The thing with a cricket blog, and certainly one like this one, is that we can get all wrapped up in our little worlds as authors / editors / masters of all we survey. I’m as guilty as any of that.
I’ve been somewhat of an interested bystander this week (not to be to confused with Innocent Bystander from Twitter) around the continued arguments between what I will refer to as the “Cook enthusiasts” and the “Cook sceptics” on both the blogs and on social media. After all, this all stems from the wretched remnants of the 2014 Ashes tour, which saw England sink to new depths both on and off the field. I read with interest Dmitri Old’s piece – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/25/schism/, in which he highlighted how time hasn’t healed the divides, in fact it is has made them more entrenched than ever before. You only have to read the BTL comments of the national newspapers (or those that haven’t been edited suitably by Mike Selvey and his Guardian chums), that the mudslinging and rancor is greater than it have ever been, which is another reason why I stopped reading BTL comments apart from those on a couple of blogs. How and why is it the case that even after 2 years, we have no sign of peace from both warring parties? Is it really just the sacking of Kevin Pietersen or is it something that goes way beyond this?
After the Ashes humiliation 2014, the ECB knew something needed to change to take the heat off them. Andy Flower, a favourite son of the ECB, was no longer in a tenable position to lead the England team; however such was the humiliation of events Down Under, they were also aware that this would not satisfy the fans. They realistically knew that one of the senior team members would have to be sacrificed (Cook, Bell, Anderson or Kevin Pietersen), so they could herald a new start and claim that lessons had been learnt. I genuinely believe that they had identified their main target after Perth, as we all knew which way the series was going by then, which was more than enough time for a new Managing Director to be briefed about the ECB’s wishes. Enter Paul Downton, a creature so hideous and incompetent that I genuinely don’t know which bog the ECB dredged him up from, to do their dirty work. Kevin Pietersen, they decided, was the man to go, as he was the easy fall guy, a man that had completely polarized England fans across the world. KP would be the sacrificial lamb and Paul Downton the bumbling hitman. The ECB probably thought the fallout would last a few months, in which time their pals in the National Media could do a character assassination of him to alienate him from the English public. Except it didn’t quite work out that way, many people were rightly angered and saw past the hacks, and here we are in 2016 with the KP issue still being violently discussed.
Now, I don’t want this to be a KP piece, there has been so much written on it, that quite frankly I’m done with it. He’s not going to come back, and as much as I am still angry about and as much as I would like Strauss to do a U-turn for the World T20’s, it’s not going to happen. You may well be thinking, that if this isn’t a KP piece, then why have I spent the last 2 paragraphs talking about him? Well I needed to put the piece into some context. I believe that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. As I alluded to in my paragraph, there are a group of people out there, who think Alastair Cook has had a terrible rep from some of the online blogs and on social media and can’t understand why people in the “Cook sceptic” group would want him to do badly. I will do my best to explain why not all of us hail Alastair Cook, coming from the more sceptical group myself, though I don’t agree with all of the reasons set out below, this is more to try and provide those that think we’re not “England fan’s” with some sort of context.
I’m no great fan of Alastair Cook; however neither am I his biggest critic either. I genuinely hope Cook has a great summer with the bat, England desperately need him to fire owing to the porous nature of our current batting line up for us to be successful in the upcoming series. I think when he has retired, history will look upon Alastair Cook as a good quality international batsman but an average international Captain. He will soon reach the landmark of 10,000 runs, which will be a great achievement personally for him and I will be happy to congratulate him on this; however the stark reality is that the majority of his runs were scored pre-summer 2011 and at that time only could he be rightly hailed as world class. Since the Summer of 2013, Cook has scored runs only sporadically and rarely when we have needed them most. Using the winter as an example, Cook had an average of around 48, which is very acceptable in itself; however if you take away the 250 against Pakistan on the flattest of pitches, his contribution was quite meagre. In South Africa, Cook didn’t manage to score any meaningful runs at all, yet Nick Compton’s match winning knock of 86 in the first innings has been totally forgotten and both he and Hales have been singled out as the fall guys. Aside from his international statistics, I strongly believe it’s not Cook the batsman or even the captain, that has caused any real ill feeling amongst the Cook sceptics, it’s the Cook aura that has led to most murmurings.
After the winter of discontent, when “he who must not be mentioned” (Kevin Pietersen – Ed.) was given his marching orders, it was decided the Captain Cook was the man that the ECB would lay all its eggs in. He was well spoken, talked about the team a lot and most importantly came from what the ECB would deem as “the right type of family”. As a result, any criticism of the Captain meant that you were automatically deemed as “outside cricket”. It was deemed a hangable offence from anyone inside the MSM to criticize Cook after all, the ECB knows how important it is to relay the right message to the masses – “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”. This is actually a quote from Joseph Goebbels, that well-known member of those “lovable rogues” the Nazi’s; however if you replace “government” with the “ECB” then you have a fair idea of the ECB’s views on their approach to our national press. The deification of Alastair Cook that the MSM and Sky have been portraying since the Summer of 2014 has made many of us wary about this continued praise, I would hasten to add that this is not in any way Alastair Cook’s fault, but it is certainly a circumstance of the ridiculous eulogies emanating from our own broadcasters and national press.
This, however, is not the main reason why there are individuals out there, who not only dislike Alastair Cook, but actually want him to fail, of which I am not one for the record, despite being highly critical of him at times over the past 2 years. Alastair Cook, whether he likes it or not, is the public face of the ECB. Alastair Cook was both consulted and in the room, when KP was sacked in the full knowledge that this was an opportunity to both get rid of the person who had criticized his captaincy in Sydney in 2014 whilst also ensuring that his failings during that series alongside his captaincy were quietly forgotten about. Cook displayed a ruthless trait by quietly cozying up to the ECB, to ensure his position as “head boy” was unchanged, never mind who else got thrown under the bus. Would I have done the same, possibly, possibly not. This isn’t a one off either, you just have to examine Cook’s words at the end of the South African series to realize that self preservation is of pressing concern to our Captain:
“It’s been tough batting conditions and it’s not been easy, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting,” he said.
“I think at the end of the day results matter and your end column of runs is absolutely vital. So to say they’ve totally convinced me would be wrong, but there have been flashes.
