Rubble, Muddle, Toil and Trouble

England picked a good week to be bowled out for 58.  Whatever the embarrassment of their likely defeat in Auckland, it’s going to be overshadowed by the events at Newlands. Still, at the very least, they can point to their predicament being one of ineptitude rather than nefariousness, which in the current climate is an achievement of sorts. 

The only reason England aren’t already 1-0 down is because of the weather, and it is a reflection of how disastrous their match position was that the loss of nearly two days play still has them likely to lose.  They put up a fairly decent display overall, but by this point of proceedings it requires miracle days to even up the ledger.

Henry Nicholls, batting for the fourth day in a row in this Test, made his highest first class score to take New Zealand to 427-8 at the declaration,  while for England Stuart Broad bowled pretty well, keeping things tight and picking up wickets.  It always seems strange to praise a bowler for keeping things tight, but in the circumstance of trying to keep a deficit down and limit batting time for your own side, it turns all bowlers into negative containing types rather than wicket takers.  Given the pitch was still decent for batting – and after all only two days old in reality – they could have been forgiven for cursing their own batsmen repeatedly for their profligacy as they laboured to create any chance of note. When you’ve been bowled out for 58 in a good surface is not the time to criticise the lack of penetration in the bowling attack, reasonable general point though it might be.

One sided Tests are never particularly interesting, and they only become so when it gets to the meat of the second innings, watching the usually doomed attempts to stave off defeat.  Invariably, teams bat better second time round, equally invariably they still lose.  Thus it was that England certainly made a better fist of things, while at the same time still looking like there was only one outcome.  Cook fell early again to complete a poor Test match – note that much comment once again referred to Root’ s conversion problem rather than Cook’s lack of runs over the last couple of years.  Melbourne still looks like an outlier.

Stoneman and Root set about compiling a partnership, but fell late on, the captain to the last ball of the day one delivery after taking a painful blow on the hand.  Root is clearly deeply frustrated at his habit of not going on to make big scores when well set, but England’s problems are deeper set than one batsman failing to make the most of being in.

Assuming the weather stays fair, seven wickets should be well within New Zealand’s capability, and while it’s always possible that there will be a repeat of Matt Prior’s heroics last time, England neither deserve a draw nor do they give off the impression of a team capable of it.  

Naturally enough, the post play interviews spent as much time talking about the conduct of the Australian team as the match itself.  Stuart Broad was clearly itching to give them both barrels and barely contained his amusement at the predicament in which they find themselves.  He did manage to make a few pertinent points concerning hypocrisy and his own treatment at the hands of the crowd, which is neither here nor there, but at the behest of the Australian coach, which is. He also took the opportunity to imply that it isn’t the first time Australia have altered the state of the ball, couching it in a dig about being surprised that this is supposedly the first time they’ve acted this way by saying he didn’t see why they’d changed a method that had hitherto been working.  Broad is often good value in these circumstances, given that Aussie baiting is something he is unquestionably good at, but it doesn’t mean his words should be taken as being any more objectively true than those of Darren Lehmann. Yet it is also true that footage of Bancroft putting sugar in his pockets during the Ashes emerged overnight – which is something Australia are going to have to get used to as people scour the footage for evidence of previous attempts.

The reaction to the pre-meditated ball tampering has been interesting.  Australian supporters are aghast, ashamed and in shock, which perhaps highlights self perception of the way Australia are meant to play cricket in their eyes.  Outside the country it’s rather different, a deep sense of amusement and schadenfreude at the self-appointed arbiters of cricketing morality caught out deliberately cheating.

For the crime is not the worst that could have been committed, reflected in it being a Level 2 or at most Level 3 offence in the ICC disciplinary code.  One of the peculiarities of cricket remains the mobile moral code that considers some actions to be reprehensible and others part of the game, even when all are intended to gain an illegal advantage or deceive the umpires.  Ball tampering appears to be one of those where self righteous outrage is a common response to something most teams have been guilty of at various times.  Perhaps the greatest outrage is reserved for those who are caught.

