Watching sport, being a fan of sport, is always a personal thing. Well it is to me. Early on you partition players, teams, managers into neat boxes. Your personal favourites, your true hates, your quite-like them, to I’m not a huge fan, to those that just stay there, in the middle, doing nothing to stir your emotions. You can flit from box to box, but rarely through your own deeds, rather how events impact upon you.
Each team, or sport, needs the emotions, the love, the hate, and each feeling is individual. But how others react can push the emotions the other way. Take Roger Federer. I’ve never been a fan, but then I’ve never really loathed him. He was just there. Nadal, even Murray, had those rougher edges, and I preferred them, though not to hate Federer or demean his achievements and skill. Then, when Murray got to his first Wimbledon final and the crowd was split, I started on the route of dislike. The lachrymose response to his wins now draws my ire. The over the top, sickly love for everything and anything pushes me further. For no fault of Federer’s own, I now want him to lose. That’s sport. That’s how I react. Back in the day when it was between Borg and McEnroe. It was Borg. It’s not consistent. I hated some mavericks, loved others. I loved dominant superstars like Michael Jordan, whatever their faults, and hated others like Tiger Woods, who shared those faults. There is a point to this, and it will, hopefully, be borne out in the post below. It’s long, stick with me. Long even by my standards. I’ll also be amending it and updating it as well, so typos and thoughts might be changed.
At 12 Noon today, although I had been advised an hour earlier, Cook’s retirement from test cricket was announced. It is now the time for everyone to be super-nice to him. For his “haters” to shut up and acknowledge his greatness. For us to respect the man’s career. For those who deem me a hater, and who don’t want to go on, read the first two paragraphs again and then sod off. You might get the hint.
I’m going to let the press, the TV, the internet sites, other bloggers, fans and not fans, to do the traditional thing and pay homage to a player who has given great services and performance to the England team. For them this retirement may genuinely hurt, may close the end of an era, may even feel a little premature. For those who genuinely loved him as a player, this is never easy. I should know. I know how it feels. It was how I felt on 4 February 2014. The moving on of a rock of the team is hard.
For me Alastair Cook, probably even more than the South African born middle-order batsman, defined my blogging life and it is more that which I’ll concentrate on here, as well as the big issues and some of the myths.
Blogging is about personal feelings, your opinions, your comments on what you’ve seen and what you don’t see – you need to be genuine, to be what you are. People see through you. Sport evokes the passions and we see them on here, and like most of what we read. Like Danny Baker, as he said when introducing 6-0-6 just be “good” and tell your story. We report a little on the cricket, but you can see with your own eyes, form your own opinions, and we don’t need to recall every event, every wicket, every controversy on the field of play as if our coverage reputation and traffic driving depend upon it.
We are here, well I know I am, to say what I think. You can agree, you can disagree. That’s the way the world rolls. But I can say that nothing, and I mean nothing, has had my head banging against the wall, my sanity tested, been the source of more flounces, the reactions been more visceral, than the times I have not venerated Cook at the times I was told I had to. Most recently it was his epic 244 not out at Melbourne, where I was told to defy logic, ignore what professional sportsmen have said, and to basically shut up because Alastair Cook had made a big score in a dead rubber. “There are no dead rubbers, this is a great innings, he is a great player, he should be venerated as a national treasure.” England lost that series 4-0 and it was his only contribution. It avoided a whitewash, so low had our bar been set. To point out that this wasn’t a moment for triumphalism was to be greeted with rage. Pure rage. I packed in blogging for three months. I had no anger left to give. It was destroying me inside. I took a break. Cook, and that schism, had never healed. It will never heal. It can never heal. Not for me.
