Is Cook Still The Head Chef?

So we’re almost half way through January and the will he/won’t he speculation is continuing abound with no end in sight.

It seemed clear that at the end of the India Test series, that it was a no brainer. India had crushed England with ease and Cook looked like a beaten man, weighed down by the continued media intensity that always accompanies the English cricket captaincy and by his own mediocre form with the bat. Even a few of the “Alastair Cook saviour brigade” were starting to comment that it would be sensible perhaps for Cook to step down from the captaincy to allow him to focus on his primary role in the team, which is scoring runs. As you can imagine, it was hardly hard-hitting stuff, but it was still a turn in the tide somewhat from the standard media platitudes we have come accustomed to.

Over Christmas, we then had the narrative that Cook had indeed decided enough was enough and that he was going to resign when he met Director Comma in early January with Joe Root anointed to lead England this summer and into the Ashes series. You could (and still can) imagine the tears in Paul Newman’s eyes when he wrote about how Cook’s mind had been made up and there would be no going back (I imagine he has a framed picture of Cook on his desk at the Daily Mail and that he wells up whenever he takes a look into Cook’s eyes). Nick Hoult and Scyld Berry also wrote in the Telegraph that Cook’s tenure was likely at an end.

Yet here we are in the middle of January and we’re still none the wiser. Has Cook changed his mind about the captaincy after being reinvigorated by his Christmas break at the farm? Is Director Comma and the rest of his lackeys, so absolutely determined to keep Cook that they plan to spend the next 6 months doing everything they can to keep Cook at the helm? Are they merely delaying an announcement until after the India ODI series? Has Cook even met with Strauss, who had been holidaying in Australia until early January? We simply don’t know. It’s quite amazing how the ECB can keep quiet when it wants to, but miraculously leaks appear when they have a certain agenda against certain individuals or to take the heat off them when they need it (I still don’t believe that the Leach news coming out on the day of defeat in the final Test was just coincidence, even though Lawrence Booth is a very good journalist.)

So where does this leave us now? Well there are those who believe that Cook is actually being hounded out by the media and may well choose to pack it all in if he is stripped of the captaincy. I personally don’t believe either of these, the criticism towards Cook’s captaincy has been gentle in the extreme and has just confirmed what many of us thought of Cook’s captaincy in the past 4 years, nor do I believe that Cook would use the threat of quitting to keep the captaincy. Whatever I think of Cook the captain, I certainly believe that he wants to keep playing for England, as after all there is Sachin Tendulkar’s Test run record to go after and I think that he genuinely enjoys being part of the England Team, be it with the captaincy or not. There have been those that have said, that England are simply biding their time, with an emphasis on taking the pressure away from Joe Root, who has recently become a father for the first time as well as ensuring that England are able to fully concentrate on the One Day Series in India. Again, I am not sure that I fully believe this either, as although Strauss has put a large emphasis on being successful in the white ball format, I don’t see how various players being trotted out to the media to answer questions about Cook’s captaincy would actually be helping. I mean what they are meant to say?

“So Joe, would you like Cook to remain as England Captain?”

“Nah, not really. His captaincy is a bit of a joke and we’re going backwards in Test Cricket. I’ll tell you what, give me the captaincy, I can easily do a much better job than that chump.”

It would indeed be funny if someone would come out and said this, but the players are far too media savvy to come out with anything but boring platitudes. I mean who is going to come out and slag off their boss and media darling to the world? No one unfortunately. Now it may be that Root, Bairstow, Hameed etc really do want Cook to stay on, I mean I’m sure he is a nice guy, someone who doesn’t seek confrontation and the team looks like it has a good team spirit about it. However I’m sure that many of the team would trade this for winning the Ashes next year under the guise of a different England captain, but again they’re not going to come out in the media and say it. It’s just another example of powder puff guff from the ECB, which anyone with half a brain can see right through.

What I believe is that Strauss is stalling for is time to try and persuade Cook to stay, though I don’t really understand the reasons for it. Strauss has been England Captain, so no doubt, he should objectively be able to see the list of glaring faults that Cook has in the field. Then again, perhaps he isn’t objectively looking at this, as after all Strauss and Cook had a pretty close working relationship in the past and it’s clear that they get on well together (as Cook’s comments about meeting ‘Straussy’ showed in his final interview after the Indian Test series). Perhaps Strauss doesn’t rate Root as captaincy material or at least not yet, and thinks that Cook despite his faults, is still the best man for the job? It also may not be too far fetched to perhaps suggest that Strauss wants to keep Cook as captain for the Ashes in case they bomb and they need a new scapegoat? After all, if England loses 5-0 under Root’s tenure then where do they go next? Would Director Comma be the one to be thrown under the bus? Perhaps that could just be the cynic in me, but don’t underestimate Director Comma’s ruthlessness, there have been many tales when he has conveniently forgotten his ‘trust’ mantra if it allows him to progress with his career. Finally perhaps it’s not Strauss’ decision after all? Who knows what other agendas are lurking amongst the murky midst of the ECB’s leadership cohort?

What I do know is that the longer the speculation continues and the ECB decides to maintain a wall of silence about the captain’s future, the louder the calls will become to let ‘Cook choose to relinquish the captaincy on his own terms’. The Indian Test debacle will be consigned to history and a new narrative will appear in the MSM praising Cook for his tenacity and strength of will against those dastardly ‘outside cricket lot’. After all, Test Matches away in India don’t really count because everyone gets thrashed in India or so we are told.

Cook should resign because he has shown in the four years in charge of England that his captaincy isn’t good enough, that he lets games just drift, that he can’t manage spin bowlers, that he only has a ‘Plan A’ and more pertinently because England’s Test Team is going backwards at an alarming rate. However, don’t be surprised one bit if there is an announcement in the next month or so that Cook has decided to stay on as captain, as we all know that the ECB only does what is good for themselves and not what is good for the state of English cricket.