There are a few exceptional circumstances to this one.  Many instances of it tend to be in the heat of the moment, rather than as here a deliberate plan concocted by the “leadership group” of the Australian team, the exception being in the legal dubious but impossible to police tactic of enhancing saliva through the sucking of sweets.  In that sense the mea culpa from Smith created more questions than answers.  His refusal to name names as to who was involved is not sustainable; the match referee and ICC will want to know who is to be punished, and a no comment won’t fly.  Equally, it beggars belief that Darren Lehmann wasn’t aware of any of it, the giveaway being the speed with which he radioed the 12th man to inform Bancroft he’d been caught.  Lastly on this particular element it is astounding that apparently not one player or staff member pointed out that this was a terrible idea, either for moral reasons or the simple practicality that being caught was so likely.  David Lloyd’s assertion that Australia are “out of control” is never more strongly supported than by the total absence of anyone with either a moral compass or a well developed sense of self-preservation. Above all else, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the leadership group are severely challenged in the mental department.

Smith is finished as captain, as is Warner as vice captain.  There is absolutely no prospect of them surviving this, the reaction from Australia has been so negative, and so angry, that it is merely a matter of time before both go, the only question being whether Cricket Australia will allow them to resign rather than sacking them.  There is simply no prospect of them remaining that is remotely sustainable – every time Australia gain reverse swing they will be alleged to be cheating, every time they claim a low catch they will again be called cheats, irrespective of the truth.  The stupidity of their actions means that for the next decade this will be thrown at them at every opportunity.  It is a PR catastrophe to which there’s only one response.

James Sutherland held a press conference overnight where he issued the usual platitudes about being aghast at what had happened, but he also made the interesting comment that he’d had cause to speak to Smith before about the behaviour of the team.  In the first instance this suggests either that it was hardly a bollocking or on the other that it was ignored by the team to the extent that they felt ball tampering was a reasonable response to the concerns.  Doubling up on things is an oddly impressive response in a sense.  Either Cricket Australia didn’t care about the stench of hypocrisy emanating from Australian cricket, or the team didn’t care what he thought.  Both reinforce the out of control criticism.

Few international sides are angels, and most have behaved poorly at different times, not least England.  But no others have taken it upon themselves to define how everyone else should behave and claim the moral high ground even when it is a laughable position.  Prior to these particular events, they had complained bitterly about the treatment of the players (and players’ wives) at the hands of the South African crowds.  And fair enough too, it was unedifying – but for the complaint to come from a side whose coach had openly called for Australian crowds to send Stuart Broad home in tears, it was another example of an extraordinarily lacking in self awareness perception as being the good guys, oblivious as to how they were seen elsewhere.

There is no reason to assume that the ball tampering was a regular act – though equally the protestations that this was the first time it had ever happened were greeted with derision given this is the response every time Australia are caught out doing something wrong – but Australia’s behaviour during the Ashes left a lot to be desired, as did the pious manner in which they justified themselves.  This speaks to the heart of the difference between self image and outside observation, and explains precisely the glee with which this has been received outside Australia.  Ball tampering is a relatively minor matter, hypocrisy is not, and it is the hypocrisy that has resonated.  Furthermore, the outrage from the Australian media raises plenty of eyebrows given their unstinting support for every dig and complaint issued from the team.  They have been the propaganda arm of Australian cricket far too often to now react with outrage At the team going one step too far.

At the time of writing, news broke that Smith had been suspended from the fourth Test and fined his match fee.  This is merely the beginning for him.  For the sake of trying to gain a tactical advantage in one Test he has damned himself for the rest of his career as a cheat, and if Any sympathy is to be extended in his direction, it is that one crass decision is going to haunt his career, not because of his guilt, but because of the pre-planned, deliberate nature of the offence.  Any penalties he receives from the ICC or Cricket Australia pale into insignificance compared to the reputational damage to himself.  Some have commented that he deserves some credit for fronting up and accepting his guilt at the press conference, but he spent more time talking about being embarrassed than he did apologising, indicating he still didn’t realise quite what they had done.  Equally, Cameron Bancroft was largely thrown under a bus, making it somewhat apposite that Sutherland then did the same to Smith.