“There’s certainly places up for grabs. Myself and Trevor (Bayliss, head coach) and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to number one in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”
This is from a Captain, who averaged 23 with the bat, but one who was more than happy to pile the pressure of Hales, Compton and Taylor, who are all trying to make their way in the international game, whilst trying to take the heat of himself at his own poor series (also unless I’m mistaken and the Captain is now a national selector, then why would Cook be talking to Bayliss about this). It’s hardly from the Mike Brearley coaching manual of great captaincy. This is another major reason why there are some people out there that both dislike Cook and some that want him to actively fail; however again, it is not just what Cook says or does that garners a distaste for him, which I must again stress is not his actual fault, it ultimately what he represents as the face of his employers, the ECB.
The ECB, it would be fair to say, hasn’t covered itself in the greatest of glories over the past few years, unless you mean financial glories, with over £70million sitting in their account at the end of last year (I don’t think Giles will struggle to dine well this year). At a glance, some of the ECB’s highlights (or most probably low lights) over the past few years have been:
- Sacking our best batsman, with a so called dossier of misdemeanors given as the reason; however, much to the embarrassment of the ECB, this dossier has since gone missing (though you would suspect they could call Newman, Brenkley and Selvey to throw some more mud)
- Hiring Paul Downton, a man so inept, breweries and piss up doesn’t even seem to cover half of it.
- Telling many English fans that we were “outside cricket” and treating the rest with such a level of disdain, that you wonder why we were ever even allowed to set foot onto a cricket ground to watch our national team in the first place.
- Requiring Test Grounds, many of whom had been promised international cricket if they invested in their facilities’, to bid so high for Test matches, that they have to raise prices to an unsustainable level to try and break even, which are beyond the means of many.
- Sticking with a completely antiquated and unsustainable domestic format, with the games and formats being constantly interchanged to try and plunder the most money possible from the T20 competition. I’d genuinely not be surprised if the players turning up to a ground, knew which format they’re going to be play that day.
- Cozying up with Allan Stanford, a criminal convicted of one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes ever, as the answer to the competition from the IPL.
- And the coup de grace, selling their souls to the BCCI to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their cut of the riches in international cricket. Never mind those outside of the Big 3, who will see international cricket slowly die in their countries. Giles Clarke is on record saying his priorities are “to put his board first”, stuff the rest of international cricket.
This is the ultimate reason, why many individuals do not see Alastair Cook as the shining beacon of hope that he has been portrayed as in the national press. In fact, if anything, it has nothing to do with Alastair Cook himself, more the ruthless, greedy and disdainful organisation that he represents every time he appears in the paper or speaks on television. This is why there are those out there, who have been England supporters all their lives, that are so disillusioned with the sport, that they are thinking of walking away for good; in their eyes, it has become impossible for them to distinguish between the team that goes onto the field with the deceitful organisation in the background. Am I one of these people, no, as much as I despise the ECB, I still want every member of the England team to do well (Cook included) and to win every series possible, but I can understand where these individuals are coming from (much as I do understand, those who choose to think that everything is rosy in the garden of English cricket). This is why I do struggle to both abide and understand the constant mud throwing from both camps, which shows no sign of abating. There shouldn’t be an “us and them”, we are all England cricket fans after all but there is and it is wider than ever before, yet we hear nothing from the ECB to try and unite English cricket under one positive banner like the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps though, it is really not in their interest to unite the English public, as whilst we’re still arguing about what a divisive individual KP is and how he should be nowhere near the England cricket team, the ECB has got in to bed with India and sold international cricket down the river, with a hardly a murmur from the masses. After all, we’re all still shouting at each other about Kevin Pietersen.
If I may use an analogy (with the caveat that I’m desperately not trying to sound like Ed Smith): At the battle of Pharasalus in 48BC, Caesar dragged his war-torn armies into one last battle with his former ally and member of the triumvirate, Pompey. After a vicious battle with many casualties, Caesar eventually won and the dead Pompey was brought to him. On receiving the dead body of his former ally, he shook his head and uttered the immortal words “hoc voluerunt” – “They wanted this”. It would be quite easy to interchange 48BC with 2016, and “the Senate” with “The ECB”. I have the very same fear that in a few years time, when we finally look up from our arguments about KP, that we too maybe uttering these words when looking at the barren and parched landscape of international cricket. No-one wins in a pyrrhic victory, except perhaps the ECB and Giles Clarke, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that this would be the worst case scenario for all parties.
I think your conclusion is so incredibly unlikely it hardly that it hardly needs consideration. That the ECB could create a media strategy, even one that’s ultimately self-destructive as you describe, and successfully implement it? I have so little faith in the competence of the ECB, I’m sure that if there is some small way they have benefitted in small way it must have been by accident.
Right now Joe Root is England’s best cricketer, perhaps the best cricketer in the world. Likeable, cheeky, young. I honestly believe that due to the ECB’s mass incompetence, the worst thing the could do for English cricket next Winter is play cricket.
Consider this scenario: Joe Root plays in both Bangladesh and India, and scores at least a century in every innings (including the T20s) and is lauded as the next Bradman. Maybe 200-300,000 people will see it live on Sky and perhaps as many again listen on the radio. All of these people are already avid cricket fans, for the broader public there will be 15-second clips of highlights in news bulletins and maybe a handful of newspaper back pages on days without Premier League games on.
By contrast, what would happen if Joe Root boarded the plane to Australia instead? I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here (UK) is watched by about 10m people every day, and I would assume most of them aren’t yet fans of cricket. Surrounded by mindless egotistic celebrities, I’m prepared to believe Root would make a major impact on the competition and became broadly popular in a way no cricketer has here since 2005. Millions of people who are so far Outside Cricket that they might not even know any of the rules will be following Root (and by extension England) because they like him as a person. The renewed interest in the England team would improve coverage in newspapers and TV news, which in turn would help increase (or at least retain) interest from people who didn’t watch I’m A Celebrity.
Of course this media strategy need not be confined to Root. Broad could go on Strictly Come Dancing, Cook could be a recurring guest on Made In Chelsea, Anderson could enter X Factor. The possibilities are endless! Why let reality TV help the careers of ex-cricketers like Phil Tufnell, Darren Gough or Mark Ramprakash when the ones who really need the boost of attention they provide are the ones still playing?
The ECB are only incompetent if you imagine that they are interested in the things that we, and indeed most cricket fans, are interested in – i.e. making sure cricket is still played and enjoyed by as many people as possible now and in the years to come.
