I thought I’d break off from the Adelaide story to put a short (ha) piece up on some of the noise coming out of the media after the defeat in the 3rd Test in Mohali. It seems that now, and only now, some of Cook’s staunchest supporters in the press, and increasingly on Twitter and BTL, are worrying about his limitations as a captain. It seems that he is “too conservative”, that he is “muddled in his thinking” and that he too often reverts to “defensive captaincy”. So, now in media land, this means an open questioning of his role as captain. The almost silent question of “is he up to it”? When Newman starts posing the questions, there is something in the air. I’m not at all sure what that is, to be honest. Is it getting at Cook? Is it a vicarious attack on Bayliss, who is presiding over a one day revolution that he has to claim the credit for because Eoin Morgan is completely persona non grata with the press and TV media, but is not exactly pulling up the trees as time goes by with the test team? Why, and this probably speaks more about me than anything, do I fear the dead hand of the Venus Fly Trap, a flower of much aggression, in all this.
What we are getting in India is what we were programmed to receive by the pundits, especially after Bangladesh. It was going to be 5-0. It was because England’s spinners wouldn’t be able to bowl India out, whereas India’s spinners could bowl us out. We were going to be provided turning wickets, which we know is our weakness. We were going to be given result wickets, as the previous series against New Zealand, and those from before against Australia and South Africa had been. We were going to be bedding in new players like Hameed, like Duckett. We had fragile Adil, Woakes who had never bowled in India, and would be without Anderson for at least a couple of tests. Hell, even a draw or two would be an achievement.
So where is this volte face, and believe me, as a watcher of our press, this is a volte face coming from? The first line of sight is hanging on an article by #39 in the Cricketer, where Cook looks forward to the day when he is just an opening batsman in the ranks, and not a captain. Cook has been in the job for four years, and all his previous captains got worn down by it. With the absolutely nonsensical schedules imposed on him by his masters at the ECB, it’s no surprise he’s knackered. Add to that he’s just become a father again to a child he has barely seen, and that wistful thought could solidify rapidly. The thing is, Cook is an experienced media performer (Pringle’s assertion in The Cricket Paper that he isn’t is, like most things he writes, complete crap), and even putting out the suggestion that you are thinking beyond captaincy means you are already opening the door. So despite denials that he meant he wanted to quit, no-one believes him. But you’ve opened the door, and there’s a gale blowing.
Because Cook, deep down, must know this team wouldn’t win in India. There’s too many flaws in the team, too many weak spots to win in the ultimate test for England these days. If everything went right, they might be able to prey on the Indian resolve, but it didn’t, and now he’s 2-0 down with a week’s media space to fill to keep cricket relevant. A somewhat defensive declaration at Rajkot is now held against him – every armchair captain is gung-ho, and would declare half an hour earlier than the one who gets paid to do it – and because that was an impressive performance, England had made a rod for Cook’s back. A second test defeat in Vizag was put down to a favourable toss to win by England, by a ropey batting performance in the first innings, but marked by a decent fightback in the third innings of the match when previous England teams would have chucked in the towel. A poorer game in Mohali, where his reticence to change tack after a tactic had worked, when it stopped with Ashwin, Jadeja and Yadav in that first innings, is now used against him. Coupled with four ordinary innings since his second innings ton at Rajkot, and we have ourselves a story.
Now, people, you haven’t come to All Out Cricket, and a staunch Cook supporter piece is here for your delectation. No, as usual, it is the media with me, and the modus operandi of English cricket. Journalists have now started speculating about handing over the reins, and citing poor captaincy? Now? Cook hasn’t been awful for about 18 months now, and although I’m not confusing him for Richie Benaud at this time, his captaincy has hardly changed dramatically. If these people cared about the role of captaincy itself, they’d have been outside the Headingley gates in 2014 with pitchforks, asking what the hell was that they had just witnessed when trying to deal with Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath. Cook then was treated like a protected species, for to give in to common sense then would be to invoke something altogether more disgraceful. But denying that doesn’t get you the epithet “Cook Fanboy” while pointing it out gets you the “KP fanboy” and judging by the usual cretin in the Guardian BTL, that latter one still very much counts.
At that time we were being told that a series winning captain in India, and an Ashes winner as well was “still learning”. Now we are being told that his captaincy may not be seen as taking the team forward. At that time, Cook’s captaincy was like an anchor on a dinghy, while now, while not great, isn’t the horror-strewn calamity that Swann, Broad, Anderson and KP couldn’t bale out. The funniest thing about that time was that it is referred to as a time where Cook faced “intolerable media pressure”. Did he bollocks. They lined up to save him, praise his every positive move over and above its real significance, and participate in Operation Protect Cook(y). People in the press openly admitted that if he’d got to a hundred at Southampton, they’d have stood up and cheered. This was an ECB line, it was a pro-Cook, anti-KP line, it was railing against the louder voices of social media, and it was one of the key tenets of the schism that enveloped English cricket.
So why now, people? What aren’t you telling us? Someone is clearly muttering something, because even though we have no idea how good journalism works, we know how this thing works, because we’ve seen it happen. Is Strauss talking? It appears the most likely as Bayliss is a Strauss appointment, and Cook a Hugh Morris/Paul Downton one (Morris originally, Downton post Ashes 2103-14). Is it the Venus Fly Trap, through Newman, who is laying his poisonous seeds for sins of the past? Something is afoot, and I think we all want to know what it might be. Going to tell us good ladies and gentlemen of the press? Why have Pringle and Newman turned? Now?
My thanks to those of you who have appreciated the Adelaide pieces. I really enjoy writing them and vamping up the photographs. I also know they are pretty long reads, so instead of trailing the Adelaide test religiously, I am going to space them out, although I will put something up for the anniversary of Day 5. I was thinking of trying to be Being Outside Cricket on that fateful Tuesday morning when most people awoke to the news. It might, or might not, work. I’d have torn into KP, that’s for bloody sure! I will produce Day 3 and Day 4 over the weekend, and then put them up at appropriate times. They don’t garner the hits and comments that other posts do, but blogging is, by its very nature, self indulgent.
December is also time for other traditions. I award my Dmitris… yes, my ego is still big enough. The rules are that individuals can’t be nominated for a second time, but if they were part of a collective (eg, the four horsemen journos in my first iteration) they can be put in on their own. There’s no rule of thumb per se for them, except I usually give one to a “good” journo, and that one is written already, and the winner of the poll, and I can reveal we have a new winner this year, so I have to write that. I give one to an international performer, and one to an England one. The rest are random. The first year I did 10. Last year 7. It will probably be around 7 again.
I also have the poll results to announce, as we produce the annual “Top Journalist” list, as voted by all of us. As I’ve said, Mike Selvey has lost that honour, but who has taken it out of Ed Smith, Paul Newman, Oliver Holt or Simon Hughes? All will be revealed soon.
There’s also the annual media review, that I didn’t bother with last year. I know how much that is loved, and I would be letting you down if I didn’t do it this year. But as always, time is limited in supply.
And, of course, we have two test matches as well. Visitor numbers are up. Hits are up. November was our busiest month for a long time. Comments are going up too. There’s still appetite for the blog, and that’s great. Maintaining this interest through the year has been incredible. Thanks to all.
Now, let’s get writing.