As for Bancroft himself, being a junior player is no excuse whatever.  Everyone knows the rights and wrongs of something like this, and volunteering to be the patsy suggests a complete lack of perspective and intelligence.  It comes back again to being astounding that no one appears to have objected to the plan.

Over the longer term this may well benefit Australia, serving as a correction to their recent overbearing nature.  For everyone else it doesn’t offer the slightest opportunity to jump on to the moral high ground so rapidly vacated.  All teams have been behaving poorly in one manner of another and none of them can claim to be the wronged party on a regular basis.  Equally, and taking into account that this still isn’t the worst crime to have committed on the cricket field, it provides an opportunity for the authorities to clamp down hard on some attitudes and confrontational acts that have been pissing off a lot of people all around the world.  

National teams are not a law unto themselves.  This represents an opportunity to reinforce that point 

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If a Wicket Falls and Everyone is Asleep, Did it Really Happen?

So there we go, the pitch ultimately won, as always seemed likely, and Australia batted out the day comfortably in the end.  The only point at which it livened up was when David Warner played what must count as one of the worst shots of his entire career, and Shaun Marsh was unlucky enough to get a genuinely good ball.  At effectively 16-4, Australia were in some trouble.  But that was as rocky as it got, and while the play was as turgid as the pitch, it was also a masterclass in saving a Test match.

Probably the area where England do deserve some credit is how well they bowled on the second day, for Australia’s first innings total was ultimately some way below par.  England’s response was excellent, and of course Cook’s innings extremely fine, but the degree of comfort with which Australia batted out the day placed all before it in context.  Losing half a day to poor weather was unfortunate, but there were few indications that it made that much difference given England bowled 124 overs for just four wickets second time around.

On the plus side, England arrested a run of seven consecutive away defeats, although it’s still only their second draw in ten, and likewise a run of eight consecutive away defeats in Australia.  These are pretty small crumbs of comfort and the backdrop of that is hardly cause for much celebration.  Moeen Ali has been fundamentally poor this whole series, and while it’s not so surprising that he’s struggled with the ball, he’s also had problems with the bat.  He must be vulnerable for the final Test, and how responsible his finger injury may be is open to question.  It would hardly be the first time England have picked a player who is unfit and then been surprised they haven’t done well.  England’s batting problems have been presumably the reason for reluctance to pick Mason Crane, but the same old question arises – what is the point of him being on the tour if the primary spinner is struggling so badly that Root and Malan are the ones turned to on the final day.  To put it another way, had either Adil Rashid or Samit Patel been available – and never forget they were both discarded summarily, and it seems not for cricketing reasons – it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been brought in, if only because both can bat.

Other than that, Stuart Broad was much improved this time around, and while he remains as divisive a character as ever, he was admirably frank about his own shortcomings this series, only to see his words deliberately misinterpreted and used against him in yet another tiresome jab from the Australians.  George Dobell called out the “bullshit” in an unusually annoyed article that rightly mentioned all the times England have been equally guilty of it.

Melbourne usually provides a good Test, and a result.  Here they clearly got the surface preparation wrong, and it ended up the kind of wicket certain to kill any interest in the game and drive viewers to the Big Bash with batsmen unable to score freely and bowlers unable to take wickets.  They’ve had plenty of criticism for that, but c’est la vie, it’s not a normal state of affairs, and in truth England should be grateful for it, as on the showing so far, that was the only way they were going to avoid another pasting. 

Maybe that’s harsh, but with Starc back for Sydney, and a more responsive pitch, it is surely not unlikely normal service will resume.  How Cook performs will be intriguing, not in that it should be expected he repeats a double century, but if he looks as good at the crease as he did in Melbourne.  He’s a funny player in so many ways, when he’s technically off he looks truly dire, and it’s unusual to see a player so visibly battle his technique on such a regular basis.  The SCG will have more pace (not hard) and it may answer a few questions about how much he’s changed his game.  Here he appeared so much more upright in head position and balance.  Irrespective of series position of preposterous media response, that’s as good as he’s looked technically in three years.