The Early, Innocent Days
I had no idea, none of us did, when Alastair Cook walked out at Nagpur in the winter of 2006 of the trouble he’d cause! My first memory of him was the reputation at U19 level, but the first true one was his demolition job for Essex on Australia in the run-up to the crucial 5th Test in 2005. His double hundred in a day got people’s attention at a time when the country was in the thrall of test cricket, great test cricket, not this imposter masquerading as it now. But at the time, with Trescothick and Strauss as openers, there didn’t really seem a way in to the team, especially as Thorpe had been shunted aside for SABMOB, and Bell was clearly going to be backed at 3. However, when Tres was unavailable for the 1st test against India at Nagpur, Cook flew over from the West Indies to make his debut with little time to truly prepare. A hugely promising 60 in the first innings was the pre-cursor to a mature, well-compiled, impressive century in the second innings. We were used to debutants starting well for England in those days, funny that, but this seemed different. He missed the “Ring of Fire” test in Mumbai, which would be the only one he would in his career through injury or illness, but was recalled for the following summer. It was there I first saw him bat in person, as I caught the recovery job he did with Paul Collingwood against Pakistan at Lord’s. He had been slotted in at three as a vacancy cropped up in the batting order with Vaughan’s injury.
Cook was never elegant, never truly exciting to watch, but you knew the one thing he had was temperament, and again, in this modern imposter, you don’t see that as much. He had a slight issue in his early days of making small hundreds, but it was certain he would be a fixture for a while to come. I caught his 83 at the Oval later that summer, in a century partnerships with SABMOB, and he had guaranteed himself an Ashes tour and the first “proper” examination of his abilities.
If I had to define early Alastair Cook it would be the innings in Perth that winter. England were in the middle of a torrid tour, the wheels falling off after a destruction in Brisbane and the heartbreak of Adelaide. Having bowled Aussie out cheaply in the first innings, England failed to capitalise, and in the second were murdered. Having lost Strauss late on Day 3, and with a target well over 500 to chase in two days, Cook, not in anywhere like his best form dug in. At the other end Ian Bell flowed, batting beautifully, but gave it away on 80-odd. Cook relentless pursued the end of the day. An interminable time on 99 ratcheted up the tension, but he got there. England fans stood and applauded. Aussies near us did too, although the ones we were with didn’t rate him. There was an announcement that tickets for Day 5 would be on sale with England still only three down. One of our number went to the ticket office to buy them. When he got back Cook got out, knackered but with the great milestone, Hoggard went first ball, and we couldn’t have buyer’s remorse. Even then, he was causing problems!
Cook did not have a good series, save that innings, and the whispers for his place were quite pronounced, if I recall (and I don’t recall well from that period). With Peter Moores now in the coach’s role, and with no Ashes for two and a half years to define him, as that series tended to do, Cook cemented his place with solidity over the next few years. Taking over from Trescothick as an opener, Cook forged the partnership with Strauss that would be the anchor for the next five years. A couple of centuries in the early series against the West Indies confirmed his role, but he didn’t cash in against India later that year. He made a century in Galle after England had crashed in the first innings which showed great technique against spin, and that resilience we needed, but then embarked on one of those spells without hundreds, lasting 28 innings and four series before a 139 not out on a Bridgetown road in the second innings got him back on track (he also made 94 in the first innings). The Ashes later that year provided no centuries, but an important 95 on the opening day of the Lord’s test should not be ignored.
If you took Cook’s early career, we had a man who was sure of his place, in a solid opening line-up, but had not gone to the next level required of greatness. He had moderate success against Australia, had performed capably in the sub-continent, but frustratingly seemed to score centuries only up to around 130, with a couple of exceptions. This was in an era of lots of hundreds, so Cook really didn’t stand out. Not with me, not with people I knew, not with cricket fans I went to games with. Good player. Part of the furniture.
Now I could go on and on, but I think it is important to look at those first four years, because they were the bedrock of his career. Cook was an automatic choice in 2009, no-one really doubted that he and Strauss were locked in, there weren’t enormous numbers of openers banging down the door (something both were fortunate to have in their careers), and he had ascended to vice-captaincy after SABMOB had his spectacular falling out with the ECB. Then we enter the realms of mythology, superheroes, soap operas and the need to take sides.
