Flower was shunted upstairs, KP was shown the door, the hierarchy had either resigned, or were about to resign, the batting coach was invited to leave, and senior players went. Standing there, unabashed, backed to the hilt by the lost and departed Downton, was Alastair Cook, for whom blame was never attached by the fourth estate or the TV boys.

Now, we stand after a win against West Indies where we are being told by respected cricket writers like Simon Wilde (like Simon, so I wonder how recent, recent is meant to be), this…

and Cook is giving off all the impression that he’s the man with nothing to fear from anybody. He’s reportedly – and given it’s Sale saying it, I mean reportedly – been up to his old tricks of sorting out a journo or two who has done something he doesn’t like and had a pop. There’s a sort of swagger after this win, which came with him bringing us home with a half century after a decent hand in the first innings.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been told, not directly but I know some of it is aimed our way, to stop moaning and enjoy the win. And they have a point. I contrast this tom my football team in 2004, who got to the FA Cup Final, only to be soundly beaten by Manchester United, as expected. As we came out of the ground, all the Man Utd fans looked miserable. “Cheer up”  I exhorted one of the “you’ve won th FA Cup. Come on, be happy.” It was the retort one of them gave me that I’ll remember “We were supposed to win this, we’re not getting excited. We were expected to beat you”. As a Millwall fan that day, that hurt quite a bit. It actually signalled the starting point of me moving away from football. But think what United fans said, and, sadly, it was true. They were expected to win, it was nice to win, but no biggie.

As expected we’ve seen a deluge of piffle. Now, in the manner only those well-meaning souls can do, I’m showing no brotherly love to people who say “what the hell are you moaning about?” I think you’ll find, I’ve not done a lot. What has cheesed me off is someone started up the hyperbole machine and has forgotten to switch it off. One who has had me scratching my head in disbelief is Nasser Hussain. Seriously Nas, what the hell has happened to you? How is this an acceptable line of praise for an England captain as we aspire to reach the highest peaks.

but for now his game looks in very good order again and he is making very good half-centuries.

I’ve seen that average statistic trotted out as well. You know, the one that cuts off the year preceding Southampton. “Very good half-centuries” Nasser. Against, lets be fair, not top quality attacks. While Ballance, Root and Bell have made centuries in the middle order. This takes us for fools. I’ve downloaded some cricket for my flight, where I have Alastair Cook’s two tons in India in the second and third tests to look forward to. That’s very good order, Nasser, not a gentle 70-odd in five hours against some disappointing bowling, or drop-ridden knocks at the fag end of last Summer. Where’s the analysis in this?

You can’t drop him now for his batting, because half-centuries are good enough for him it seems. That elusive hundred might be very near, but as I’ve said on numerous occasions, when it comes, it doesn’t prove the selectors right for waiting for it. The longer this wait goes on, the longer it becomes an issue. Sure, a century in amidst a load of single figure scores isn’t a cure-all either, but this holy grail of Cook looking better is just wishful thinking masquerading as an analysis. Seriously, I watched five minutes of him playing in Colombo in 2012 a day or so ago and the difference is stark. He was more fluid. At the moment he bats like a metal man who hasn’t seen a drop of oil for a while, all stiff movements… as if he’s been pre-programmed.

I’m not a fan – I’m genuinely not fans of people who are protected on high by establishment and don’t seem to realise how bloody lucky they are to have that backing. This isn’t hatred, which, of course, is levelled at me and my ilk. I would like to see him make a ton of runs at the top of the order, and will be content if they lead to England wins. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the Essex succession in the record breaker charts, or some of the more fanciful stuff, but there’s a prodigal son aspect here and it is worrying. Half centuries are enough now (they weren’t for Mark Ramprakash, for instance but then, blah blah, 25 centuries, blah blah) because he now looks like a leader on the field.

Hogwash.