After the game there were the usual platitudes from both sides, and the usual statements of regret at not winning, but above all else it was just dull, viewers drifting off to sleep in Australia, let alone England.  

Grateful as they may be for it, 3-0 down with one to play is no position of joy.  The torture tour is not over yet.

With My Undying, Death Defying, Love For You…. 4th Test, Day 2

Cook Love Letter

Alastair Cook made a test hundred. Against Australia. I’m not sure anything else is really needed, is it?

No. I’m not going to let you off that lightly. I have a bit of the old head cold at the moment so I didn’t watch last night. I’m watching the highlights now to see how it went. I’ve also got the whole of the day’s play on the hard drive so anyone who wants a copy of the hundred, please let me know!

I woke up this morning, having followed the action through broken sleep, to see Alastair Cook had completed a century, England are 192 for 2 chasing 327, and that Root is one more run from entering the conversion zone. I am sure there are many out there who think this has me clenching my fist in rage, anger that Cook has “proved me wrong” and that there is still life in the old opener yet. Anger that I can’t quote the no hundreds in 36 Ashes innings or whatever it is. That I’ve been shown up yet again by the master England batsman. I genuinely didn’t wake up feeling like that. I was genuinely pleased we’d bowled out the Australians for a wholly inadequate score, and that we have got a great base to take on a big first innings lead, put the Aussies under pressure and avoid a whitewash. For me, as it is for Alastair, it is all about the team position. England had a magnificent day.

It started with Tom Curran getting Smith to drag on for 76. That opened the floodgates a little. Marsh M, this winter’s Karun Nair, followed soon after, dragging on. Tim Paine went a bit later, dragging on. We can go on about bowling dry in a negative sense quite a lot but England applied a lot of pressure to a sporting team that have to attack, and the run rate was stagnant for long periods, so they can get impatient and wish to impose their will. It’s in their sporting psyche to do so. England stuck to their guns, took out the tail, kept Shaun from making a big one, and having not taken a wicket on a road yesterday before lunch, we took 10 for just over 200 in the intervening period (checks – 205 runs). That was an outstanding performance of discipline, persistence and a little bit of good fortune that we were probably due.

The good fortune extended to the afternoon and evening sessions. With Starc out and Bird replacing him, the Anderson jibe that the bowling strengths in depth in Australia weren’t all they are made up to be could be being proved right. That Pat Cummins wasn’t right was also a fair result too. No sympathy is given to England when this happens and this should certainly not be reciprocated. The point then is that with advantages like this, with a flat deck, with a lovely outfield, an ailing bowling attack is to cash in. Really good players do that. Alastair Cook, when he pulls his technique together, is a really good player. He cashed in. Joe Root is a really good player, and he’s off to a very decent start. England need them both to cash in for a really big one. As I write this, Cook has passed 50 on the highlights, and it is pointed out that it’s his first 50 of the series. More on this a little later.

Stoneman got a start again, looked decent against the opening bowlers, and then gave it away to Lyon. Vince got a decent start, and was then out LBW when it looked like he nicked it (and he didn’t review). Cook got a piece of fortune on 66 when Smith dropped him off Mitchell Marsh. Cricket is a game of fine lines and fate many times, and you grab this with both hands if you are good enough. Stoneman may be running out of chances, Vince is going to be the man who promises you the world, but will let you down, and Cook is the one who can make you really pay. He scored at a really fluent rate, he looked so much better, with so much more confidence and aura. Chris thinks he’s seen some major technical shift – he can explain – but this was a good, important hundred.

So tomorrow will start with England in a good position but with a lot of work to do. Can Cook make it another double, another big one? Can Root convert? Will Malan carry on his Perth form on a polar opposite wicket? How about YJB? Can Moeen save his tour with the bat. One thinks we might need three or four of these to happen. England need a lot more than a 100 run lead in my view.