Those Middle Years, The Myth And Reality
The first myth is, of course, the innings that saved his career at The Oval against Pakistan. First, all have gone on record, those that mattered, that Cook was going to tour Australia, period. Second, although there had been a difficult spell, within it was his best test hundred up until then, against South Africa at Durban in 2009, just eight tests prior to that, and that after that tour, he captained England in Bangladesh where he made two further hundreds. Compared to later barren spells, this was rich pickings. But the media had their eye trained on him. As it was SABMOB got dropped from the one day team on the back of poor form in those tests. Sure, Cook’s ugly ton took some pressure off, but that innings has entered into mythology. He was always going to Australia.
The second myth is that he has a great record against Australia. He doesn’t. He had one great series, and what a series it was, and the occasional high point thereafter. That winter will always live with England fans as they administered a beating to a team that needed it from us on their own patch. His Brisbane hundred, well 235, turned the tide which looked like it might overwhelm us. His Adelaide hundred set the foundations for SABN3 and SABMOB to pound home the advantage, and then after failures at Perth, an 80 odd at Melbourne and another big hundred at Sydney played massive parts in mammoth totals and massive wins. Oh to be alive in those days. Before T20 attitudes made modern test cricket its poor cousin. Cook won man of the series, he had his iconic series, he had the plaudits of a great team effort.
While not at his best the following summer, he still made his highest test score at Edgbaston (294) which, if memory serves, Derek Pringle slagged off for being too self-indulgent. In a summer when England clinched the number one slot, he played a massive role in a team of very very good players. It was a sum of its parts, an orchestra of a team, but built on some iffy old foundations. Loud brash parts like SABMOB and Lovejoy, the solidity of the top three, the beauty of Bell, the confidence of Prior and a bowling attack we knew had a decent chance on most surfaces of taking wickets most of the time.
While not making huge scores during the Little Difficult Winter of 2011-12 (saved by SABMOB’s amazing ton in Colombo) he was one of the brighter lights. But another run of 18 innings without a ton was underway, ended in the first test v South Africa with a 115 before the wheels came off England and the team in the subsequent hair-raising, febrile weeks. It culminated in Cook taking over captaincy from Andrew Strauss and that’s when the whole thing started to spin out of control.
Cook the batsman had been one of the foundations, a solid presence, a regular feature of England when good or bad. He had not been the subject of ire, nor had he been the subject of great love either. Just another good player in a good team playing mainly good cricket. Captaincy changed that. The results of his captaincy changed everything for me. I’ve ended a lot less passionate about England than I used to be.
India and the 2013 Ashes
A lot has been made over the years about the rehabilitation of SABMOB and who did it. Aggers once told me it was mainly Flower’s doing, which is an interesting line. Others say that Cook brought SABMOB back into the fold. It’s important for the narrative. Cook bringing him is used as a virtuous point, and that when it all went tits up it was all on SABMOB because Cook had been so charitable back then. It’s all bollocks, of course. If Cook wanted him back it was because he wanted to win in India (at your least charitable) or Textgate was a load of guff and let’s act like adults (the most charitable). What happened after the rehabilitation is the stuff of legend we may never see again. Cook was great, truly great, in that series. His 176 in a losing cause at Ahmedabad was crucial, telling his team “we can bat on this stuff, come on”. His ton at Mumbai, in league with SABMOB, put England in a dominant position, and then his 190 at Kalkota sealed the deal (where a bizarre run out denied him an almost certain double). It was a magnificent triumph, and while most recall the SABMOB innings at Mumbai, Cook was the main man that series. I have the highlights of that tour on DVD and it gets an airing every now and then. England had won in Australia and India within the space of two years.
The runs still came, with a couple of centuries in five tests against New Zealand home and away, but the away series in particular he and his team were incredibly fortunate not to lose. The one thing with captains is that they can’t score runs every time, and while his Dunedin ton played a large point in averting defeat, and his Headingley ton set up victory (while Trott and Compton saw negative press), we, and the media weren’t to know that the runs would, relatively speaking dry up. Certainly the centuries did.