We won a test match against the 8th best team in the world. James Morgan on The Full Toss sums it up and also uses a football analogy. This win has been greeted by former players, Sky TV, some of the press, and the masses on Social Media like a massive win, a win for the ages. Even Botham is being invoked to reflect a wonderful spell by Anderson (want to watch him in his pomp – try Trent Bridge, 2013). This was a great win – no questions asked.

I love the West Indies, I want them to do so well, and we all know this is a really mediocre side we are playing. They could improve, but this isn’t top notch oppo. Sure, England did well to win, but you saw what I said on Sunday about inspired performances winning games – they aren’t reliable. A real curmudgeon, and I’m not entitled to be that in the glow of victory, would point out that the West Indies had got to 200 for 2 and it was a deck no team in the world could get a team out on if you listened to the media masses on Friday night. No, we bowled badly first time up, and also with the new ball first time round in the second innings. Against good teams, you don’t get second chances. Imagine that’s David Warner instead of Kraigg Brathwaite; AB deVilliers instead of Daren Bravo. Good luck with that.

But no. We must go mad for a win, and we must recognise Alastair’s “I’m In Charge” body language. It’s ludicrous. We’ve beaten a mediocre team. Graves is right.

Cook appears to have learnt from his mistakes. Last summer, for instance, his decision to spread the field when Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was batting with the tail lost England the Headingley Test but here he kept the field up to Denesh Ramdin in a similar situation and kept the pressure on.

This is top drawer from Nasser. He has learned from being an absolute weapons grade disaster and instead didn’t cave in and make a hash of it. We are celebrating competence. I watched how an Australia team strangled England at Adelaide. They believed they could get us all out, and the one man we had to shepherd the tail wasn’t interested in scoring runs. Watch that. If someone blasts the life out of you, fair play. Here Hussain says Cook lost us a test match, something not often repeated (many criticised the bowlers and Moores for the tactics as well), and yet we can hope the next time he gets a good side in this position, he doesn’t capitulate. Oh, and Mathews was well on his way to a ton at the time, while Ramdin was just starting so let’s not compare apples and oranges.

This doesn’t rank in the top five, easily, of test wins this England team have had away from home in the last 10 years. Mumbai and Kolkata to win in India (under Cook, great stuff) are too fresh in my memory to be erased by a collapse in Grenada. I’d stick Colombo in 2012 to end a run of four straight defeats as well. The demolition in Melbourne would be there, because we’d just lost in Perth, in 2010/11. I’d add the grossly underrated win in Durban in 2009 to the mix, aided by a fantastic hundred by Cook, because it was so unexpected. Mumbai 2006 was also one for the ages, as we squared a series in India.

This win can only be significant because it bolsters a team that needs it. A team coming together but with the captain more important than anything else. Every interview is “I back Cooky” etc etc, and all this good environment and positive vibe bullshit. The last one who didn’t back him got the boot, the media are in the tank because they mostly appear to love him, I’m constantly told on twitter and on podcasts that he’s a lovely bloke, and that no-one wants to see him fail. Fine. But if, like me, you have tons and tons of games on your archives at home, or if you can get to see them elsewhere, you are being sold down the river. Cook’s not back to his best. He’s nowhere near it. And if you are being misled over that, what else are you being misled over? Oh, I’m a tin-hatted conspiracy theorist. No. I don’t like being told something when almost the opposite is staring me in the face.

If we win against New Zealand, fine. Win against Australia, brilliant. I’ll eat the humblest of humble pie. Until then, spare me the great wins claptrap, the reinforced leader of a loyal hardy bunch of men BS, and the back to his best cockwaffle. And I will be a bloody curmudgeon if I want to be. I am a real fan, and real fans don’t go mental over wins pulled out of their arse against a team that is prone to brainfarts. Or as Australia called them in 2006/7 and 13/14 “England”.

That’s my lot. A rant and a half, and still didn’t cover everything I wanted to.

I’m travelling tomorrow, so I’ll leave you in Vian’s capable hands, and see you on the other side of the Atlantic.

Advertisements