So that’s the cricket. We should be pleased if we are England fans. We should relish the chance to stick one to the Australians at their biggest test match. While it is perfectly reasonable to point out the limitations of the attack, the possibility the Aussies have eased off the gas, that the series is a dead rubber, we must also recognise in previous incarnations we haven’t lifted ourselves, players deserted or were injured, and England got whitewashed. So while the article headlined “Nice of you to turn up at last” is harsh, it isn’t entirely fair. But I have to say when I see absolute rot like this tweet, you wonder why I (and others on here) get angry:

He scored the square root of nothing on this tour thus far. He hadn’t scored an Ashes ton since January 2011. So if you weren’t a doubter I would suggest that there’s something amiss in your statistical analysis. This came from nowhere. Instead of enjoying it, this lot, and others had to make a point.

For the haters and naysayers. That’s what we’ve become. You are either with him or against him. If you criticise his performance, his captaincy, his role in the debacle four years ago and its aftermath, may you be slapped down. May you be damned, you haters. May you never speak again, May your view never be aired again. He’s made a hundred now. Shut up.

That’s it. A few days ago Tom Harrison, in an interview covered in detail by George Dobell, basically said there was nothing to see here when it came to this Ashes. That winning in Australia is difficult because of home advantage. That because the money is now taken care of, and we aren’t a national embarrassment at white ball cricket any more, we are in a safe place, a nice place, a place to build upon and make hay when the sun shines. The complacency was immense, as teeth itching as Downton calling the 2013-14 series a “difficult winter”. The media fell asleep at this wheel. Nothing to bother their pretty little heads about, concerned more with what he didn’t say about Stokes than what he did say about how great Tom Harrison was while we lost the main test prize we seem to care about.

An Alastair Cook ton when the series has gone is the cricket pundit equivalent. It’s a wonderful moment for him, to end a barren run, to end a personal nightmare. It’s come in a cause for the team, and they’ll be delighted. It’s lifted the fans out there, who have paid good money to go there and have a great day. It’s been a super day. It doesn’t paper over the cracks. Today the media did what they always did. Always do. Team Alastair. Love letters. Personal feelings. If you have the temerity to disagree you are the haters. You are the naysayers. You have been proved wrong.

And you wonder why we find it hard to support England. Look at a day like today. I woke up feeling pretty pleased for Cook. Now I feel he’s the useful tool again. That’s the current England set up. You might want to come back inside? You aren’t allowed. This is Cook’s world and if you doubt him, you aren’t allowed in. Once again, he’s the lightning rod. Those who hate us, who feel we are disloyal will never understand. Just when you thought the schism was potentially going to be healed, it had to be spoiled. It’s just the way these days. Forget him, it is Cook who divides English cricket down the middle.

Comments on tonight’s play below. If I feel up to it, with this poxy head cold, I might live blog the early exchanges. I quite like watching England bat. Maybe we need to turn down the Twitter feed. Maybe someone should have a word with the person who put that GN tweet up.

We need to talk about Alastair…

This really wasn’t the way it was supposed to go was it, that is if you were one of the pie-eyed masses who believed the highly skewed rhetoric coming from our administrators and from our chums in the media in the wake of 4 years ago. This was meant to be the redemption tour, even more so, the Cook redemption tour where our glorious past leader threw off the shackles of captaincy and put the Aussies to the sword as England romped home victorious. Except miracles don’t happen like that, there may be those that chose to believe this rhetoric more through blind hope than realism, totally immune to the fact that Cook has struggled for the past few years; however the rest of us (or the Anti-Cook brigade as many of us have been listed) were scolded for daring to question the darling of the media and applying a more leveled view of the former Captain’s situation. I hate to say I told you so, but…well you can work out the rest.

I deliberately haven’t gone all guns blazing on Cook in the past (even though it’s a chime that is often leveled against me) as although I still believe he was complicit in the forced removal of England’s former South African born batsman, it was more the administrator and media cover up that made me particularly angry rather than Cook’s antics. All the talk of Cook being the best batsman the world has ever seen, the endless hagiography’s, the whispering campaigns and Cook’s own stubborn refusal to believe that he should have been dropped for the 2015 World Cup seriously got my goat; however my own personal view is that Cook is just a little bit thick, a little bit dull and way in over his head more than he ever believed. He was a terrible captain, unable to either raise the troops or with enough acumen to make a serious difference in the field, hence why the term ‘let it drift’ will be synonymous with a picture of dear Cookie in years to come.