England’s Ashes winning team of 2013 exemplified the problem. This was a team that had Cook as captain, but no-one seemed to think he had a strong hand on the tiller. Lovejoy, Anderson and Broad seemed to be their own band of brothers, and SABMOB wasn’t about to march to anyone’s drum. Prior was his own one man posture factory, while the coach held the team in a vice-like grip. The 3-0 win is widely unloved in media circles for dull cricket, played on dead wickets, with remorseless win the big moments cricket. Cook wasn’t getting the praise for this, Flower was, what praise there was. The iron man coach, extracting every drop from his ageing team, with a novice captain who could only lead from the front by scoring runs.
The Difficult Winter
We lost 5-0, if you recall and I don’t think “wheels coming off” does it justice. The Sydney test run-up, event and aftermath will go down in legend. Cook has been pretty silent on all these matters, and most of the other protagonists, with one exception, have left the path clear for Cook to give his story, the anti-SABMOB story. It is going to be interesting when, if we ever do, get the chance to pick the bones out of this. It is still important because other mavericks will play for England, are playing for England.
What followed a tour where Cook’s captaincy was just one of the many car crashes is still, in my eyes, scarcely credible. It was summed up for me in the Downton interview on TMS when Agnew asked whether the ECB had ever questioned whether Cook should remain as captain. “Not really, no” was Downton’s reply. I had had a few that night and that got an expletive as I boarded the train on listening to it. Clarke’s “right kind of people” comment had already stoked the flames. The nonsense emanating from our media, all following dutifully the line from the ECB was sickening. This seemed like a public hanging of the man who, despite everything said about that tour, made the most runs for England. In the aftermath of SABMOB’s sacking everything was done to besmirch his actual performance as well as the person. The comparison of the approach to their records, and their last few years of performance is stark. This is the sort of thing that pushes you from the “I don’t mind him” to “I really am not a fan” box as stated in the opening stanzas all that time ago. Did it push me in to the “I hate that man” box subsequently. Yes. Of course it did. You knew that. But for the sake of writing a blog and not getting abuse every five minutes on Twitter, I played it much nicer than I wanted, believe it or not.
And that’s because for every time I tried to be fair, for every time I stated his record, and how the big innings were getting further and further apart, it was met by people who suddenly became Cook devotees. It became incredibly frustrating. Couldn’t these people see his performance was tailing off. A dismal series against Sri Lanka, combined with as abject a day of captaincy one could ever imagine still didn’t shift the resolve. Media rallied to him, few saying the unsayable, and I got more angry. Two more tests without a major contribution, another despicable loss at Lord’s to India, and even some of the hardened fans in the media were about to kill him off.
Any doubt that we were now in the presence of someone with authority and media on his side went with this innings. 95 painful, determined, gritty, damn you runs had even decent people, like Athers, saying he was nearly back to his best. The difference between this and India was like night and day but we were being told to not believe our own eyes. As this happened, my rage, my anger, and that of many on HDWLIA reached boiling point. It came to a head, and I truly was questioning whether I was ever going to love England cricket again. Do you know how hard it was for someone who lived and breathed England and cricket for over 30 years to write that? That’s what people have never got. We don’t want to hate, we don’t want to get angry, because we care about the game. Southampton was a low point. At that time it was also the point when the blog and the reaction to it was ratcheting up. It was new to me, I didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t allowed to make the mistakes that I was bound to make, while the media took ECB press releases and regurgitated them, SABMOB was pilloried without a trial by facts, but trial by innuendo. Cook was placed on a pedestal and yet he didn’t deserve it. He’d been made the lightning rod, the totem that the ECB were hanging their hats on, and damn those of you who didn’t care. How much Cook was responsible for this we’ll never find out. Do I put all the blame on him? No. Do I absolve him as a mere innocent bystander in the way of a maelstron? No.
But the schism was evident and Cook did nothing to quell it, even if he wanted to. When the 95 was greeted by arseholes like Swann as one in the eye for his “grumpy git” critics, so called calmer voices, more respected voices, called those questioning Cook and his form as “lunatics and numpties”. Sky had drawn the line and when that someone was the “cavalier” who had been sawn off by a “roundhead” then we knew it was time for sense to wave goodbye. David Gower ought to have hung his head in shame. That wasn’t happening then.
