Guest Post – Man In A Barrel Gives Us The Numbers

Just before this latest test match MiaB, before his metamorphosis into Shane Warne on steroids (and not his mum’s diuretics) when it comes to declarations :-), did some interesting, unsolicited analysis of batting trends for England’s key players of the past and present. I found it interesting anyway. Please note this was written before the last test, so if there are any amendments MiAB wants to make, I’m sure he’ll let you know.

I’ll let Man in a Barrel take it from here…many thanks for the time and effort sir. It’s fascinating stuff. As always, comments welcome, and be nice. Well, as nice as you can be!

A New Way….

For a while, I have been trying to think of a better way of assessing batsmen than their career average.  It has some very real disadvantages to counteract the fact that it is widely used and understood and that it does tend to winnow out who the best performers are – no one, for example, disputes that Bradman was the greatest ever and nor can anyone dispute the fact that WG Grace was much, much better than any of his contemporaries, at least when he was in his prime.  However, it does have its problems.  For example Victor Trumper has a Test average of 39.04 and yet most commentators who watched him state that he was the best of his era – 1899-1912.  His average for that period is in fact bettered by, among others, Clem Hill, Jack Hobbs, Ranjitsinhji, George Gunn, RE Foster, and Aubrey Faulkner of South Africa.  For me, though, the real problem is that it gives undue emphasis on a big innings – if you make a score such as 364 or 294, it certainly helps to boost your average although, of course, its impact is mitigated the longer your career extends.  The career average also gives little information on your value to the team at a particular point of time.  Is it better to make a lot of 50s and the occasional daddy hundred or to make a series of 30s and a lot of small hundreds?  Those questions cannot be answered by inspecting your career average because the information simply isn’t contained in that single figure.  Nor does it contain any information about the way your career is trending – are you in decline or on a rise?  To some extent, you can gauge that by common sense and watching how the career average is moving but those are fairly blunt instruments.

To overcome some of those problems, I have been investigating the use of a moving average, as widely used in the investment community to discern underlying trends in noisy data.  The question immediately arises as to how many innings should be included in the moving average.  I looked at a number of options.   An average over 30 innings seems to flatten out the data too much.  A 20 innings’ average looks about right.  Broadly it should cover 10 Test matches – essentially a year’s worth of data – and it is long enough to let a batsman move in and out of form, to show the impact of a major innings and yet not allow it to have too much effect on the new data as it arrives.  For convenience, I will call this measure the Twenty Innings Moving Average – TIMA.

To put it to the test, I put Geoff Boycott under the microscope – 8114 runs at 47.73 in 193 innings.  Obviously these are very distinguished figures especially when you consider that he played to the age of 42, in an era of uncovered pitches, no helmets for the most part and inadequate gloves – in the first part of his career he was often incapacitated by broken fingers.  If you graph it it makes for interesting viewing but I don’t think it will come out in WordPress.  So to present the results, I will use a histogram.  The moving average breaks a series of data into chunks of 20 innings, over which I calculate an average.  Each successive TIMA drops one innings from the start and adds a new innings.  This is repeated until you get to the end of Boycott’s career.  So I have calculated 174 averages.  These I have summarised into how many of these averages were between 10 and 20, 20 and 30, 30 and 40, etc.  And the results are very much as you might expect:

Boycott

10-20

0%

20-30

2%

30-40

24%

40-50

36%

50-60

18%

60-70

17%

70-80

3%

80-90

0%

I think this gives a sense of just how consistent he was.  His TIMA was below 40 for only 26% of his career.  However, if you could see the graph, you would also note that he was in decline towards the end.  His TIMA was above 40 in the Oval Test against Australia in 1981.  Then he went to India and it moved into the 30s apart from a blip up to 42 when he scored 105 in the third Test of that dismal series – does anyone remember Tavare’s 147?  The last time before this that his TIMA was below 40 was the Mumbai Test of 1980, when his figures still showed the effect of his dismal Ashes tour of 1978-79.  He ended up at 37.05, rather below his career average.

Given what I thought was a successful trial of the method, I then moved on to the current team, starting with the obvious comparison, Alastair Cook.

Boycott

Cook

10-20

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

30-40

24%

23%

40-50

36%

40%

50-60

18%

21%

60-70

17%

7%

70-80

3%

2%

80-90

0%

3%

A slightly higher percentage below 40 and more time averaging between 70 and 90 but pretty comparable to Boycott.  However, his early career was much more consistent.  After the Ashes tour of 2010-11 and his feats against India in 2011 the swings in his TIMA become very noticeable.  The last period of time his TIMA was above 60 was in the wake of his 263 at Abu Dhabi and only lasted until the Sharjah Test.  The last time it was above 50 was in the recent Mohali Test against India, after his last century to date.  It bears out the importance of LCL’s focus on the number of big scores he has made lately: there have not been many.  By the end of that tour his TIMA was at 41.68 and it has continued to go south.   TIMA also highlights the prolonged period when he averaged less than 40 between the 2nd innings of the Chester-Le-Street Test of 2013 and the 1st May 2015 match against West Indies when he got his first century since the 130 against New Zealand at Leeds in 2013.  After the recent Oval Test, he is hovering in the mid to low 30s.  It has dropped from 54.53 at the end of the first innings of the Mohali Test to 33.50 today, in the course of 11 innings.  The decline in comparison with his career average, which is still 46, is marked.

Turning to Joe Root:

Boycott

Cook

Root

10-20

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

These are impressive figures by any criterion.  The only times his TIMA was below 30 was during the 2 Ashes series of 2013.  It hit a pinnacle of 84.75 in the Lords Test against New Zealand in 2015 – after innings of 98 and 84.  More recently, since the Sharjah Test of 2015, his TIMA has bounced around between 57.39 and 43.17.  More worrying is that his overall time series shows a declining trend but that is probably because he hit such a peak so early in his career.  He is just reverting to a more “normal” level.  Another point of interest is the really low amount of time he has spent below 30.

With these 3 batsmen, the results just confirm what we know already, I suggest.  Now let’s see what we learn about the more controversial selections.  Jonny Bairstow for example:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

The sample size is smaller – only 50 data points.  But 44% is a lot of time to spend averaging under 40.  The point of concern is that since the Dhaka Test last year, his TIMA has gone into steep decline, from 71.24 down to 41.05.  I am sure that LCL will remind us that it is 25 innings since his last century.  However, it has stayed in the 40s for his last 6 innings, against his career average of 40.86, so I believe he justifies his position.  If your TIMA is above your career average, it does suggest that you are making a real contribution.