But I don’t think they are any more – if they ever were, as more than an aside. They are doing their job very well – which is to rake in as much money as possible as quickly as they can, and the future can take care of itself as far as they are concerned.
They show the same shortsightedness as many large organisations and companies do these days – make your fortune quickly before it all goes to Hell and run away before the consequences catch up with you.
Perhaps I’m just too cynical, but that is how their behaviour appears to me, and everything that happens seems to reinforce it on a daily basis.
I honestly think you’re overestimating the abilities of the people at the ECB. I agree that they chase money with a clear obsessive drive which ignores all other things, but I do genuinely think they love cricket and are trying to improve the game in their own way. Going back to my broad point, I just think they’re too stupid and incompetent to realise when they are damaging English cricket.
I believe the ECB’s focus on money is basically because it is a clear unimpeachable metric by which they can measure ‘success’. When someone in management has been promoted beyond the level of their competence and are hopelessly out of their depth, they will grasp at oversimplified targets and statistics as they would lifelines on a sinking ship. They will then drive their whole team towards achieving that target or improving whichever numbers they fixated on, regardless of whether it coincides with their purpose in the organisation. When they inevitably reach their goal, no matter the cost, they will announce “Mission Accomplished” and declare themselves to be great at management.
My impression of the ECB is that it’s not employing the best and brightest minds, nor is it hiring evil money-driven sociopaths. It seems like the best way to work at the ECB is to know someone already there who will recommend you, which inevitably ends up with people who are unqualified and incapable trying to run English cricket.
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Many thanks for taking the time out to comment. I follow you on Twitter, and generally we would agree on most things.
I will however, disagree with you on this point.As much as I dislike the ECB (and it sounds like you do too),they are far from stupid. They have a control over the MSM and Sky that is more than unhealthy, after all no friendly posts, no friendly golf days.
I guess what my post is trying to say is that there are plenty of divisions in English cricket at the moment, but let’s not forget about Giles Clarke’s sell out of world cricket, by becoming a subordinate of the BCCI.
Again, I have to disagree with any post which claims ECB competency. They are incredibly stupid and they have almost no control over the media, mainstream or otherwise. Even in the unlikely eventuality that it was true, I would argue that they only have control over the content because the volume and priority of these articles in their respective papers are falling across the board. This is the thing that worries me most about the situation English cricket is in.
There are those who are Inside Cricket and we are what you might call Outside Cricket, but both of us will go to the cricket sections of our respective news websites because we have a strong (almost too strong) interest in the sport. We follow other cricket fans and reporters on Twitter or Facebook, we click on links to articles, and we even comment and post a little ourselves. But there is a third group, people who are Outside Outside Cricket for want of a better phrase. They might have some latent desire to read about cricket, to watch cricket highlights or whatever but they don’t seek it out on a daily basis.
If we take the BBC News website, I think the most popular one in the UK, there are no cricket stories on the main page. Going to the Sport section, there is the Cricket link at the top of the page and a small section reserved for cricket at the bottom with a single story about AB de Villiers being made Test captain. To put this in context, the BBC employs several cricket journalists already through Test Match Special not to mention the blanket county cricket service. Clearly the issue isn’t a lack of ability to post regular, interesting pieces on cricket on a daily basis. The issue is editorial, that whoever decides what goes on the main pages clearly doesn’t rate cricket’s importance to the general public.
This clearly forms a cycle as less exposure to general sports fans and the general public through the main news outlets causes interest to decline further, leading editors to scale back the amount and priority of their cricket coverage even more. Round and round it goes, and this is what I consider the greatest proof of the ECB’s incompetence. They took Sky’s money and left FTA TV behind, but they have never seemed to understand that in order to replace the in-built exposure that provided they would need to sell themselves and their sport to the British public on an constant and relentless basis or they would decline into the obscurity of a niche sport.
People might read my comment suggesting current England players go on I’m A Celebrity or Strictly instead of England tours as being facetious or ‘satirical’, but I’m being completely serious. The ECB should be pushing its players onto any TV show with ratings that they can. Surely Emmerdale being in Yorkshire should have a club team Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root can visit? Jos Buttler’s from Lancashire, he can turn up in Coronation Street for a few weeks. Has Countryfile done a piece on Alastair Cook’s farm? The ECB should be treating this as an existential threat and doing everything, anything in their power to try and stop it.
They haven’t, they aren’t and they won’t. Why? Because they are stupid and incompetent. QED
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Well that post went in a direction I wasn’t intending it to go when I started! I planned on explaining my view of the cricket media landscape, but it very quickly veered into another “The ECB are stupid and incompetent” comment.
I don’t believe the ECB has any measure of control over Sky or the mainstream media. They’re so stupid and incompetent, how could they? With Sky, the reason for their viewpoint is clear self-interest. Why would the sole broadcaster of English cricket diminish the value of its own product by saying the England team isn’t as strong or as entertaining as it could be? If the West Indies team is weakened after the Big 3 takeover and are losing players by the week, why would Sky report that? It’s not like they promote mid-table Premier League games like Watford vs Stoke by saying “They have nothing to play for!” or “These teams can’t compete with the top 4 due to the unfair financial position of the teams!”. They don’t say about boring 0-0 draws that “This was a waste of time for us and everyone watching it at home”, they say it was a “Tense thriller” or “A defensive masterclass”. If you’re expecting Sky to do anything other than promote their own interests in their sports coverage or ‘journalism’, you will always be disappointed.
With the mainstream media (by which I assume you mean the newspaper correspondents who tour with the England team), I don’t believe the reason why they broadly agree with the ECB on most things is anything as sinister or cynical as you suggest. Put simply, I think the ECB and newspaper both hire from the same very small group of people. White, male, over 40 years old, for the most part privately educated (with a few grammar school kids thrown in) and often former professional cricketers. Is it any surprise that if you narrow the pool of people likely to run and report on something to perhaps a few thousand people that they will share the same view of any given situation? That reporters will sympathise with their peers in administration? That they’ll socialise together at pubs and golf clubs? I don’t think it’s collusion or control, I think they’re basically all the same person doing different but related jobs.
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Wow. You could be reading my mind Sean, I find your article so perceptive.