This however, is not about my personal opinions on Cook the person or Cook the captain, this is purely about Cook the batsman. I was casually searching for a few stats on Cook the other day and some of the stats surprised even me (though they might not surprise some of the more avid followers on the site):

  • Cook’s last match winning century: 243 vs. West Indies at Edgbaston, August 2017
  • Cook’s last match winning century against either SA, Australia or India: 190 vs. India at Eden Gardens, December 2012
  • Cook’s last century against Australia: 189 vs Australia, at SCG, December 2011
  • 7 Century’s in the last 107 innings
  • Current average in this Ashes series: 13.85

No doubt I will be accused by some of ‘Cook Maths’ and yes, I have cherry picked certain stats, but the case remains that Cook hasn’t scored a match winning century against one of the big 3 (SA included) for over 5 years. England’s so called best player and rock, who has seen off more opening partners than I’ve had hot dinners, is nothing but a flat track bully. He reminds me of why the Aussies used to call John Crawley ‘2nd innings Charlie’, always there to score slightly meaningless runs but disappears off the radar once tough runs need to be scored. This is where 2013 was so important. Cook by and large, apart from the very odd drop off in form, was England’s premier player, scorer of centuries and obstinate rock at the top of the order before 2013. It could be argued back then that he was a world class player. 2013 changed this though, as the Australian attack blunted Cook firstly in the Ashes series over in England and then blew him apart in the return leg some 4 months later. It was Mitchell Johnson, who got many of the plaudits for that series, but it was Ryan Harris that provided the blueprint for every single bowler in International cricket to follow and in the end it was a pretty simple plan to follow. Keep the ball pitched up on and around off stump with the odd variation outwards for it to swing and inwards to catch him LBW. Short balls are occasionally permitted, but they need to be quick and straight and provide him with no opportunity to free his arms. Leg side half volleys were definitely off the agenda.

It was a mantra that everyone bar the weakest of international bowling attacks have managed to follow, negating Cook’s strengths against seam bowling and leaving him desperately reliant on slow, dead pitches such as the one in Abu Dhabi to post a serious score. As Chris mentioned in his last article, it seems that the press have belatedly woken up to the fact that Cook is no more than an excellent county pro and mediocre international and has been for the past 4 years. We have yet to see the whispering campaigns such as his eyes have gone or his heart has gone as Ian Bell had to endure recently, particularly from a rather bitter ex-Chief Correspondent (KP kindly leant with that angle in the build up to the last Test), but the odd one or two have delicately mentioned that this series could and probably should be his last; though naturally we have the odd dinosaur still beating the drum:

https://twitter.com/selvecricket/status/942066754855063552

The truth is that there was never going to be a Cook redemption tour. The supporting cast are simply not good enough and Cook’s form and inability to change his game against the set bowling plans that have been his downfall in the past has seen his form dip from ‘worrying’ to ‘terminal decline’. It’s true that even the very best get worked out from time to time, but the very best adapt. Cook neither has the aptitude or willingness to do such a thing. He no longer has the media hagiography’s supporting him, though he does always seem to be pretty immune from criticism (remember it was Malan’s fault for not scoring 300 in the last Test or digging out Joe Root for being an inexperienced captain), but for how long this will continue, that no-one can be sure. There is going to be fallout from this series, even more should we capitulate to a 5-0 defeat and we no longer have a useful idiot (KP) or a useless idiot (Downton) to protect Cook from some of the rightful criticism that will come his way. Will he walk away? Who knows, but surely the media can’t be as complicit as they were 4 years ago.