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

Stokes and Moeen have quite similar records.  Stokes has 2120 runs at 34.19 from 63 innings; Moeen has 2090 runs at 34.26 from 68 innings.  But the TIMA shows a very different picture.  Stokes has been below 40 for 76% of his career and has never climbed above 50.  Moeen’s figures are, in one sense, far superior in that he has spent more time above 40 but it must also be said that he has also been in the 20s more than Stokes.  If you look at Stokes, you would expect the 258 to have a massive impact on his TIMA.  In fact it raised it from 27.15 to 35.45, so poor had his record been over the previous 20 innings.  At the time it dropped out of the TIMA computation, it dropped from 46.37 to 34, which highlights his real lack of consistency.  This happened a mere 7 innings ago and he has stayed in the mid to low 30s. In his last 20 innings, he has been in the 40s nine times, ten times in the 30s and once in the 20s, with a highpoint of 46.47 after Mumbai.  These are disappointing figures for a #6.  In comparison, Moeen’s last 20 innings have shown TIMA in the 40s and 50s, with just one blip down to 35.17 when his 155 against Sri Lanka fell out of his moving average.   But it immediately went back above 40 when he scored 146 at Chennai.   As a result of the Oval Test, his TIMA has dropped to 33.  Moeen’s TIMA has dipped below his career average and Stokes has blipped above his: perhaps the selectors have the right batting order.

And just because I am a controversialist, guess this batsman:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

?

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

44%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

37%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

5%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Yes….KP

Thanks MiaB. Any excuse for a KP shot…

cropped-wp-1500506510756.jpg

 

 

This Is Not A Love Story

cook-goes

And it came to pass. It was going to happen sometime, and you’d think I’d be ready for it. But strangely I had not prepared. Some part of me thought that this would not happen until next year. There was no piece on the stocks. There was, surprisingly, no leak. Just shows.

It had been another one of those Monday mornings. The trains at my local station were at a standstill, alternative routes had to be found, and as I sat on the train at Mottingham station, I put on the headphones, started up the I-pod, and got out the smartphone. I would carry out my usual morning Twitter trawl, trying desperately to avoid the hyperbole relating to the comeback by the Forces of Evil in the Superbowl last night.

And there it was:

Now I know many of you will think this would have been met with a punch of the air, a scream of delight on the 9:35, a lap of honour around the carriage. Instead I sat there not quite, for a few seconds at least, able to take it in. Cook has resigned as England captain on a Monday morning at 9:30. Just about my worst time of the week. The blighter. Panic. What do I do? Who can write up a piece? Most importantly from my perspective, how will an article that will inevitably go against the grain be set out? How should it be pitched?

While I had to think how we dealt with this on the blog, I also wondered why no-one had yet flagged it up (it had been out for a good ten minutes – SimonH was slacking). Was it true? Then all the press boys ploughed in and we knew it was so.

So up went the post, the holding one, and here we are now. A few hours on, and the reaction has been, well, quite muted I think (although that may be because I’ve been cocooned in a work environment all day). It had an air of inevitability about it. Cook was a dead man walking, his captaincy so lethargic and lacking in inspiration in the latter part of the India tour in particular, that any other outcome would have been an insult to cricket supporters in this country. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of his leadership and captaincy qualities, he had trailed this intention, benign or unintentional it might have been in his interview with #39 (he’s a skilled media operator, he knew what he was doing) as a possibility, and then all the pieces in the middle of the tour seemed to indicate that the press had been tipped off. The sheer devastation of that final India innings in Chennai had to be the final exclamation point on a tumultuous, yet quintessentially English regime. A novice Indian batsman getting a triple hundred. India totting up 700+. An innings defeat due to an abject collapse on the last day. It had that end of the reign about it. Cook was told to take his time, but the media, still, I presume all being briefed accordingly were almost unanimous. Hell, The Cricketer even ran a front cover that acted as if he’d gone already.

Yet there were still stories saying that this was Cook’s decision to make, and even the possibility that taking another crack at the Aussies for a Redemption beyond Redemption – a kind of Ashes Revenge, this time it’s personal – was something Cook should have if he wanted to. Little voices saying he should stay. They almost had me fooled.

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It should never have been so. We may find out in years to come whether Cook jumped, was pushed, or whatever, but if for one minute Cook said “you know, I think I’ll have another year, thanks” any decent leadership would have said “not bloody likely”. He should have been given the opportunity to resign, and if not told to. If he’d failed to do so, he should have been dismissed. We seemed to care more about the personal feelings of one player than the overall benefit to the team. The wellbeing of a dead duck captain, rather than an all points forward Team England. Cook probably didn’t feel like that, but the press gave the impression they did. It took a heart of stone not to laugh.

Now look. Cook is now being lauded for presiding over a deterioration in performance and saying it might be down to him a little – a little sprinkling of self-regard, a touch of piety and honesty. We’ve changed a fair old bit as a cricket media if that’s a plausible, rational point to make by an English sporting captain and to get praise for it. There will be the nice captaincy reviews, smatterings of integrity and class, and lots of praise for his resilience and fortitude. All that is for today. It’s nice to be nice, isn’t it? But this blog has always been that outlier. The sort of negative voice, that never moved on that could be “easily ignored”. Except it couldn’t. We owe Cook, and the media that supported him, and the ECB that backed him, a lot. Without it, what would we have done? Talk about T20 reorganisations being implemented with all the skill and dexterity of the original Millennium Dome?

So what of his reign over the past four years? I wouldn’t want to be the curmudgeon to say it was all crap, because it wasn’t. But I wouldn’t want anyone to believe this was some golden era for English cricket either. We lost at home to Sri Lanka. We drew at home to Pakistan. We lost a test in Bangladesh. We were beaten 2-0 in UAE. We lost 4-0 in India. We drew 1-1 in West Indies. There were plenty of downtimes against teams a “potential World number 1” should be winning against.

Cook, two tests against Bangladesh apart, took over the England captaincy in the middle of a good old dust up in the wake of the tiresome and stupid Textgate. History will show that a combination of Cook and Flower brought the maverick back, and the results were instant. Of course he ended up leading a reasonably unified England team for a tremendous win in India, down to the brilliance of his batting (nearly always magnificent against spin), the wonderful bowling of Anderson, Swann and Panesar, and of course, that innings in Mumbai. England’s victory was as stunning one, but also one that could, in hindsight be seen as misleading. Cook’s immense performance with the bat put the meme out that he was a “leader from the front”. Mark Butcher, for one, frequently premised comments on Cook with “he’s not a natural captain”. Any tactical nous, such as it was, was down to masses of (his) runs on the board, a magnetic performance or two from either of his two middle order stars, and his many, varied bowling attack. Maybe unfairly, but he never got the credit for that, or the Ashes win in 2013, until much later when it became a shield to protect him from the missiles aimed in his direction, rather than giving stone cold solid examples of how his captaincy had pushed the needle to victory. After 2013 his team were viewed as mean, surly, unpopular and too process driven. The reflection of their coach, and backed, tacitly or otherwise, by the incumbent captain who post-India saw a little drop off in form that started his two year run without a test hundred.