I don’t think the ecb are stupid either, just in the wrong job. They are above all incompetent. The officials there have some success at making money in the business world. England’s cricket is not (only) a business. Anyone with intelligence and imagination would have sat there in 2005, when England’s cricketers excited the nation, and realised they were on a winner. No need to enslave the press, no infighting, no scapegoating, no “stuff the performances. Let’s see how we can squeeze every penny out of this”.
Similar feelings as you about Cook. I believe he is not a natural leader but, like many you see in business, has an opportunity, in a shortish time to make the most of what he’s been granted – we call them career managers in the business world – know the game, been on the courses, have personal ambitions but no-one would follow them over the top.
I’m not too optimistic about English cricket but always comfort myself that, whatever walk of life you may be in, things change.
An interesting post Sean and you make some good points.
It seems to me that while Cook might be ‘from the right kind of family’ in the eyes of the ECB he is from ‘the wrong kind of family’ in the eyes of some others. Would it help do you think if he shaved his head, sported tattoos, and wore an earring? It might also make a difference if he forsook his essential co-operative nature and developed an edgier and more confrontational attitude.
I can see that however one might look at it, the England cricket captain is a representative of the ECB. It seems that Cook is also viewed in a poor light for who he represents and I can understand that to a point. After all, we do have problems with the incompetent and money grabbing elements of the ECB.
Now tell me, when Joe Root assumes the captaincy as he is sure to do one day, will he be looked upon in the same way or will he be somewhat ECB distanced because he is an easily liked cheeky young fellow with a smile on his face? Is it all down to personality?
My sadness in all of this is that as Dmitri says a schism has developed and become more entrenched as time has gone on. People see things in different ways, we have differences of opinion, likes and dislikes but it has all become a very personalised, them and us situation.
I try to see both sides and I value differences of opinion. There is much that we cannot know and much is subjective. All we can do is tell it how we see it and I think that’s fair for everyone. The only thing I find difficult to come to terms with is wanting people to fail no matter who that might be.
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“his essential co-operative nature” like when he went running to Daddy Flower to tell him what naughty KP said about him in a no holds barred players only meeting.
I supported cook up until the time he aligned himself with the ECB to save himself, not exactly the signs of a leader, at the expense of another player. I don’t care whether he has tattoos, shaved head or whatever. I don’t like him as you can only judge someone on their actions. His actions have not been those of a captain or even a teammate. Combining his self preservation after the 2014 ashes with his comments most recently paints a picture of someone with a high sled regard and little concern for others. That is the reason I don’t like him. The constant deification by the MSM does not help one little bit but how do we know he hasn’t had any hand in this?? After all a little bit of criticism by Shane Warne and he was crying that something had to be done.
It’s funny to think before the ashes fallout I was a big supporter and fan of cook. I always gave him the benefit of the doubt about his captaincy and would defend him when criticised about not being as funky as Michael Clarke was. So please do not tell me it’s is because cook is reserved or its down to personality. It’s down to his actions that in do not care for him.
However, this great article (thanks Sean), raises so many other great points about why many are dissolutioned with all things ECB. Their greedy actions are well documented and have not received anywhere near the criticism or questions by the MSM, and yes that does include some of our more well like columnists. Not enough attention has been given to the big 3 carve up, the escalating ticket prices to watch your country or how to ecb are trying to address the slide in cricket participants in this country, despite having 70million at their disposal. The fanstatoc film that is DOAG was given some but nowhere near enough coverage as it should be. When you see now the press coverage being given to the Fifa corruption that is the type of mainstream media attention we should be seeing.
It has been unfortunate that such big issues have been simply looked at as KP fans vs Cook fans. They have become poster boys for the anti ecb vs pro ecb stance. That, however, is the way that it is. I see a hell of a lot of stuff on social media that pro cook followers are very pro ecb and vice Versa with pro KP. I definitely sit on the pro KP/ anti ecb side of the fence. Initially this was due to the KP sacking as he was simply the greatest player o had seen pull on the England shirt. But having learnt more about what was going on behind this issue I became aware of the failings of our national board. I now know that KP has gone from an England shirt now but the problems at the ecb are greater than ever. Perhaps this is why the gaps in the divide are now further entrenched. Nothing has changed so people’s position would have only grown deeper over time.
Sorry if this makes no sense but I can’t sleep and saw this article up. Again great article Sean and agree with it wholeheartedly mate.
I haven’t commented on this site for a long time, but I continue to read it (I very much enjoyed Dmitriy’s retrospective on the 1986 tour of the Caribbean), but I do feel compelled to add a comment to this article.
No, it’s not anything to do with Pietersen any more, and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s obvious that that bird has long since flown, and much the poorer English cricket is for it.
For me, it’s simply a question of not liking being taken for an idiot. All those articles about Cook’s supposed “inner steel” simply left a nasty taste in my mouth (which is why I insist on referring to the little creep as “Sheep”). The obvious orchestration of the beatification of one man and the lynching of another. The stories that changed as the ECB thrashed about looking for a line that would “stick” with the punters. The rudeness and arrogance of people who haven’t paid their own money to see test or county cricket for years towards the paying public. The lavish praise of Downton and the vigorous promotion of Moores, followed by the support for Downton’s removal and the unceremonious dumping of Moores. The gleeful seizure on Strauss’s on-air description of Pietersen as “a cunt”, which exposed the vacuity and sheer malice of their hatred for the latter. All this is what opened up the rift between those inside and those deemed “outside” cricket. The determined rubbishing of a book they manifestly hadn’t read (publishers know sports journalists don’t like to read, so they send out brief summaries; many of the “reviewers” clearly hadn’t read even this). And the unction that they poured in what can only be described as the Cult of Alastair Cook.
And it hasn’t stopped. When Cook raised The Basil D’Oliveira Trophy after a series in which he personally had been a total passenger (don’t give me that “but his captaincy has improved” rubbish — so it bloody well should after 40 matches in charge), the nauseating Simon Hughes tweeted “Great triumph for a great man.”
So much for the “gentlemen of the press,” almost all of whom, even those on supposedly radical newspapers, proved themselves establishment toadies to the nth degree, My feelings for them, even for ones I’d formerly admired, has turned to the most perfect, abiding contempt.