The last four years has seen rinse and repeat. Cook goes through a long lean patch, and if you pointed it out you were the producer of an Anti-Cook blog, and when he did put together a good or better innings, the pro-Cook gang wanted to ram it down our throats. Especially if you wanted to put it into some kind of context.
His removal from the One Day team was much overdue, and in hindsight 100% correct despite the debacle of the 2015 campaign. His presence in the team then now look as progressive as Dad’s Army in today’s light, but Cook did let it effect him, as shown in a number of quotes afterwards. He’s only human, and wanted to lead in the World Cup. In the eyes of the media, many who wanted the decision made, the indecision and subsequent feeling that Cook had been treated badly had a knock-on effect for Downton. Aplomb in 2014, A plum in 2015.
A much awaited century after nearly two years in Barbados was greeted with bunting and street parties, metaphorically speaking, even though we lost the test and the lead in the series in that match. Sometimes personal milestones meant more to those outside than results. The 162 at Lord’s against New Zealand was arguably his best ever innings in England – you know how much I hate saying things like that – and we recognised that and praised it on here. But to those who wanted to believe, it was another eff you after SABMOB had been dismissed again with words circulating that Cook had not merely signed off on the exclusion order, but was a key party in drafting it.
The 2015 Ashes were won on a succession of odd wickets and weird matches where the contest never developed in matches, but from match to match. On the final wicket at Trent Bridge Nasser let rip the feelings of all those on one side of the fence with his “Redemption for Cook” drivel, as if an Ashes win was all for one man and sod the rest, especially Broad, Anderson, Bell, Root etc who had had that humiliation. While it was frequently aimed at me that I looked through the team via a Cook prism, the converse definitely applied. Successes had Cook as a father. Failures found one of his other players as the orphan blamed.
Cook still had the massive innings in him, such as Abu Dhabi, Edgbaston and Melbourne, but his failures in the fourth innings when defeat needed be staved off became more common. More often he would lose his wicket early, or make a doughty sixty or eighty and get out. The big knocks became fewer and further between. His captaincy, especially of spinners, was questionable if we were being polite. He had triumphs as captain – a good win in South Africa with an opening partner that the media did nothing but underming – was brought on the back of good wins in Durban and Johannesburg, but no hundreds were contributed by the skipper. How much effect he had on these wins is hard to tell, but success again has many fathers, and in the eyes of the media, many of them, he was the Daddy.
Is It Him, Or Is It Me?
As I mentioned earlier, Cook, and to a lesser extent Strauss, faced no real competition for the opening slot in the late 2000’s and early 2010s. After Strauss’s form fell apart, and he left the captaincy spitting feathers at SABMOB for overshadowing his 100th test, Cook faced up to a number of replacements. Here are a selection of them:
- Nick Compton – probably his most successful partner, winning two series with him in India and South Africa (where he batted 3), and who made two tons while opening with him. A less than subtle whispering campaign did for him, as it undermined form.
- Joe Root – Well that experiment worked well. A 180 at Lord’s aside, this never worked. Root was chucked in early in his career, propelled by Shiny Toy as a better alternative to Compton. Ditched in time for Australia away.
- Michael Carberry – Not bad on a disastrous tour, but never truly convinced either. Again discarded after he’d not backed the party line on SABMOB or the way he was treated as an unmarried man.
- Sam Robson – Century in his second test (this during Cook’s barren run) and then had his technique exposed and media questioning him constantly. The sweet fruit to replace Carberry ended up cast aside at the end of the summer, never to be seen again.
- Jonathan Trott – Not one of our media’s finest hours that one. Lobbied for it, undermined him, he jacked it in. Worth a try.
- Adam Lyth – Century in his second test, tell me where you’ve heard that before, and then had his technique exposed and media questioning him constantly. Touted much before the season started, tossed away before the winter.