20160326_235438-01.jpeg

Yes, 2013-14 was the watershed. It changed everything. It changed English cricket, to a degree it changed cricket journalism, it certainly changed this blogger, it changed the way fans talked and debated on Twitter. It was a cataclysm for England cricket. Fans turned against each other. The media sided with those who wanted to keep the fans in the dark, putting out their talking points, and letting their personal antipathy towards Pietersen cloud their judgement. This was partially Cook’s fault, but much more the ECB and the media. Cook was hung out to dry, made to be the lightning rod. He was in poor form. He had presided over an unmitigated disaster and looked helpless when confronted with it. He looked shot. But he had to be backed, because to do otherwise would actually betray his masters at the ECB and actually opened them up further to ridicule. Imagine, because it happened, when the man appointed to deal with the issue was asked whether he’d considered the position of the losing captain who had presided over that nightmare. “Not really, no” was the answer. Job’s a good ‘un. He could, and did, withstand sheer nonsense.

They were pathetic from the moment Cook allowed Sri Lanka to milk another 40 runs from the remaining seven overs with the old ball without looking to take wickets to the bitter end with Plunkett’s comical demise.

There can be no sparing of a captain who lacked any sense of tactical acumen in the field while his opposite number scored his second consecutive hundred and then carried on his long spell without a century of his own.

(I’ll give you three guesses who wrote this after Headingley 2014)

The anger at the dismissal of a top player without an explanation focused on two main targets. We’ll get to one of them in 3 days time when we celebrate “Outside Cricket Day”, and Alastair Cook was very much the other. Cook was in the room when it happened. He was party to any decision. He promised to explain what happened, and never did (we await his next book for that). He was even, reportedly, one of those who staunchly would not countenance a return even when Comma took the Directorship. Cook, like it or not, became the lightning rod. That’s because massive, abject failures like the abomination of Headingley 2014, that cost us a series for crying out loud, were brushed under the carpet as the mis-steps of a cricket captaincy novice. A greenhorn with little to fall back upon, a callow captain, who we should cut some slack. Journalism went on holiday, and instead we saw puff pieces, plaintive cries from his press poltroons, seeking to blame it on “vile abuse from social media”, while conveniently forgetting to mention that Alastair “doesn’t read Twitter”.

Many say he was close to quitting both then and at Lord’s when England fell to another gormless, abject home defeat. Maybe some of the press corps were beginning to doubt themselves, but they soon changed their mind, with 95 wonderful reasons at Southampton enough to persuade them that the flowers in the garden smelled just fine, and that the general public were right behind him. This innings has gone down in folklore. Centuries by others were ignored to pay homage to the “back to his best” Cook. The reaction was unbecoming, a celebration, a vindication, a revelation. England were back and they didn’t need a weasel with the willow to help them out any more. Case closed.

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.

COOKY

To be an England fan upset at the tawdriness of the sacking of Kevin Pietersen over the past three years has been chastening and enlightening. It has been enervating and infuriating. Plenty of highs, many lows. At each step we’ve been told to move on, to get behind the lads, to see Cook less as an England cricket captain in the high-pressure international sport environment, and more a totem of leafy, pastoral England. Farmer, family man, decent fellow, lovely, polite, a true Englishman, a man we should aspire to be, rather than worry about a seemingly shallow, self-obsessed, “maverick” who cared about as much about England as a South Africa might. For Cook it was a calling, a sense of duty and patriotism. For Pietersen it was a job. A badge of convenience. “He only worked there”. Cook was something more pure.

It was a coincidence that Cook’s resignation should take place on this blog’s 2nd birthday. Being Outside Cricket began on this day two years ago, having shut down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, for reasons best kept back in the day. If the issue of Cook as sanctified captain, and KP as wronged outsider, did not matter, if the invocations to move on weren’t rightfully ignored and if the history and people involved did not matter, this blog, and its predecessor, would not have gained the traction and the repeat visitors it has. There are reasons for it. There is a reason why Chris and Sean joined the editorial “board”. There is a reason when on down days we are still turning over double the hits we did in other dry spells. Throughout the two years of BOC, and the previous year of HDWLIA, the voice of supporters who didn’t buy the Cook as wronged, wounded warrior was heard. Many didn’t want it heard, we were told to stop our guesswork, to buy the accounts given to us by those in the know. We waited for this cast iron evidence of what had happened, and yet, and yet. We still wait. We can only conclude that the establishment have nothing to add. It did Cook no favours. It also must be said that Cook hardly did himself any either. This blog, the commenters on it, and the Twitter community that I feel a part of put the case. Many did not want to hear it. They chose to revile us. More fool them.

Cook’s captaincy has been discussed at length. His achievements as leader should not be ignored. Wins in South Africa should not be sniffed at. A couple of Ashes triumphs, hardly on the scale of 2005, but you can only beat what is in front of you, were worthy, but in the case of 2015 owed a lot to some favourable conditions on the wickets outside London. India 2012 can never be downplayed – you are a good general when you win, and Cook did it his way. There’s some credit to go around. Of course there is. Yet the debit is not for now. It makes you wonder when it ever would have been.

20160904_143504-02.jpeg

Cook’s reign, in my eyes, will be one of stagnation, not evolution. Of turbulence, not stability. Of poor external environments borne of the inability to be straight with those who might have understood if he had been, not good environments, that seem still to bring forth maddening inconsistency. It will also be remembered as a time when England sacrificed its box office performer and as a result, partly because of it, partly because the trend was inexorable, interest in the test team, in cricket, receded. Loyal supporters, cricket lovers, turned their backs on a game that would rather protect the weak, than assimilate the difficult. Cook’s captaincy was a withering vine from the moment we lost the 4th test at The Oval this summer. Inevitable defeat in India, preceded by a lamentable one (sorry, still think that) in Bangladesh will be spun as taking one for his new captain. I lost faith at Headingley in 2014, fresh from Melbourne in 2013, and I had no confidence in those who might have effected change. Cook paid the price, England paid the price. It’s just that many of his fans just don’t know that yet.