Now for “Master Cook”. I’m afraid I absolutely loathe Sheep as well, and I can’t see anything changing that. I suppose he isn’t entirely to blame for the way he was used by the ECB or championed by a wholly uncritical media. But he *is* responsible for not offering his resignation in the aftermath of the Ashes humiliation down under. For his spoilt and unbecoming behaviour during the Sri Lanka series. For demanding that someone ought to “do” something about Shane Warne, at that time his only vocal critic in the MSM. For referring to Graeme Swann, a blindly loyal supporter who continues to be rudely contemptuous of the slightest criticism of Cook, as a “so-called” friend after the gentlest criticisms offered by Swann before the world cup. For not standing down from the world cup captaincy when it had long been manifestly obvious that he was suited neither to captain nor to bat in that form of the game. For his disloyal implied criticisms of Morgan after the latter had been appointed much too late in Cook’s place to the captaincy after he had duly failed on a mission impossible, while implying that he, Sheep, would have done a much better job. And this from a man who has always demanded blindly uncritical loyalty from his team mates. For attempting to bolster his ludicrous steely-core press image by posing over the carcass of a slaughtered deer. For hiding behind his wife. And most of all, for continuing to put himself and his ego above the England cricket team — a charge often levelled at Pietersen, but at least as applicable to Sheep, and in my view, much more so.
All of Cook’s records are and will be diminished in my eyes because of the quite unprecedented indulgence granted to him over the last few years. And if he goes on to score 20,000 runs, as a man he will always be a contemptible little shit in my eyes. Four years of world cup preparation for which unprecedented back-to-back Ashes series were played and the 2012 series against the world champions South Africa was diminished were all thrown away for the sake of assuaging the inflated, prickly ego of this nasty little man.
There’s more, but I think I’d better stop before this gets too long.
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That’s a good charge sheet, Clive. I feel though that if Cook were working for UNESCO we wouldn’t be referring to him as a “weaselly little shit” or whatever (not your words, just a summation of many people’s view).
I think the fact that anti-Cook commenter X can reel off the charge sheet in his/her sleep, while pro-Cook commenter Y will downplay it all, and respond with a list of KP arsehole moments (which will, in turn, be rubbished by X) stems from the big barrier put up by the ECB’s actions. A barrier, helpfully signposted “Cricket”, which appeared as quickly as the Berlin Wall and which we randomly found ourselves on one side or the other of. Not exactly overnight, but before most of us realised (hat tip to Arron, who was the most far-sighted BTLer I can think of on this point).
In other words, everyone has a position on Cook, and it originated from the ECB, not from Cook. He’s done plenty since then to confirm that view of him, but I think it’s confirmation in great part, and even most of us wouldn’t hold some of it against him if he weren’t already beyond the pale. That’s a criticism of human nature, by the way, not a free pass for Cook to go out sniping at more deer or ODI captains.
As ever, typing on my phone here, so apologies if the need for brevity is at the expense of clarity.
As usual on this subject, I agree with clive, and feel just as strongly about that charge sheet.
I’m afraid Cook exemplifies traits I simply cannot stand. In anyone. And I have never seen such puke-inducing sycophancy towards a British sportsman; only late-period Beckham comes even close. As stated before, it is so bad that when he achieves something genuinely great, such as the innings against NZ at Lord’s, the courtiers who over-praised chancy 95s, or 43s that deserved a hundred, have nowhere to go. Giving him 7 or 8 out of ten for his last series is a truly shocking bit of puffery. I don’t believe any other England cricket captain in my lifetime would have been indulged to that extent after producing his worst ever stats over three or more Tests. It is like telling us that his captaincy is now as vital as Brearley’s, or Benaud’s. Bollocks.
It’s pretty simple. I find him as deeply nauseating as others obviously find Pietersen. Unfortunately, only one of these opinions is orthodoxy, and the other has you branded a heretic. That is how twisted the situation has become. So be it.
WOW!, BRAVO CLIVE!!!
You speak for me. And you have beautifully brought out what a little shit he is. Funny how he attracts such a selection of little shits in the media. Takes one to know one! They obviously see his shitiness as something to admire.
I think the pro-Cookers and anti-Cookers can be subdivided into those who support/dislike him because of who he is (personality, ability, actions) and those who support/dislike him because of what he is (England captain or ECB stooge). Personally I moved from ‘pro-who’ to ‘anti-what’ during “the upheaval”. I would naturally be fond of an accumulator, even one as smooth as Cook, as most of my favourite players are those who have to fight and struggle and show their human limitations on the field (morning Compo). KP was not my cup of tea, but he was bloody good.
Anyway, I recommend Sean’s excellent article and promise to abide by the conclusion by not talking about this any more (not too much, at least), and by concentrating on the wider problems, not the smaller symptoms, of which Cook-bile is one.
You make very good points, fellas and I can see that your feelings on Alistair Cook are deeply held and that none of them are trivial. I view things in a different way.
I am sorry that we have pro and anti Cook ‘camps’. It reinforces a pervading animosity which we could best do without. Dmitri and his schism again.
There is a tendency to find pro Cook and pro ECB people thinking in the same way but it’s certainly not always the case. Some people are naturally pro establishment and would fall into that category but it’s doesn’t go for all.
I was at the DOAG premier in Piccadilly and wholeheartedly support Kimber and Collins in their work to expose the dark side of the ECB. At the same time I believe there are good and competent people within that organisation, doing their best.
I do agree that there are many more important issues facing the game than an ongoing Cook versus KP squabble. One day it’s sure to be laid to rest. Hopefully!
Jenny and others,
Thanks for the detailed comments on this thread. I was a bit concerned that this was going over too much old ground, but then this post has assuaged those concerns with the thoughtful responses.
For me, up to the end of 2013, there was no pro- or anti-Cook. If you were outside of Essex, or a select few who just gravitate to that sort of batsman, he was our opener who made runs, and because of tenure and the fact he opened, made him a future England captain. In my experience he elicited few emotions, few devotions.
Then the decision took place which placed a polarising figure against a non-polarising figure. What happened then was, as we all know, the ECB needed the anti-KP and so they shoved Cook on to the roof in a middle of an electric storm, and expected him not to be damaged. Or didn’t give a shit.