- Moeen Ali – Less said about that experiment the better.
- Alex Hales – Very good ODI batsman. That worked well.
- Ben Duckett – Started with a bang, got found out with spin. Tossed aside for a much younger model.
- Haseeb Hameed – Possibly the only opener not kicked out for poor form in the test arena. Instead he was injured, over-praised, over-hyped, fell apart domestically and can’t even get in Lancashire’s first team. Yet still people think he should be picked.
- Keaton Jennings – Century on debut, technique exposed and media questioned him soon after because he wasn’t HH. Kept his place, fell apart, dropped. Returned later, given clean bill of health by Dr Sky, then caught same sickness and clinging to a place.
- Mark Stoneman – Not a disaster in Australia, but not a Vaughan pick so not likely to succeed. Yes, I wrote that. Confidence fell apart, only just recovering it for Surrey.
You have to ask, some with Cook as captain, some as senior pro at the other end if there is an iota of blame on him. Even a tiny bit. These aren’t all bad players, but they’ve gone to pot in this England environment of which Cook is a key cog. This rarely gets mentioned, does it? Instead it has kept the no alternative narrative in place for so long, even I believe it. I doubt Rory Burns because of this.
The End of the Captaincy
A series win against Sri Lanka followed by an entertaining at times 2-2 draw at home to Pakistan and the missed opportunity to go to Number 1 in the world seemed to start the whispers that it was time for Cook to go. They were not whispers on this blog. A century at Old Trafford had calmed any batting nerves, but England still seemed mightily weak when facing any kind of first innings total. A daunting tour of Bangladesh and then India might provide the kill or cure for Cook. He had an outstanding record in India, and his double in Abu Dhabi proved he could still play on these wickets. The distraction of the birth of a child leading up to the Bangladesh test was amped up as Cook being superhuman – we’d gone past sense at this point – but after a nailbiting, tense first test win, England were steamrollered in the second.
But this didn’t matter, it was a warm up for the main event. For Cook it started well. A second innings ton in Rajkot staved off a possibility of a second innings collapse that could have happened, and England had India concerned towards the end of the test. But the form dipped, the team started losing, and by the time this sorry team had got to Chennai, the wheels had come off the wagon, and Karun Nair ran us over for 303 runs he will never get again in a test match. After Christmas Cook did the honourable thing and resigned. Something I thought he should have done three years before, but hey, there’s nothing like a sinner repenting is there?
Back In The Ranks
Unlike other countries, England have no problems with the captain going back as a normal player, but this wasn’t your normal ex-captain. With the pressure off as captain and with the SABMOB problem long in the rear view mirror, Cook was going to be the old hand at first slip, guiding the young captain, and making lots of runs. The test summer was delayed by ODI nonsense and Cook played county cricket, making runs for the champion team that year. I think it is magnificent that he is going to go back there after his test retirement, but he could do with a break for the last game of the season!
What happened with his batting was interesting indeed. He made some solid scores v South Africa, but when dismissed, Sky in particular were remarking how remarkable the bowling was to get him out – Morkel at the Oval in particular sticks in my mind. It was as if they could not be proved wrong. Cook was doing OK, but the sense was that because he wasn’t piling on century after century now he could just concentrate on his own game was not the creeping of age, or that he was increasingly being found out. For those newbies fighting against technical issues, temperament and aptitude were called into question. With those totemic series in the distant rear view mirror, the harking back to them seemed even odder. We did it with Botham in the 80s, and yet still we do it.
No bother, a double hundred in the day night game against a woeful West Indies attack on those two days put any questions to rest. Cook had his big innings for the summer, one big innings more than all the other openers he batted with for a couple of years, and no-one was questioning his place in the Ashes. We, here, suspected what was coming.
Cook was lamentable in the first three tests. He was the senior batsman and he was in no sort of form. He set the tone with his dismissal at Brisbane on the first morning. In the first three matches he’s made 83 runs. England had lost the Ashes. Batsman like Malan, Vince, yes Vince, Stoneman, Bairstow and Root had at least contributed something in losing causes. When the series was alive, and on pitches or conditions that had something, England lost and their senior opener had been bad. Harsh? Not….at…..all.