So I shall not lament his descent into the ranks. I shan’t be pouring lachrymose tributes here there and everywhere. I’m not going to plough forth into hyperbolic hypocrisy. I’m sure as hell, with the bloody awful external environment I find myself in at the moment, not going to feel one pang of remorse for my supposed campaign against him. Harsh words could be fired at Pietersen, and still are, but one smidgeon of criticism against the Lord of the Ewes and we’re all lumped in with that professional attention whore Piers Morgan, just because we happen to be on the same side of the argument. It’s crap deflection, it’s unbecoming of the pliant media, and fanboys and girls out there, and while I have always acknowledged that people can, and will disagree, with me on Cook, I’ve seen precious little civil coming back. Now it’s over, maybe we can all breathe, maybe we can all look forward, and maybe, just maybe, this cult will be over.

Lord knows, we need it to be.

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.

The Curious Case of the Cook Captaincy Kerfuffle

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Feeling the heat? Or is it all cool?

It is indeed a tough task following the last two pieces by The Leg Glance. They were superbly written, cogently argued and received with the responses they deserved. So it’s a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, but let me try, and the subject is Alastair Cook. Isn’t that so frequently the case?

England are losing the test series 3-0, but it is a very difficult one to assess from the visitors’ standpoint (well it is in my eyes). England have missed opportunities, but if we are talking about catches in such a way, as being pivotal to outcomes in the absence of something else, we should throw away all those 2005 DVDs and just change the record on who held the Ashes that year after those key drops on Day 5 at The Oval.

You need to create chances to take them, and the team that wistfully looks back on isolated opportunities is usually one deluding itself. In referring to Adil Rashid’s dropped caught and bowled, a tough chance, as a key point of the match, we are probably less inclined to focus on Keaton Jennings being fortunate not to bag a pair on debut and we’d be saying how out of his depth he looked. On such small margins are careers forged.

Each of the batsmen in the starting XI at Mumbai has some moment of success to look back upon, and maybe it is the start of a more firm batting line-up, especially with Hameed waiting in the wings – but it’s still not the certainty many seem to indicate. There are still vacancies in the top and middle order.

The spin bowling has been game, but not as good in these conditions as their opponents but that can hardly be their fault, and it isn’t a surprise. We didn’t go to the West Indies in 1985/6 expecting to match the West Indies pace attack on friendly wickets, so why expect our spinners to match the Indian bowlers? I’ve been more disappointed with the seamers, who not only have looked mostly unthreatening, have also been talking as defeatists. We aren’t worried about them in England, but when the chips are down in Australia, and they may well be, I don’t want to hear talk of wickets nullifying them, and players being good at home.

Given the diverse signals being given off, and interpreted, by the press, the media have had to coalesce around one key issue. The agenda was set, and how it will please him that it did, by #39 and his interview with Alastair Cook prior to the tour. There he let slip that he might consider leaving the captaincy sooner or later, and that might be at the end of this tour. There was a certain wistfulness about returning to the ranks and being the senior pro, rather than the one calling the shots.

I said what I thought of that when the issue reared its head. Alastair Cook may give off an “aww shucks” demeanour, but he’s a very skilled media operator (rather than a skilled orator). There is no way that the media profile he’s had has not been achieved without some very skillful work. Grown journos have confessed their undying love for the chap. So if Alastair thinks he’s been misinterpreted, as Trevor Bayliss has mentioned today in a totally unconvincing load of old tosh, then more fool Cook. But I don’t think he was misinterpreted at all. I think he knew how that comment would come out, but as to his motives, you’ll have to ask him. This hasn’t arisen before, to my knowledge. It’s all about steel, iron and resilience under fire.

What this article did, though, was to give the journalists out there, and those sitting back here in the UK, a way in. They could start debating whether Cook should stay or go, without impugning his character or reputation. This reminds me most of the end of Atherton’s time in charge. Having won a breathless final test in the 1997 Ashes, when the media were calling for him to go (Nigel Clarke being particularly vociferous, I seem to recall), Athers was persuaded to stay on for a tour of the West Indies. We lost that series 3-1 and Atherton resigned immediately after. He’d given off the signals that he didn’t want to stay on, and was persuaded to do so. Cook is giving off those signals now, even talking about imagining a future where he is in the team, but not captain. So if he’s considering it, he knows, he had to know, that the press would speculate on it given half a chance. That would be more pronounced if we were losing the series, and the captain looked a bit frazzled around the edges in doing so. If there were a couple of odd dismissals, then even more could be read into it. Post-Bangladesh, with that series ending on a bad note, this wasn’t ideal timing.

After Rajkot the tune changed. There was a lot less about Cook’s perceived wishes, and a positive bounce in the steps after a very worthy performance and a century for the captain. The scribes, commentators and “The Verdict” crew were effusive in their praise, paying homage to the captain, and excusing his caution (which I agreed with, so you won’t be getting me on that one) as totally understandable. He had shown great resolve, some good captaincy and the universe could live in peace. Cook’s future wasn’t on the agenda.

Two test matches later, some odd dismissals, some lacklustre, even downright bad captaincy in those games, combined with a week off between tests, and the mood and direction had changed. In watching how the press approached it, one could see the great forces at play. Having a go at Cook is, for the digital world, with its plethora of opinions, On here the outside world believes we are mostly focused on “getting rid of Cook because he got KP sacked”. That’s the view we get, no matter how many times we repeat ourselves as being the wrong end of the stick. It’s a very unreasonable simplicity that prevents those reading for looking at this more deeply.

I’m past caring whether Cook carries on or not. What we have not done on this, as the media have at this juncture, is to raise a storm now – this is seen as the most vociferous of blogs, but it isn’t us who have started the fire. It hasn’t been much elsewhere I’ve seen, but it is with some of those who have sat on the fence, or even issued “Back Cook” missives in the past. In this case, believe it or not, the digital world of social media has followed, not encouraged. Has commented but not been the provocateur.

I wrote in “What’s Cooking”

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?

Is it merely a coincidence, or is it a message? Can the press seek the changes they always used to, but in a more deferential, less combative manner? To call for Cook to resign because he’s a poor captain is to invoke a wrath rarely seen in the media world, and from his loyal fans online – hell we’ve seen it often enough. But it’s not far from the truth to question his ability, because tactically he’s never been the best. He’s had to rely on the nonsensical “leads from the front”, probably because he opens, but in his past 45 test matches he has five test hundreds. There’s no doubt he is a leading figure in the dressing room, looked up to by many of his colleagues, but is that enough? Are we aiming so low as creation of a good environment? There’s the contention he’s a nice guy, and you don’t have a go at them (friends of mine at work encountered him at Chelmsford, and said he was genuinely very friendly) if they are nice, do you? That makes you mean spirited, bilious, vitriolic. Something the mere blogger gets thrown at them. So the press get to do their thing having it both ways. Looking to create the succession, but keeping their cards close to their chest if it doesn’t happen now.