Once the non-polarising Cook was pitted against the charismatic KP, it became a schism. That Cook played the establishment line to perfection, despite his lack of runs and horrendous captaincy, annoyed the anti-establishment to a tee. What the ECB wanted was for results to shut us up. When the Ashes were won, despite Cook playing little part with the bat in the three victories, it came as a shock to these people that we didn’t just shut up and do as we were told. No painting us as oddballs is going to work. Our love of the sport is greater than the need for England to win. Cook was on the side of the establishment – the pay TV, over-commercialised, Big Three splitting, Giles Clarke employing ECB and I’m sorry, IT IS about that. Yes, KP is one of my favourites, BUT I loathe the ECB, Giles Clarke et al a huge amount more. And I am also sorry that you can’t split the two. A good performance by Cook and the ECB bask in his glory. It’s kind of hard to pull for someone like that. In my eyes. But I also fully understand why other views apply and I’m getting absolutely fed up in keep having to state this for the hard of comprehension.
For example, I don’t, and have never, claimed to speak on your behalf. This is just a blog. But it is hard to sit by when unscientific poll suggest that the people, the fans, want KP in the WT20 squad and we have this:
Who is this guy speaking for?
That’s my issue. A read of feeds like this shows why the divide will never heal. At least in this cycle. It runs deep because people wilfully miss the point. That KP is the symptom, and not the illness. Cook is another symptom.
Thanks for your post Dmitri but I do have a problem there.
How can you know that Cook was on the side of over commercialisation, pay TV, the big three splitting and Giles Clarke? Maybe all he was doing was keeping his head down and trying to keep his job. Perhaps he hated them as much as you do. The roof of the electric storm could not have been a comfortable place.
If he had thrown himself under the bus and been dispatched along with KP we would have been left in a position of no KP, no captain and no opening bat. Joe Root was unfortunately thrown into the opening role when not ready. I do think Carberry was axed before time but that’s another issue.
I’m not seeking to change anybody’s mind. You have all made your points well but we are not soothsayers. There are things that we can’t possibly know.
Think you took my content literally. Maybe too much. He was the ECB man, backed vocally by Downton who dismissed any questioning after the Ashes, and Clarke and his infamous right kind of family garbage. They were his backers and the criticisms I leveled were what they represented.
I’ve called him a company man. He’s the ECB’S boy. That’s a fact.
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KP was the straw that broke the camels back. And the medias refusal to accept that point has caused the lasting hostilities. What’s more those so called self proclaiming “real England” fans refusal to see that makes me question their understanding of the issues. (In other words they are a bit dim.)
TV deals, Test match scheduling, prices of tickets, bidding process for counties to win test matches and the emergence of the chief executive pitch that last 5 days. Etc etc
Most on here have been saying from the start that KP would never play for England again. We were teased a bit by Colin Graves, but who did the big push back on that? Not the ECB but the media. The likes of Newman and Pringle were the ones who pushed back. Graves folded like a cheap deckchair and appointed the media hero Strauss to make the final decision. But the media was driving the agenda. So the media will get attacked and laughed at.
There is absolutely no reason for the media to fawn over Cook now. He is no danger at all. He can have the job for as long as he likes. The fact that a respected ex England captain gave him a rating of 8/10 for them SA tour shows why the media are ridiculed by some of us. They bring this on themselves. Also as Dmitri has said I belive no lessons have been learned, and if another KP was to emerge he will be slapped down just as hard. It’s why the term Team ECB has been coined. It angers some England fans but the term sums up an organisation that pretends it is running the national team, and not a private snooty club.
By the way, the haters hated KP long before text gate. Nasser used to tell us on Sky that the most divisive England player was KP. ” we get more e mails and texts about him than any other player.” A particular type of little Englander has never liked him. Some openly admit they wish we had lost in 2005. So spare me the media crap about get behind the team in blind obedience.
Great post and great comments – thank you all.
Goebels would indeed be proud of this lot in the MSM and the ECB. And Cook? He was just following orders…
Very good piece, Sean – I enjoyed reading this, and found it very fair and similar to what I think about the divide as it stands now. Although I acknowledge that it’s a comment on their tactics and nothing to do with any part of the belief system they represent, I admit to being slightly uncomfortable with comparing the ECB to literal Nazis, as hopeless as the former clearly is – as a violation of Godwin’s law. That’s a minor point, though, and I do see what you’re getting at with the comparison.
Whilst I acknowledge that Cook definitely hasn’t been a saint in all this – I wasn’t impressed with his responses to the public criticisms he received from Swann and Warne, for instance – I’m overall nowhere near as down on him as some, and feel that the ECB have by and large forced his hand much of the time and that they’re far more deserving of the vitriol than Cook is (again, not to say he’s completely blameless). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that people are entitled to view Cook as negatively as they do if they see him as representing the ECB’s public face in all this, even if I prefer to separate the two. Both are understandable interpretations. I think it’s striking, as you allude to, that when the ECB noticed the mess they’d made at the start of 2014 and noticed two very loud and noisy camps going at each other, they didn’t try and “get everyone behind the team” again: instead, they made the schism even worse by unrepentantly lambasting those “outside cricket” and have more or less been completely ignoring them ever since.
Thanks Rufus. I was worried about putting that Goebbels quote in the piece for that very reason. I’m absolutely not trying to compare the ECB to the Nazi’s and I apologise if it came out that way. The quote was more to highlight the ECB’s demand for the press to be subservient – if you don’t write some nice platitudes about the team, then bang, there goes your golf day with the players….
Also I might have pushed that too far. Apologies.
Here’s the table of England captains:
I’m convinced the plan is for Cook to stay on until he’s beaten Vaughan’s record number of wins. With SL in meltdown and Pakistan seriously unfamiliar with conditions outside Asia, that could well happen sooner rather than later (say, by the end of next winter). Bunkers let the cat out of the bag when he wrote that piece assuming Cook was on the plane to India as captain. What the ECB want is to annihilate any nuance with that record – forget ‘Alastair Cook’ and bow down before the rebranded ‘England’s Most Successful Ever Test Captain Alastair Cook (TM)’. Their outriders will then start turning ‘Most Successful’ into ‘Greatest’…..
The ECB have become like Wal-mart (or, more accurately, one of Wal-mart’s ancillaries) but with the inferiority complex of an underdog. It’s a toxic combination. They don’t have the confidence or intelligence to tolerate dissent so seek to pulverise it. It was said in debate that Tony Blair sought to win a convert but Gordon Brown sought to leave a corpse. The ECB and its minions are from the Brown school. They’d rather people with decades of cricket-watching and -loving left the game than questioned their narrative. It’s “I love Big Cookie, KP Bronstein hate, hate, HATE” but in a shrinking world it plays out as pantomime rather than tragedy.