This tour, apart from being decidedly predictable, has confirmed what many of us had seen through our own eyes (and not through the rose-tinted spectacles many had chosen to view things as). Cook was a great international batsman, a scorer of a plethora of centuries, the rock of the 2010 Ashes victory in Australia; however that was more than 4 years ago and father time waits for no-one, certainly not one who would most certainly have been dropped if he didn’t have his past record to fall back on (let’s just say that had Stoneman had performed like Cook, he would be spending his winter elsewhere).

The SCG should be the place where Cook retires from International cricket and sails off into the sunset. There will still be a lot of soul searching after this series but at least by this point we might be able to put to bed one of the ghosts that have haunted English cricket for the past four years. How the cricket world views Cook in 5 years time could be very interesting to see.

England vs. West Indies, 2nd Test Preview (and a bit of rant)

After Dmitri’s short but brutally accurate report of the last Test, I’m not too sure about what more can be said that hasn’t been already. Let’s make this clear, this is a colossal mismatch between one team who are the have’s and another team who are without doubt the have not’s. It’s like signing up to watch Anthony Joshua fight Big Mick from the local pub, people aren’t necessary going for the entertainment more for the morbid spectacle that they know that this will become. It is of course, very easy to blame the West Indies for the mess they are in. The WICB is so corrupt and incompetent it makes the ECB look like the model of sobriety, as not even the ECB has managed to alienate every single decent player in their domestic scene;  as we know the ECB just alienate those that whistle when they get out and aren’t from the right type of family. It is of course, easy to blame the WICB for the calamitous position that the West Indies finds itself in and of course a decent proportion of the blame must be attributed to them; however I think it would be fair to say that outside factors have also played a major part in the West Indie’s sad demise.

If you haven’t read Tim Wigmore’s excellent piece in the Independent then I would strongly suggest that you do – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cant-ignore-the-role-english-authorities-played-in-killing-test-crickets-competitiveness-a7905706.html. Now the West Indies might be a special case here; after all, they haven’t won a Test away in England since circa 2000 and have won precious few elsewhere away from home (the last major away game they won was against SA in 2007 – thanks D’arthez). However if we delve a little further into the poison pit that is International cricket, then it’s not just the West Indies who are desperately clinging to a sinking raft. If I were to ask you which team have either got better or stayed particularly competitive since 2014, what would your answer be? India, Australia, England – anyone else?? Oh and why do I ask this question, well as we know 2014 was the year that the Big 3 decided to carve up cricket’s finances between themselves to ensure their survival at the expense of every other cricket nation, so I think you might know where I’m going with this. If we place England, India & Australia in Tier 1 (as at least they haven’t got appreciatively worse, though it would be fair to argue that none of these three has made massive strides), then if we look at Tier 2 (those who aren’t yet in perpetual demise) and Tier 3 (those that have fallen off the lifeboat into the choppy ocean), then I think that this gives us a more rounded view of where International Cricket actually is:

Tier 2

  • South Africa – Still competitive, but under threat as their fast bowling unit is getting old and they have lost too many players to Bransgrove’s Kolpakshire amongst other predatory counties
  • New Zealand – Still punching above their weight, but losing McCullum as captain was a massive blow. Still able to surprise the big 3 from time to time, despite big quality gaps in their batting order.
  • Pakistan – Can still put together brilliant performances on their day, but I fear for their batting having lost Younus & Misbah.
  • Bangladesh – Best side they’ve had since they became full members, but no-one wants to play them, which is a real shame.

Tier 3

  • West Indies – See above. Their best batsman is 43 and playing for Lancashire. This team would struggle in Division 2 of the County Championship
  • Sri Lanka – Currently being smashed around by India, they also recently lost to Zimbabwe. The days of watching Sangakkara & Mahela bat as well as Murali bowl, must seem like a lifetime ago now.
  • Zimbabwe – Hardly ever play, still as corrupt as ever.

As you can see this is far from a pretty site, yet the ICC still continues to re-arrange the deckchairs whilst the Titanic is sinking. Who cares about 4 day Test matches or pink balls when in a few years time the only ones playing it will be England, Australia and India as Test Cricket will have died everywhere else. Apologies that this is a little gloomy, but this is the reality and it’s clear that the ICC can’t even manage this decline effectively! Still there’s always the 50 or so T20 leagues that you can watch if you really want to see the same hit and not too many giggles cricket.