Then came Melbourne. A road, a dull dusty dry old pile of crap. A chief exec’s wicket if he fancied a day 7. That Australia were bowled out on it may have proved that they weren’t at the races. No matter. This was a time where no criticism, no mitigation, no sense of proportion was allowed. If I had mellowed over Cook, and I had to a degree that he was no longer captain and was still one of the best two openers in England, this stopped it. The reaction said it all. People lost their minds over it. No it wasn’t worthless, yes it was a really good knock and one Cook could be proud of. It wasn’t as worthy because the series had gone (imagine Crawley or Ramps making that score in that game, for example, or even Bell), and the Aussies maybe took the game too lightly. Journos should have known better. Twitter idiots got muted for that, and I’ve not missed them one jot. It got to me because we were being pilloried just for not enjoying an innings in a test series we had lost to a team everyone accepted we’d lose to, which wasn’t what I was used to. Even in the days of the great teams we enjoyed the token wins against Australia but we were realistic about them. Here we had to suspend realism. I decided to quit the blog, and refresh the old brain in doing something else. Cook had beaten me. His acolytes had done it.
The Final Countdown
The new dawn was a false one, as we suspected it might be. As the pitches livened up, so did the bowling and so went Cook. 5,2,2 and 14 in New Zealand and Stoneman was the one under pressure. A very decent 70 at Lord’s was the pre-cursor to a run of low scores, often beaten or got out by world class, terrific delivery after delivery. Ashwin took him down twice at Edgbaston. The seamers got him after that. The whispers grew louder, the terrific deliveries to get him out became less terrific. Even Newman was hinting it was time for the “great man” to go. I’d long since checked out of the debate – it wasn’t worth it any more, banging my head against the brick wall, but part of me felt a little sad. Truthfully. These guys, who had buffered him up, ensconced his position were being disloyal (except Selvey who kept on about batting at 3, as if that were the cure-all), and now they were bowing their heads and saying their old king was infirm. Why the hell should we listen to you lot?
The Final Comments
OK. Nearly 6000 words in, and sorry for that, but I need to do this justice. Let’s go back to the start and the pigeonholing of sportsmen and women into categories. For 8 years in the test team I veered from the middle ground to quite liking Cook. Affable fellow, unassuming, capable of stretches where he looked invincible. Loved 2010-11, loved India 2012. Never thought he would be a good captain because as a batsman he was too self absorbed – a bit Gooch like – but he won’t be the last who got the job because the face fit. Hardly his fault and who would turn it down?
Of course the Ashes changed everything. There became the them v us atmosphere depending on what side you were on. As I wrote on the post Schism..
Tonight it [the blog – me] has even been accused of being a “bunch of oddballs” and not “real cricket fans”. You know, that might be what you think, but I doubt it. We give a toss. I didn’t spare criticism of Alastair Cook during those times for in my view, he deserved to be criticised. I fail to see how any sentient cricket fan could watch a series losing storm of nonsense like Day 4 at Headingley and not be moved to paroxysms of rage. It was woeful. Whether it was entirely him, his bowlers or Moores, it was extraordinary. There was anger at performance as well as anger at his appearance as being, in part, responsible for the exclusion of KP.”
There are those mealy-mouthed, ride the SABMOB rage wave to have a pop at the ECB people who have said there is no need for this schism. Of course there was. You were either for proper, accountable selection and non-scapegoating, or you supported the captain who benefited it. It was that polar opposite. Sure, I was on the extreme end of the rage spectrum but so were those who called us oddballs (and worse).
I understand people telling us we should move on, that this is a fight that’s over, that he’s never coming back so “get behind this new exciting team”.
I make one request tonight of those on the other side of the debate. Why do you think we’ve not totally embraced this new future? Do you seriously think it is man-love for one player? Because if you do, you are not the intelligent people I give you credit for.