Cook himself is rather lost in all this. Most of the discussion here is about ‘Alastair Cook’ the ECB-media construct. I’ve no idea if Cook is a ‘good man’ or not and don’t really care. If the KP farrago taught me one thing, it is to judge players by what they do on the pitch and not worry about what they’re supposedly like off it. Media titbits about so-and-so is a good man are playing on our curiosity and, I’m sorry, I’m not playing that game anymore. I don’t believe what they’re telling us and it’s just stupefyingly irrelevant (unless illegality’s involved). Sport isn’t a morality tale were the good are rewarded and the bad punished. Runs don’t count for more if they are made by good men. The ability to bat long periods doesn’t mean someone has anything interesting to say.
Cook the batsman, I’ve written before here, strikes me as about the Justin Langer or Gary Kirsten level. Very good, not great. I can’t imagine CA or CSA trying to construct a ‘cult of personality’ around Langer or Kirsten. They know a niche market when they see it. I’m probably part of that niche market – so why, even on those terms, have I never been able to warm to Cook? I’ve had soft spots for plenty of nuggety openers in the past going back to John Edrich. Partly it’s a point Atherton makes, that he’s never played that defining innings. The 162 at Lord’s was, as Arron has pointed out, a very good innings but Boult-Southee-Henry-Craig is hardly McGrath-Warne or Ambrose-Walsh. The innings he played in India were probably his best but I missed most of that series. Partly, it’s the feeling that hasn’t been a vintage era for bowlers – and that when he has faced the best bowling, Cookie has tended to crumble. Grinding accumulation off weak bowling is a skill I suppose but it’s a difficult one to warm to. Mostly, though, it’s that any success is immediately hitched to an ECB-vindication narrative. It was bad enough when, on their terms, it was necessary – now it isn’t even necessary and yet it shows no sign of abating. Some can find a way around that. Good luck to you – I’m not going to tell you you’re following the wrong sport and why don’t you try tiddlywinks? I can’t find a way around it.
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Very good points Simon. I agree they want him to break every record in the book. And he can stay as long as it takes. For me they will all be meaningless. Cooks career coincided with very average world cricket teams. He missed the great Aus team of Warne/MCGrath and most of Murali. So too Ambrose/Walsh, and Donald/Pollock.
As we look back on the WI tour of 1986 it is laughable to think what he would have done on that tour. We saw England against Mitchell Johnson in 2014 bowling 90 mph short aggressive. Englands batsman struggled greatly.
Never undestimate the importance of money in all this. The ECB is all about brand and sponsorship. Cook is liked by the chocolate cake munchers, and the corporate sponsors. The media have swooned over his looks and his niceness. He is more important to them on the side of a corn flake packet than out on the field as a competent captain.
Kind of says it all really.
I really want to know who went and told Flower what KP said in that meeting. It could only have been Prior or Cook.
Prior doesn’t strike me as the type to be a grass and stab a team mate in the back in secret.
Cook certainly does strike me as that type.
I have always wondered if that meeting was set up deliberately. They had become very astute in leaking his views to their little mates in the media.
You can imagine something like this…….
” set up a team meeting, and encourage KP to speak his mind. He will always tell it as it is, and then come back and tell us what he said. “
I would not put that past them Mark!
Great piece by Sean and excellent comments BTL, including clivejw at his passionate best!
As so often, I find myself agreeing with Mark:
Never underestimate the importance of money in all this. The ECB is all about brand and sponsorship. Cook is liked by the chocolate cake munchers, and the corporate sponsors. The media have swooned over his looks and his niceness. He is more important to them on the side of a corn flake packet than out on the field as a competent captain.
The key figure in all this is not KP or Cook or Flower. It’s Giles Clarke. Let’s just remind ourselves – before he was ECB Chairman, Clarke was Chair of its Marketing Committee. He masterminded the Sky deal. Subsequently he cosied up to Stanford. Under his chairmanship the ECB forced counties into ruinous development programmes and bankrupting bids for Test matches. He helped set up the Big Three cartel. He may now be technically only at the ICC but there are many signs that he still wields massive influence in English cricket.
Clarke is a serial entrepreneur who made his money in the retail trade. Serial entrepreneurs don’t think long-term. To acquire a business, raise its profile, get money pumped into it, expand it, flog it and move on is an involvement of maybe 10, 15 years. Clarke has done that with Majestic Wines, Pet City and Safestore, and made a shedload of money along the way.
What the ECB has done in recent years makes sense if you look at it as English cricket being run like a retail chain. The players are products, some bought in and some own-brand. The England team is the flagship store, it has to represent the chain. KP was not wanted – there was a certain customer loyalty to him as a product, but he refused to give the chain an exclusive deal, so it was decided not to stock him any more. The Ashes defeat was simply a good time to make this move. Cook has been chosen as the star brand, the face of the chain. His cricketing achievements will be heavily publicised, but it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t bat well because he doesn’t actually have to do anything else now except be, just as Col Sanders didn’t actually have to go around cooking Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I suspect the top players, including Cook and KP, understand all this very well. They are, after all, also motivated to make as much money as they can in a short time. It’s the supporters who don’t like it, because a sport isn’t a shop. We don’t want a cricket-flavoured product in a high-end retail experience that’s only available in Sky shopping malls with excellent deals for corporate clients.
We want it to be accessible, affordable, a game to share with our kids and argue about with our colleagues, offering escape, myth, legend, combats, duels, reckless attack and epic resistance, people who can have nicknames like Whispering Death. And stats.
Giles Clarke is probably very fond of cricket in his own way. But he doesn’t get it. And he’s all about money. And that’s where it all starts. We can only hope that soon he’ll get bored and move on.
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There is a lot of sense here Zeph.
I love that, Zeph.
Assume that if I could I would be clicking ‘Like’ right now.
Giles Clarke = economic hitman
That’s a fantastic post, Zeph.
Thanks, all. The comparison with Col Sanders isn’t very good because Sanders did actually found KFC, but you get the idea.
” As so often, I find myself agreeing with Mark:”
Thanks very much Zeph, but I should warn you there are quite a few people who read this blog who think I should be taken away by men in white coats.
And I don’t don’t mean umpires………..