Which has been perfect for them. This whole “debate” is a pretty cynical construct if you ask me. It allows key supporters like Newman, Stocks and Selfey (passim) to put forward public positions of support, but that he should pack it in if he really doesn’t feel up to it. They wouldn’t have a go at him for feeling he’s run his race, given what he has been through, and he’s been an absolute beacon of integrity. The man has “suffered enough”. There’s no debates over who might be the best captain, whether the team needs fresh ideas, a new impetus, a different direction, because these people will still be very happy if Cook remains in post. There are little digs about Joe Root, about how he might not be a leader – nothing in the league of Newman’s leak against Ian Bell – and how we might ruin his best form. As Chris said in the comments on the previous piece, why is this a given?

An attempt to put the case from outside this cosy consensus is met with the usual old crap about us being pro-KP zealots who wanted him gone the day he got shot of our hero. I could write another 10000 words on that old bollocks, but I saw it again today and it made me whistle now as it did then. I’ve been pretty laid back about this Cook crap. If he wants to go, he’ll go. If he wants to stay, Strauss would stun me if he effectively dismissed him. I’ve always felt getting to the 2017-18 Ashes was a huge stretch, given Cook would need to be in the job for over 5 years, and the natural cycle (unless your Graeme Smith) is 4 years or so, but I can perfectly understand why Cook might want another go at the Ashes down under to lance a boil if possible. But it’s not his decision, and that is the point – or at least it shouldn’t be his decision. This is England, not Cook’s England. If our board, our Comma, think Cook is at the end of the race, then they should tell him. If he chooses to make a dignified exit, then so be it. It should not be if Cook wants to stay, that’s it. But I suspect that is precisely how it will be.

The press can speculate. It’s fun to speculate. But when that speculation has to be on message, then we smell a rat. We can come up with all sorts of theories – mine is Cook has been very affected by missing the immediate aftermath of the birth of his latest child and has appeared slightly off key all winter – but at the end of the day if, as I sort of expect, he goes at the end of this tour (that’s what all the desperate signals say) I’ll actually be quite disappointed. Yes, you read that right. I’d be disappointed because if he felt like this at the start, and all impressions were that he was, he should have sought a rest. Some proper time off. I don’t think anyone, really, could have begrudged him that. He should not have skippered with this in his head. Because if he quits after this next test, it was in his head all along. Just like Atherton back in 1997-8.

We can evaluate the test series at the end, but I find our media machinations much more fascinating. They have had to twist and contort their way through this issue, keeping loyal to the Cosa Cooky, while intimating they aren’t out of touch with the messages being dripped to them. It is a high wire act convincing no-one. This is about the softest press a captain at the end of his tether has ever got. It’s about invoking KP tweets to feed the hostility some more. It’s about complaining that we never had a chance, and then saying it is perfectly understandable that the captain might think about his future. They may not be all either/or issues, but they are a clear message. Cook is still their main man, will always be their main man, and nothing is going to sway them from it. By trying to give him a dignified way out is out of character, and isn’t fooling many of us. It’s the same in many ways as 2014. Cook is the ECB’s man, and that means a lot. Get in line, follow the crowd, make the pro-points, and be a good little journo. Because Cook is nice.

An interesting post-script to Cook leaving the captaincy is how much rope he will be given to stay in the team. Cook the batsman is more disposable than Cook the captain. He will be 32 in less than a fortnight. A bad run at the top of the order is, with 32 year olds, accompanied by accusations of not being fit, being worn out, having your eyes going, not wanting it any more, or “time to make way for young players”. Watching our media when that happens is going to be truly fascinating. I suspect many want him to play until he’s 36 / 37 when he can get to Sachin’s run totals. There will be more rope than others, I’ll bet. Ricky Ponting didn’t have to make too many iffy scores before he got the tap on the shoulder.

I’m never surprised by this lot. Not really. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went into mourning the day he does resign. Especially if it is before the next Ashes, where the Redemption Tour will be in full force. Deep down they know they can’t go into it with a half-hearted leader. They know he really has to go. But they can’t force themselves to really say it. But they can still create a debate. It’s been a fascinating exercise to watch. Vic Marks reckons his time is up. Dean Wilson seemed to be saying it too. All at the end of a series where we have been well beaten, and the captain excused of it while players are blamed. It’s been a real treat. There’s more to follow, I am sure.

What’s Cooking?

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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.

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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?

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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.

India v England – Match Drawn

Maybe we’ll do a more considered piece later, but some immediate reactions are always worthwhile:

  • The declaration – I hate declaration speculation and pretty much always side with the skipper when it comes to them. For example, in the West Indies in 2009, I could understand both Andrew Strauss’s declarations where the opposition were left 8 or 9 down at the end. So, unlike others, I’m not going to lambast Cook over the timing of the declaration. I also have to say that I was asleep until the Indian innings had begun, and with those wickets in hand we might have scored a little more quickly but that is easier said than done. There is no way our media is going to say we didn’t score quickly enough because that would be to criticise our captain, and we aren’t having that. That one member of the media felt it necessary to retweet Alison Mitchell’s pro-Cook piece in TCP immediately after the game finished speaks volumes. As does someone tweeting that this was one of Cook’s best tests as captain (er, really? On what basis?), the message requirement speaks more than the words they contain. Cook did what 95% of international captains would do. Maybe that’ll stop one former correspondent for saying how influential BMac has been on our game after 2015. In summary, we might have batted more quickly, but it’s at the margins.
  • Hameed’s 82 is a really promising start, but just that. Gary Ballance made test hundreds in his second, fifth and sixth tests, with a 71 in the fourth and 74 in the third. I am not doing this to be a killjoy, a malcontent, a churl. I’m doing this to inject some realism. We need a new opener in the worst way. We love the fact the kid is 19. Brilliant. Young talent, temperament to die for, a great story. But he couldn’t get a game in Bangladesh and so there were obviously doubts. He has a career best of 122, so he’s not pummeling in massive hundreds yet. So let’s wait before we anoint him the king of the hill. Why rush to excitement when we’ve been disappointed before after great starts. The other day marked the birthday of Ben Hollioake. Remember how he looked to the manor born on his international debut? Remember how difficult it was to establish yourself in the game once people have seen you play? Remember how Joe Root had a horrible time, and was dropped? Let’s be measured here.
  • Adil Rashid did not win man of the match (but someone tweeted he did – sorry) but had a top match. I could laugh my head off. In fact I will. Stack that fragile, luxury, card marked agenda away for a couple more tests, pundits. He is an attack weapon, not a stock bowler. If he can be our Stuart MacGill, an attacking expensive bowler who took wickets at a rare old click, we should be delighted. Anyone watching notice how Nasser did a complete “Shiny Toy” on Rashid saying we had found a wicket-taking spinner (then qualifying it by saying for one test). We don’t have memories of goldfish Nasser. He was fragile a few days ago. Well bowled Adil, you did your fans proud. I’m sure Bob Willis will be gracious enough to admit his error on The Verdict.
  • Overall – a really good England performance. Four centuries and a good debut by HH. A couple of “what ifs” but none we should really dwell upon. This blogger never thought we’d lose 5-0. One of the reasons is that the Indian batting “ain’t all that” despite the hype. Gambhir opening was a joke. Ashwin at six is at least one place too high on wickets like these. It just takes a little weakness and the chasm could open. Of course, that goes for us too, but this team, as it stands, looks balanced. Of course, there are vacancies in the bowling, despite in the same circumstances as Anderson finds himself now, KP had “no vacancies in the middle order” (don’t laugh). They’ll find a way in for Jimmy, and the rumours are it will probably be Ansari now (as the bigging up of Joe Root’s spin seemed to hint at in the evening session comms). In a test where three spinners seemed to be confirmed as the right way to go, it now appears as though we’ll think of four seamers instead. I do hope they are wrong.
  • For information, Stuart Broad now averages 125.6 with the ball in India after his match figures of 1 for 80-odd.