This was it. Cook and his fans wanted us to move on from something we were not being told about. It was frustrating, annoying and downright odd. They could not understand why we just didn’t get behind the team. Cook is a nice guy, trust him. He’s up against a money-grabbing mercenary who wasn’t even born here, and had texted the opposition during a test to tell them how to get his captain out. So if your figurehead, the man you are backing, is a beneficiary of this stuff, how do you expect me to get behind him. At times I did not care if England won or not. At times I thought it better we lose under him than win with him because the nonsense got worse and worse. If you could ignore Day 4 at Headingley v Sri Lanka, you could pretty much ignore anything as a captain. Who were being loyal to England then? Oh, I know, losing at home to Sri Lanka never mattered.
Cook may never have wanted to be in that position, but I saw little to convince me he didn’t. What with the stubborn streak being lauded, his battles against technique wistfully recorded like doting lovers, and every success like Southampton a cause celebre to stick the knife in to those uppity supporters who demanded to know what the hell was going on, as if that were a crime, the pain at this sport grew. Move on was more likely to be move away. Cricket wasn’t as fun any more. I’ve been through losing teams, paid my way to see them, but loved test cricket too much to worry about that. That I had seen SABMOB make a few really exciting tons fed that. Then on the back of a failure of a tour, with a coach that failed and a captain that failed, the batsman that failed least was made the victim. I’m not sitting here taking that. And if the organisation that did that said Cook was the right kind of person, that they hadn’t considered removing the captain, and even calling him “Cookie” as if he were their son they were ever so proud of, was bound to wind up people like me. Who can’t stand that sort of thing.
It’s a shame. The press should be ashamed of themselves. The media should to. A really good England batsman has somehow got a vociferous group of people who actually loathe him, and for a time I did too. How did it come to this? We may have been at fault but I’ve never once thought that they’ve stopped and thought they might be too. So now this blog, of which I am extremely proud, that I love with all my cricketing passion, of which I wanted only to be of good things and good experiences, of indulging my love of the recreational game, the county game and especially test cricket is known by some as the “Anti-Cook Blog”. While I shouldn’t care, I do. And Cook, partly is responsible because he pretended to stand back as an honest broker, but when it came to it, when he had the chance to put his side, either he, or under instruction from the ECB bottled it. And as hard a I want to shake that off, my main memory of Cook, certainly at the end of his career is that of a Roger Federer. The more I hear the fans, the more I hear his friends in the press, then any chance I have of reconciling myself to what happened goes away. And I know that is on me.
A fellow traveller said tonight “what will we have to write about now?” I feel like I’ve scratched 10% of the itch. When he resigned as captain I wrote…
We sat through two years of every mistake and loss the England team suffered being nothing to do with Cook, and every win a reinforcement of how right the powers that be were. The sacking from the ODI captaincy, which should have been much earlier but the ECB couldn’t afford to upset the Cooks or the press bag carriers, at a time when it was too late to really adjust spoke volumes. It should have happened in the test matches, but it didn’t. In both cases he needed talent to carry him through, and the test arena brought that likelihood closer. A 2015 Ashes win was, at the very moment of triumph, announced as “redemption for Cook” and Cook alone. Not Broad who had performed manfully down under and had just bowled one of the great spells at Trent Bridge. Not Anderson who had a chastening, injury-ridden tour. Not Root who had been so poor in Australia that he had been dropped. No, it was Alastair Cook. You want to trace the decline of Nasser in our eyes, and you can look right there. This ceased being about Team England. It was Project Cook.
I have a million things running around in my head, but to do justice to them I need a lot more time. Maybe an end of season thing beckons. But as Cook heads off into the sunset, at The Oval where I will have a dry eye on Friday, trust me, his excellent career, his records and his achievements in the game will always come with the rider that I was forced to turn on him. Events had pushed me into a box I rarely like to go. A player on my team, in a box marked “hate”. And although I am to blame, a hell of a lot of other people are too. Not that they care. Not that it matters.
It’s the longest post I’ve ever written. If you got this far, thank you.