As the Cheshire Cat said, we’re all mad here 🙂
I know I made a long post earlier — and it actually surprised me myself by being much more bilious than I thought. I guess my feelings are still pretty raw, but they seemed to chime with others who have commented, so thank you for that. But anyway, I just wanted to say one more thing.
Yes, there was a time when I thought I might get over my harsh feelings for Cook. If I called him Sheep enough times to get it out of my system; if he did something to show he’d learned lessons from all that has happened over the past two years; if he won a few more games off his own bat; if he stepped down from the captaincy, quitting while he’s ahead at least in the eyes of those inside cricket…
But the final straw for me was the mean-spirited sniping at Eoin Morgan. After clinging on to the one-day captaincy to the bitter end, when he was neither scoring runs nor leading the team to victory, or even creditable defeat, and largely, it seemed, to avoid calls for him to step down from the test captaincy as well. After all that, and having been removed at the last hour by a cowardly management that could not even go through with the logic of its own misguided plans, but left the side in disarray on the eve of the world cup, with Morgan assigned a mission impossible to reform its tactics, boost its morale, and give it some pride with barely enough time left to pack his suitcase for the event itself… As I say, after all that, and England having suffered its biggest world cup humiliation ever, despite supposedly having prepared for it as never before. After all that, for Cook to be thinking only of himself and his hurt feelings, and implying that he could have done a better job, with no thought for the position he had landed Morgan in at all, no shame over the demoralized state of the team he had passed on to him… No, I cannot forgive Cook for that, ever.
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Hi clive – the vitriol magnet – it amazes me how much abuse you attract from random persons over on the G just because you call a cricket player a sheep. Yet apparently it’s fine to call other people poisonous mercenaries.
Yes, the Morgan pronouncement was very… revealing. It made my mind up too.
Thing is, it’s OK if Cook is completely self-absorbed, he probably can’t help it. Just don’t keep selling him to us as a lovely wonderful unselfish empathetic leader.
Hello there, Zeph. Happy New Year. Yes, I seem to attract a lot of vitriol for my use of the nickname Sheep, but when you think what I could call him, given how I feel, that’s almost gentle. I like your post about Clarke, btw.
I salute this post too, sir.
Clive – respect. I always enjoyed your contributions to Guardian btl but haven’t been there for ages. Sorting the wheat from the chaff requires more energy than I wish to expend.
It certainly very obvious that Cook’s overriding priority is Cook’s career and he will squeeze everything out of it before he goes back with a bulging wallet to the rest of his life on the farm
Confirming what has been suspected for a while. Huzzah. Oh utter joy. Sing from the rooftops, world cricket will be in, er, safer hands now.
Hurrah! / Oh Christ!
This is twisting my melon, man. Can’t he just pee off and raise some crocodiles or summat?
Joking aside, there some genuinely encouraging tidbits in here alongside the depressing major announcement. Firstly, the BCCI (believe it or not) are looking to make it so the ICC chairman isindependent from any individual national board, in an attempt to remove conflict of interest, most likely encouraged by the enormous embarrassment caused by Srinivasan’s many fingers in many pies: Clarke will therefore have to completely remove himself from the ECB in order to stand.
Secondly, it sounds like the financial aspect of the Big Three takeover is up for discussion: “it is understood that division of funds is also up for debate and the big-three concept could be scrapped with India realising the impact on the poorer nations could be disastrous and leave them with weakened opposition on the field.”
Finally, the article makes it sound like Clarke is very much disliked by the most of the other boards as part of the fallout from the Big Three takeover, so getting them on his side will take a lot of arm-twisting, although if he can get India to support his candidacy it may not matter if the others disagree: it’s not yet clear what influence each board has on the decision.
“it is understood that division of funds is also up for debate and the big-three concept could be scrapped with India realising the impact on the poorer nations could be disastrous and leave them with weakened opposition on the field.”
I have been saying for sometime that the non big 3 need to bite the bullet and break away from the ICC. You can have all the money in the world but you need someone to play against.
India, England and Aus just playing themselves all the time is sporting suicide. If they are going to do something about this it will have bugger all to do with anything the so called superstar cricket jounalists have said and done. Once again it will be despite their efforts, and not because of them.
Thanks Rufus. I’m trying to remember my promise earlier in the thread to only follow the causes, not the symptoms. As Zeph said, this man is the black hole at the heart of English (and Welsh) cricket.
Leaving the ECB after a 12-year involvement would be par for the course. But the article makes it clear that he may not stand for ICC Chairman if he can’t win. I can’t seeing him leaving himself without a power base.
Interesting that the possibility of undoing the Big Three arrangement is raised so soon. I wonder if there’s a possible legal challenge to it? You’d think there could be, if anyone had the money or the strength to raise one. (Restraint of trade? Anti-cartel legislation? Any legal experts out there?)
Another, more cynical, possibility is that throwing some money at less affluent full members might be quid pro quo for some forthcoming horror (divisional structure, sabotaged Olympic bid, no 10 team WC retreat etc).
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You could well be right, Simon. Nevertheless, making the financial redistribution somewhat fairer again is at least a start, since it makes it less likely that the poorer nations will simply wither on the vine and die, and hopefully ensure that as many teams remain as competitive as possible.
I’m hoping that Clarke will become purely a figurehead. It’s clear that India will do want India wants to do and Aussies are not usually tame. Add to that an ECB that is not controlled by that self-centred man and I am intrigued to see what happens
I have read all the comments with a huge degree of empathy! I watched an advert on BBC tonight about the forthcoming Summer of sport it intends to show, including the Olympics. Every sport got a show….guess which one was missing…..the National Summer sport? My thanks to the ECB for airbrushing cricket out of the national psyche!
Ref Cook…Eoin Morgan is my most favourite cricketer after KP, his comments after his sacking from the ODi squad were utterly puke inducing, and the complete measure of the man!!
Cracking post Sean, and many excellent comment posts too, a great read all – I can add nothing that hasn’t already been said.
You are right. Cook is the ECB boy, but it is of their making. I look to them, not to Cook. Each to his own deliberations. 🙂
Just asking whether Cook ever acknowledged the fans who had travelled to South Africa? For various reaqsons I was not fully aware of everything that was said to the press after the various Test matches but, if Cook did not apologise to the travelling supporters after the 4th Test, there is a real problem.