I enjoyed the bits of the Rajkot test I saw, and it reaffirmed five day tests brilliance in my eyes. Reaction and all the other stuff to follow. Comment away….

UPDATE – On the man of the match thing…

I love you India….

Bangladesh vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 2

So advantage Bangladesh. The fact that they were able to quickly score against the new ball has in all likelihood put them in the driving seat to win this Test. Despite Ansari getting rid of Mahmudullah at stumps, England will need a number of quick wickets in the morning to give them any hope of winning the game, as I feel that anything above 220 on this pitch is likely to be too much. Whereas England tried to be positive against the new ball and got out, Tamim in particular, showed why it is such a pity that we don’t get to see him bat more in Test matches. There is a skill in taking on the opposition opening bowlers on a pitch that as an understatement, is conducive to spin and whilst he may have only made 40 odd in this innings, what he did do was wrestle any momentum away from England.

To be fair to the England team, that we even got past the Bangladesh 1st innings is an achievement in itself. With the team hovering on the wrong end of another bating collapse at 144-8, Woakes and Rashid showed the top order how it’s done by producing a partnership with a lot of guts and no little skill to get England to what we hoped was a priceless first innings lead. The fact that Rashid, despite batting quite beautifully, was still the target of a number of MSM snipes clearly shows there is still very much an agenda:

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Now it’s fair to say that Rashid hasn’t come on as we hoped he would have, he can bowl brilliant wicket taking deliveries but amongst those, he is likely to bowl some dross and half trackers along the way; however we’re not exactly enamored in the spin bowling department at the moment, so the criticism that has been aimed at him during his Test career so far is far from helpful. One can only look back at this piece of gold, from our favourite ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent to work out that Adil Rashid is not likely to be getting a seat at the Alastair Cook table anytime soon:

“Rashid, though, is sailing close to the wind with his club and career: there are sceptics about, some with a greater depth of knowledge than most, and his card has been marked.”

Of course having a captain that accepts that he will go for runs but take wickets if you give him the support and field that he needs would be nice. Unfortunately the ‘bowl dry’ mentality of past eras still is at the forefront of English cricket’s mindset. The fact that he came on so late for a bowl in the 2nd innings today shows quite clearly that Cook has either no faith in him or simply has no idea how to utilize him.

As for the batting, it was the same old story. The top order has failed more times than a Southeastern train at rush hour and yet again it was the lower order that tried to dig them out of a hole. Gary Ballance is the man getting the most heat from our beloved national press at the moment, and on this occasion I can’t really disagree with the MSM here, as his technique against all forms of bowling looks all over the place. I was surprised they picked him for the subcontinent tour as he looked all at sea against an admittedly world class spinner in Yasir Shah in England over the summer. However the fact the Ballance keeps failing with the bat nicely takes the heat away from another batsman who has struggled for form over an even longer period. 4 tons in the last 42 Tests is a pretty damning statistic for any batsman who is proclaimed to be world class, and you could guarantee that if this was for example Ian Bell, the MSM would be queuing up to demand that he is dropped; however this is not Ian Bell, this is captain fantastic and I have yet to see even a murmur questioning Alastair Cook’s form. The thing with Cook is that unless he is contributing with the bat, then he isn’t contributing at all. His captaincy is a mixture of conservatism combined with an inherent streak of stubbornness and inflexibility. Unless England are able to get a first innings lead and then squeeze the opposition, he seems completely lost. There is no plan B apart from hoping that Stokes, Anderson or Broad suddenly deliver a world-class spell out of nowhere. I’ve occasionally commented that the Investec Zebra would be more proactive in the field and certainly in conditions that don’t favour our seam attack, this seems like a fairer and fairer reflection of Cook’s tenure. A funky Captain he is not.

Of course, many will counter this argument by pointing out the number of runs that Cook has scored over the course of his England career and he does indeed have an impressive record; however the Cook of pre-2010 and the Cook of post 2010 are two completely different animals. He has been worked out by opposition bowlers, they know where to bowl at him and how to keep the pressure on him, there simply is no fear from the opposition side when he comes out to bat. The MSM will continue to laud him as the great new hope, the leader of our group of up and coming band of warriors and there is absolutely no chance that he will dropped until after the next Ashes series (and even then it is likely to be a polite ask as to whether he would care to step aside); however Cook to most unbiased observers, seems to be slightly lucky that we simply have no other options at the top of the order. It all reminds me of Mark Taylor when he was coming to the end of his career (except Taylor was a better captain), a very good player once, but one that was struggling to justify a place in the team on his batting alone.

The clocks go back tonight, so who knows what time Day 3 is likely to start in the UK tomorrow but I can guarantee that I’m likely to be in bed for most of the action. For those that are far more committed than me, please post any comments on Day 3 below before another cretin appears on Twitter or WordPress try to shut us down again:

Day 1 of Test 2 -The Big Two

COOKY

Evening all. Pleased to know, no doubt, that my laptop appears to be in its final cycle of life for reasons best known to itself, so it has taken a while to get up and running. Add to that my little appointment this afternoon, and cricket has been on the periphery. So the round up will be brief.

