There are many that say that KP is the most divisive English cricketing figure, and it would be correct. I’ve never seen a player polarise views in such a way before, with the possible exception of Geoffrey Boycott when I was a lot younger. You will see vitriol and bile, hate and rage, incoherence and irrationality in abundance whenever he speaks, writes or comments on cricket. This is, of course, totally acceptable. Never should it be pointed out.
But that’s OK. We’ve been told he was a bad lad, so we have to accept that. The press all tap their noses and say “we know things” but then never tell us. So that’s OK. We need to trust them. KP deserved his fate. Trust them.
But that’s not enough. Just this week, in an Orwellian re-writing of history, Paul Newman (surprise surprise) said this:
The ECB came under attack for backing Cook when Pietersen fans were at their most vitriolic in the wake of his sacking, but it was certainly the right thing to do.
Beautiful. Because it was just KP fans who slagged off his captaincy against Sri Lanka and India at Lord’s. It was just KP fans saying a 5-0 Ashes defeat meant “nothing to see hear” when it came to talking about the leader. Here’s one Pietersen fan speaking:
“Any English player who wasn’t exasperated by some of Cook’s captaincy in Australia deserves to be demoted.” Ian Chappell.
There’s enough dog whistling in Newman’s output to disrupt Crufts, but the purpose of this piece is to have a discussion with myself – hey, no-one said I was sane – to put my views about our captain and his 10000 runs achievement on the record. So here goes:
Question: So you hate Alastair Cook, don’t you?
Actually, probably not. Hate is such a strong word. What I despise is what he now represents, whether it his intention or not. That is the simplistic representation of the good guy (him) against the bad guy (Pietersen) and that any debate or questioning of what went on, and what is going on means you are picking a side. In Dubya’s great nonsensical phrase, you are either for Cook (and therefore Team England, The ECB, Sky Sports, The Press) or you are against him (you mean you want England to fail?)
Question: It’s all KP, KP, KP….
I can’t lie and say yes, it probably is. Without the Pietersen issue Cook would have been the same old, same old for me. A good opening bat, a pretty ineffective captain, someone who does well against lower standards, struggles a bit against the really top teams, but an automatic selection engendering a shrug of the shoulders. Then, after the 2013/14 Ashes there needed to be a scapegoat, a victim to put this series on. The last loser of an Ashes series 5-0, against an all-time great team, never captained England again (and his personal conduct wasn’t magnificent either) but is still a huge folk hero. The last coach to lose 5-0 was harangued from office, depicted as a stubborn, odd man, while this one was allowed to leave “with dignity” and ensconced in a nice job he was lobbying for. This captain escaped from the debacle scot free, and instead the focus was on another person. Cook ought to go to bed every night thanking Pietersen, because without him, and what taking “his side” became, meant to sack Cook would make Pietersen look correct, and the ECB (and the media) foolish. And we can’t be having that.
Question: You were pretty vitriolic, weren’t you?
This makes me chuckle. Anyone who disagrees with the accepted line is branded as vitriolic, a social media zealot, a bilious inadequate. I have, on a number of occasions, said I fully understand how people can take Cook’s side and admire him. We all have different players we like in teams. I was aggressive in questioning what went on, I make no bones that I think Cook was a key component in the decision, and I think it shows contempt for those who followed England, and who like KP as a player, that he has hidden behind the ECB line of keeping totally quiet about why it happened. Remember when he said he wanted to speak about it, put it out there what happened, and then didn’t? Yes. I was, and still am, angry about that. He went down massively in my estimation.
Question: What purpose does it serve to keep going on about it?
Another line I love. It’s done now, so just let it be. No. You can’t make me like someone, you can’t make me admire someone who has, in my eyes, betrayed me as an England cricket supporter. I’m not denying he shouldn’t be in the team. I’m not denying he isn’t a test class batsman, or even that he doesn’t deserve to be in the top bracket of England players. Just because the press asserted that Cook did nothing wrong doesn’t mean I have to take their word for it. Remember when Downton was a great appointment? Remember when Moores was being advocated? Remember when we were told there were no vacancies in the middle order? Remember all these things? I do. Just because KP will never play for England again, and Cook is about to make it to 10000 doesn’t change things at all.
Question: You are not a true England supporter. That’s clear.
Under the definition of blind loyalty and backing whoever is playing, then I’m not meeting your test. I’m not apologising for that. I don’t actively want England to lose. They’ve actually made me not care. And given the resonance this blog has had, there are a fair few, I don’t claim it to be a massive number, who seem to agree. All of them were/are cricket tragics. Think about that for a minute before throwing around such dismissive, puerile, simple terms as “you aren’t a true supporter”. A true friend tells you when you are being a prick.
Question: But you’ve been proved wrong. Cook has regained the Ashes and won in South Africa?
Don’t forget beating India 3-1. Don’t leave that out. He also lost at home to Sri Lanka after a Day 4 that should have had him sacked on the spot (in my eyes). His team lost 2-0 in UAE, but as we found out with Strauss/Flower, getting massacred there doesn’t matter because we never win there. We drew 1-1 with New Zealand, who if you look carefully, were pretty easily turned over home and away by Australia. The Ashes was a very good and unexpected win, but we won on any pitch that did something and were hammered on those that didn’t. Great. I’m at the back of the queue in having sympathy for Australia over that. Our win in South Africa was also a brilliant achievement, but I do think we had a little help from a weaker home team, with two of its three spearhead pacemen injured, and I don’t think it compares to 2004-5, for instance, in terms of achievement. There’s no reason to sack Cook now, and he’s going on about carrying on to the next Ashes at the end of 2017. But because he’s there now, doesn’t mean we were wrong then. Just because his mates in the media tell us we’ve been “shut up”, backed up by the Cooky Crew on social media, doesn’t mean we should.
