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.