314 for 4 after winning the toss is a very good position. Joe Root took the honours with a very impressive 141 not out, and must be looking to convert this one into a super daddy century tomorrow. Virat Kohli, a man he is compared to in this new breed of top test batsmen, has been filling his boots with a double in Antigua and it would be nice to match. I heard Vic Marks say on the radio that this sealed the issue with him at number three, which is a little premature given in 2013, when he played his second test as opener at Lord’s he made a 180+. We do seem to be in an awful rush to anoint changes as successes. Joe is a fine player, I still think he’s better suited at 4, but that doesn’t matter at the moment. What does is that he made a century, has taken England into a strong position, and 314 for 4 seems even stronger knowing he’s back tomorrow.

Of course there was a century for Alastair Cook. These are now greeted like Christmas Day – of course, the birthday of our captain – by children. The punditerati fall over themselves to celebrate his genius. They compare his records to the greats – he matched Bradman’s 29 centuries today, don’t you know, and also the most hundreds by an England captain too – and give off the effect that his hundred today is a return to some normalcy. Well, it isn’t, is it? It’s his second test hundred at home since May/June 2013. Since then he has gone home series against Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Australia and Sri Lanka again without making a century, with just the excellent 162 v New Zealand in there to break the duck. It was Cook’s first first innings ton at home since his century v South Africa at The Oval in 2012. Cook’s centuries are becoming more spaced apart – his last was 11 test matches ago – and yet we are constantly reminded of his record. I know, people will think this is just me nitpicking because I am anti-Cook. I’m anti people telling me incorrect assumptions, that’s what I am. Cook has played a very good innings today, and one that may have taken the initiative back in this series. Well done.

I noted the Manchester humourists were crying out no-ball whenever Amir bowled. You pay your money, you are entitled to have your say as long as it isn’t abusive or offensive. Amir took a couple of wickets and was viewed as the pick of the bowlers, while Yasir Shah had one of those days, and now seems a lot more human.

Chuntering will start over Alex Hales and James Vince. The latter is going to get it first, no doubt. James Vince has never convinced me he’s remotely test class, but I’ve also got to caveat that by saying I’ve not seen a lot of him. Vince was one of those guys that came with a reputation, but George Dobell said last year, or even the year before, that he scores runs off bad balls fine, but has real difficulties with good ones. His penchant here seems to be nicking off after playing a couple of glorious shots. Pringle has been a staunch advocate, but he’s selling his shares now, as once again he invokes Ramprakash (what did Mark do to him to make him invoke him so) in the “he looks nice but doesn’t have the temperament” piece. England are in a quandary now with Vince. Boot him out and what do you replace him with? Keep him, and know that one score could be the outlier that Robson and Lyth (two other discards) scored rather earlier in their truncated test careers. The knives were doubly sharpened for Compton, both this and the first time around, whereas the arms are ready to be put around Vince’s shoulders. There there. Meanwhile, Hales is not starting the innings well for us, and those whispers are going to start.

OK, enough from me. This was a good toss to win, and England have made hay. They find themselves in a strong position, and Root going on will make that stronger. Still Bairstow, Stokes and Moeen to come after Woakes too. Let’s all go off and read what Newman has had to say to complete a wonderful day.

Comments on Day 2 tomorrow, and wishing Chris a safe evening and return to England after the events in Munich. Keep as safe as you can, sir.

You Really Hate Chef, Don’t You?

Mona Cook
Invaluable. To be protected at all times.

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.

Ridiculous

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.

Newman hearts Cook

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).
Cooky Macho Captain

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.

The curious incident of a Cook in the limelight

In the Spotlight....
In the Spotlight….

Something a little odd happened yesterday.  England announced their World T20 squad, and to the surprise of no-one Kevin Pietersen was left out.  One or two journalists outside of Fleet Street – Andrew Miller at Cricinfo – did point out that on merit he should have been picked but of course it was always known this wasn’t about cricketing merit.  We’ve been here for some time of course, and while the ECB could have been clever and used this one short tournament to largely defuse the ongoing disconnect between themselves and large numbers of Outside Cricket people (amateur players, supporters that kind of thing – the worthless types who merely pay all their wages) they chose not to, and pretended it wasn’t happening.  Now that in itself wasn’t the odd thing, unless talking about the oddness and duplicity of the ECB itself.  No, the odd thing was that on the very day of the announcement, Alastair Cook suddenly was made available for interview at a Chance to Shine launch event, to numerous media sources.

Now clearly this is a fortuitous coincidence, what else could it be?  Having been silent since returning from South Africa (perfectly reasonably so) and without any cricket until the start of the domestic season, his schedule and that of the ECB clearly would have been rather busy, but obviously this one day was the notable gap in his busy diary, not a day earlier and not a day later.  As Goldilocks would have said, yesterday was “just right”.

Some cynics, who may also be such things as bilious inadequates, and are quite probably also impertinent, have wondered about this timing. One or two may have idly wondered if it was even deliberate, perhaps a specific arrangement to provide the press with ample copy gifted by the chosen one, there to fill numerous column inches and ensure that no one went off message and asked difficult questions.  Such dreadful scepticism should never form the basis of dealings with the ECB, who have after all shown themselves to be honest, upright types, not given to deceit, deception or subterfuge in any way, and certainly not the kind of body to brief against players or grotesquely insult the entire non-professional playing and watching base of England and Wales and then refuse to even acknowledge they might have annoyed anyone.

On that basis, one could hardly expect the written press to then acknowledge the timing, or to ever openly state that they were being played and draw attention to that, for that would mean that said interview might not transpire.  Equally, given the announcement of the squad for the World T20, it would of course be rather unusual to ask the England Test captain for his view on the exclusion of players who the great unwashed might be talking about.  For since they are nothing other than resources to be exploited, anything they might want to know is of no relevance whatsoever.  Now, doubtless when granted an audience with our noble lord, there would have been restrictions on the questions, so to pick an entirely random example from the air, it’s distinctly possible that the various ECB media teams may have expressed a preference for the Great Satan Pietersen’s name not to be mentioned.  And of course when faced with such a plaintive request, our brave souls with their pens could have no recourse except to obey – for how else would they gain the insights into the Glorious Leader’s thoughts and musings?

Now the press of course would rarely ever debase themselves by abiding by restrictions imposed by a sporting body in order to gain access to anyone, for such behaviour would be contrary to fearless and free journalism, and prevent interviews actually shining a light on what people might like to know rather than what those in authority want the message to be, so perhaps it is merely that there is no interest in the matter instead.  Perhaps no one cares or wants to know, which is why there are never any articles about Kevin Pietersen published, and nor are there any hits, let alone hundred of comments made.