Question: He’s still England’s best opener, you have to give him that.
Of course he is. I will point out to you that I thought his 162 at Lord’s last year against New Zealand was my innings of the year. Without it we were toast. Stokes couldn’t have done what he did. Cook’s monster 260+ in the UAE, in hindsight, prevented a whitewash. He’s the only one in our team that can play that innings. There’s a revolving door at the other end, so Cook is the stability we need there. I notice no-one in the media ever questions the reasons why a succession of openers seem to fail to gel with Cook (always their failings, which is fair, but I think questions might be asked of someone else), and the one that had a modicum of success (Compton) is now the subject of an almost unprecedented whispering campaign that casts him as some mad obsessive unable to cope with pressure. But of course Cook is worth his place, of course he should be opening for England, and at this stage, he is captain so there’s no need to change.
Question: But you wanted him dropped, you hypocrite. You showed what you know by even advocating that.
A test opener, being lauded as one of the greats of all time by the media now, went nearly two years without a test hundred, and nearly two and a half years without a first innings century. He went ten Ashes tests with a top score of 72. He’d flopped at home to Sri Lanka and in the first two tests against India. Put it this way – if Australia has a player doing that, in their pomp, they’d have dropped him. Why should we be any different? Because the press and the ECB like him? Cook stayed in situ because (a) there really wasn’t anyone else knocking on the door and (b) dropping him meant finding a new captain and TINA. Both meant the ECB would be put front and centre. Then he made 95 in what is now a legendary knock at the Rose Bowl, and when he made that ton in Barbados, well… the media went to town. If a team is being picked on performance, Cook’s place had to be in question. Especially after you’ve sacked a player on non-performance grounds. They said in the immediate aftermath of that decision that the one thing Cook needed to do was score runs. No he didn’t. Any 20 or 30 was revered as the green shoots of recovery were evident to the cognoscenti. Contrast Cook’s treatment with Ian Bell’s. Bell made a century in the Antigua test, and struggled during the Summer, whereupon, shortly thereafter, he was dropped! Nice. But Cook? No questions should be asked.
Question: 10000 runs would suggest that he’s an all-time great.
One could be churlish and say he has the lowest average of all those to reach that mark, that he doesn’t compare in terms of grace or aura of most of those above him, and that 10000 runs is a product of him being picked at a relatively young age and sticking there (which does him a ton of credit). It may also be reflected in the lack of real top class bowling around in the test arena at the moment, and that when the standard goes up, his average goes down. But I’m not churlish (although I mentioned them) because it is a great achievement. It resonates with much of the Shire mentality – a yeoman, striver, hard-working, gifted but not freakishly so, bloody-minded, always struggling with his game. He also has the media persona of being affable, some say he’s good-looking, is a farmer in his down-time, has a family, and, well, he’s English! We generally like those sorts who haven’t had it handed to them. But make no mistake, he’s where he is because he is talented beyond belief, got a break earlier in his career than anyone could have expected, and is a magnificent player of spin. He’s up there in terms of great England players. I may not like him, but I’m not daft.
Question: How will you react when he gets to 10000?
I will watch the reaction and see all those things that I saw last year. It’ll be used to demean us. It’ll be used to ram dissent back at us. It’ll be used as justification of all that went before. “Shut up, Pietersen fanboys, and just revel in our glory as Cook backers”. You think that won’t happen? Newman can’t help himself before the event. It should be treated as every other individual achievement like this should be. He gets it, the name goes up on the scoreboard, you get a standing ovation, and then there’s a game to win. When the achievement becomes bigger than the game itself, it becomes an issue. See Sachin’s pursuit of a hundredth international hundred, for instance. The approach towards 10000 has been greeted by some as a milestone beyond compare, when it really shouldn’t given the mark has breached quite frequently in recent years. I would have liked to think that Alastair would view the 10000 as another notch, but with bigger pictures to focus on. Instead, and I’m not sure how he feels about how it has been interpreted his line “you can’t really argue with someone who has 10000 runs” seems overly defensive. You are England’s record run scorer. Why do you feel so insecure? To answer the original question, not go overboard. After all, there’s a school of thought that he took his rival to get there first out of the picture (I don’t subscribe to that).
Question – So Do You Hate Cook?
I hate his deification. I hate his press. I hate the spin. I hate the taking of sides. I hate the mealy mouthed responses. I hate how he is venerated by people crawling over themselves to have a go at KP as if this is a contest. We’ve gone into some detail over the last two years at the double standards applied to Cook and not to others. Cook is an England great. I’m not that filled with hatred that I can deny what is plain to my face. But he’s not my favourite, he became much less of a player in my eyes after the Ashes in 2013/14, and the airbrushing of subsequent flops and then the nonsense press that followed. There’s the appearance he can be a bit petulant, as he was after he was sacked as ODI captain. He’s the first to 10000 for England. It’s going to be a scene where if you don’t clap hard enough, don’t buy the hyperbole enough, don’t pay tribute enough, then how dare you.
I’ll just have to cope.
As I said, back a few months ago in Schism, I understand the other point of view. I really do. But to those who are quick to have a pop at me, and others on here, stop and think. Your own cricket board, allied with the media at the time, did this. They made it us v them, good v evil, Cook v KP. That utter mismanagement and supine reporting has got us to here. Cricket fans at each other. Cricket fans demanding surrender to their view. I find it very sad. But I cannot help how I feel. To lie, would be to do you all a disservice. So when they get up to cheer 10000, I’ll be silent. He’s done well, but the honour has been hijacked, turned into a vindication, a totem of being correct. I won’t be joining the chorus. You would not expect anything else. The wounds are deep.
Now. Let the test summer begin.