Ok slight rant aside, as for the next Test itself, England will naturally go into this as massive favourites. In a slightly strange and I do feel a very harsh move, they have dropped TRJ for Chris Woakes. Now I’m absolutely not advocating that Woakes doesn’t deserve a spot in the line up as he has been extremely consistent over the past year and is highly talented with the bat and the ball; however with a packed winter ahead and facing a weak opposition, surely it would have made more sense to give one of Broad, Anderson or Stokes a blow. Now of course, these players might throw a little tantrum about being dropped when there are easy runs/wickets on offer, but surely we learn nothing by having these bowlers face a paper thin batting line up; however such is the England way, they let the fear of a backlash from certain untouchable individuals within the team cloud their judgement on what is the right decision with the squad for the Ashes in mind.As for the West Indies, they must surely hope that the Headingley pitch is some kind of minefield to bring the two teams closer together, because if it plays like it did at Edgbaston, then I can’t see anything other than another 3 day Test.

Oh and one last thing, as Colombo might say, I had an extremely interesting exchange with a certain individual who was clearly a fan of the ex-England captain, on Twitter last Thursday. Now I’m not going to give this individual any further publicity, as I’ve regularly seen some fairly sane individuals turn into rage’oholics who froth at the mouth the moment anything remotely critical of Cook is written by anyone. I’ll leave these here for your enjoyment:

‘I’m astonished that some whose blogging career is devoted to skewing Cook’s stats is calling a plain stat skewed’ (For the record, it was highly skewed stat based on a certain batsman over circa 10 games, 3 years ago)

‘Go back to trying to prove Alastair Cook’s useless whilst he sleeps on a big pile of runs’

    ‘Imaging devoting an entire blog to hating Alastair Cook.’

    ‘I’m planning a big BOC subtweet when Cook reaches his double ton’ (he didn’t, I guess he didn’t find any to back up his position)

      So now we’ve progressed from being a bunch of KP fanboys to being accused of spewing hateful bile about Alastair Cook, I wonder what will be thrown against us next. It’s BOC’s fault that Test Cricket is dying? It’s our fault that global warming is ruining our world? It’s our fault that Brexit happened? The possibilities are just endless. Perhaps if the media did their job and took an objective view of Cook i.e. putting his achievements into some sort of perspective and instead stopped writing meaningless hagiographies, then we wouldn’t have to be the lone voice of sanity in a world where this is rarely so.

      So as I read it, those of us that have the temerity to question Cook’s place amongst the International elite are now classed as Cook haters, with nothing else to do but spew angry bile about him! Does this also apply when I question or criticize other England cricketers? I have written critical stuff about Root, Moeen, Broad, Anderson & Woakes amongst others in the past, but I don’t generally get people screaming at me on Twitter when I do. Of course, there are those that point out that we write about Cook more than others and yes it’s true, because people are interested in reading about him (much like a certain individual a few years ago), after all if I spent most of my time writing about Chris Woakes, it’d be a pretty dull blog (I don’t care if I upset Chris Woakes as he has already blocked me on Twitter for some unknown reason). The sad thing is that the schism that Dmitri wrote about in early 2016 is still very much prevalent in 2017, but of course we are the ones with an ‘agenda’. For the record, I posted this on Alastair Cook a while back and nothing has happened to change my personal opinion since then – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/29/guest-post-dont-blame-it-on-the-sunshine-blame-it-on-the-ecb/. I’m not sure it screams incandescent hatred, but I’ll leave you to decide on this….

      Anyway, I’m bored about writing and going over the same things about Alastair Cook, so I’m simply going to refer ‘people’ back to the above article when the next brain dead moron suggests that our whole editorial policy is based around our hatred of Cook.

      And with that nonsense out of the way, feel free to comment on the game below:

      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.

      btge06bcqaaqsxx

      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

      Crazy World Of Ally Cook 2
      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?

      ———————————————–

      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.