In a pig’s eye.

Let’s be clear here, either the press supinely obeyed restrictions which is pathetic, or those involved didn’t think it worth asking the question, which is unprofessional.  It isn’t entirely black and white, for some who have been openly critical of many of the ECB’s actions over time bought into this, and presumably considered it worth the price in this instance in order to get the story. There is a professional decision to be made, and in each individual case it could be justified.  But when it is both so blatant and when it applies across every single person carrying the story, it moves beyond that.  When it is so obviously the ECB’s intention to stage manage the agenda and avoid scrutiny, then there really isn’t an excuse for it.  In some instances it’s entirely to be expected, in others, it’s frankly disappointing.

Perhaps less surprising, given the context, is that little of what Cook did say was given close examination, being allowed to speak for itself.  For example, he highlighted the problem of burn out for those players who play multiple formats for England, and he is right to as well, given how the ECB milk their players for as much revenue cricket as possible.  2016 has a ludicrous schedule with 16 Tests, 18 ODIs and 4 T20s – plus the World T20 itself.  So when he says

“Those two [Root and Stokes], plus Moeen, are dead certs in all three squads. And there’s going to have to be times to take those guys out of international cricket. When it becomes a chore, you need to protect them.”

he is quite right.  Yet those with longer memories may recall the occasional previous player bemoaning the workload of playing in all formats, particularly when playing through injury, only to be told to “man up” and stop complaining.  Indeed, when attempting to reduce that workload, the response was to deem it a retirement from two forms of the game.  So Cook is quite right, but all it does is highlight the hypocrisy of the ECB, not for the first time.

With England engaged in a one day series in South Africa, Cook had observations about how England had played the game:

“The game of one-day cricket has changed over the last two years. We were slow to catch on to that. We were one year behind the revolution. The guys who have gone in now and taken it forward are brilliant to watch and exciting to watch.”

This is also true, and he’s entirely correct that they are exciting to watch as well.  Given how England approached the World Cup last year, and Cook’s own part in that approach, it remains intriguing how this can have failed to merit a follow up question in some quarters.  For this is the “problem” with Cook all too often, what he says is very often entirely fair comment, but the lack of context and reminders about where it came from simply make those statements, left alone as they are, quite ludicrous.  Cook is no fool, he knows exactly that he was part of the problem, for when asked about the same thing in the Daily Mail he said

“As captain, I was fully responsible for that. It’s hard to take, but we were one year behind the revolution.”

Cook’s response to his sacking as ODI captain is well known, but the acute personal disappointment was always going to colour his response.  So that realisation does him credit, though with the proviso that not all player are afforded the privilege of being forgiven for speaking out of turn.   But certainly the Guardian was feeling especially warm and friendly for it went on

 Cook scored 766 runs in seven innings in Australia in 2010‑11 – “probably the best I’ll ever bat” – and is now targeting the next Ashes series there, in 2017-18, possibly as his swansong.

which is an example of telling the truth, but entirely avoiding the wider truth.  For Cook batted like God in that series, but has a dire record in the other Ashes series he has played – so why bring up that one that is five years ago now?  How does that have greater relevance than the South Africa series where he again struggled?  Articles that cosy up to him do him a huge disservice, for they merely give the impression of an adoring journalist sat at his feet listening to him tell sad stories of the death of friends instead of a player who might actually have something of value to say.  Readers can spot adoring flattery a mile off.  In the same article Cook talked about the change in approach from England

“We got to No1 in the world by being really methodical, very insular, and we ground [the] opposition down. We played to our strengths hugely. We became a very efficient side who didn’t have many bad days,”

which is as good a summary of that England side as I’ve seen.  It’s insightful, honest and accurate.

Likewise when talking to Lawrence Booth in the Mail, his observation that

“I thought I was going to step down as captain after the Ashes, whether we won or lost, but the way this side had gone, it didn’t feel like the right time. What’s motivating me at the moment is not just the runs, but pushing the side forward.”

has the ring of truth to it, and as far as the Test team goes, it’s probably what most others expected at the time too.  But Cook actually captained that side fairly well, having been utterly woeful as skipper up to that point.  Carrying on was probably as beneficial to the team as it is to a player who has finally grown into the role somewhat. Having done so, it reached the point that he had actually genuinely become the captain.  Cook was quick to praise Bayliss and Farbrace, and they do deserve credit for ensuring that Cook actually captains the side, rather than being a cipher for a coach itching to get into the action.  It is entirely possible that Cook could have flowered as captain far earlier than he did.

Cook does also suffer because of entrenched views about him, so even saying

“In T20, there is always an element of luck.  The best side wins it but, because it is such a short tournament and a short form of the game, it only takes a team to get on a roll, get a bit of confidence, and they’ll win it.”

can receive criticism for being viewed as a slight on the 2010 winning side, yet in the shortest form of the game luck does play a part.  That side could have gone out in the group stages had the weather been only slightly more unkind.  Cook is quite right.

He also suffers from the hypocrisy of those within the ECB structure.  Paul Downton, who Cook would hardly consider to have been entirely straight with him either, identified Kevin Pietersen’s desire to reach 10,000 runs as being emblematic of selfishness, yet Cook can be asked about the possibility of playing 200 Tests and say

“I’d love to do it”

Of course he would.  So would anyone in his position, and it would be a fine achievement too.  It is grossly unfair to criticise Cook for this as personal ambitions are entirely part of the game and are not just acceptable, but crucial for self-motivation.  Those who bang on about it being a team sport always miss the point; a batsman does not raise his blade on reaching a hundred because he’s really, really pleased for the team, nor does a bowler celebrate a five for by thinking instantly about the match position.  Thus it was equally unfair to use it as a stick to beat Pietersen with.  It is the double standards of response to the words depending on who says it.

Cook himself may wonder why he gets such a derisive response from so many quarters, having spoken and said many perfectly reasonable things.  The problem is those behind him and above him, and their positioning of him as the standard bearer for all they believe.  He bears some responsibility for allowing himself to be part of that, but he is not the main problem, he is simply being used to advance a specific agenda and image.  He is a fine opening batsman, not as great as his cheerleaders would claim him to be (in the same way that Pietersen wasn’t as great as some of his main cheerleaders would claim him to be – not that it is relevant in itself to what happened), but a very fine batsman still.  He took his time about it, but he has developed into a perfectly competent Test captain too.  The problem for him is that he is also the visible face of a regime that regards all others with complete contempt.  And that the press have allowed this to unfold and continue to uphold it.

As long as this state of affairs continues, the response will be the same.  Not from all, but from enough to worsen the reputation of all involved.