English cricket and the form and tactical acumen of captain Alastair Cook looked at breaking point following a 10th Test without a win, suffering defeat at Lord’s to India in conditions that once gave rise to the stereotype of India being weak away from home. Yet, at the Ageas Bowl, Cook managed to grind out some runs and put his side back into a position of strength.
A lot has been said of Cook’s captaincy and the near unanimous verdict is that he should not continue as captain. His talent has never been doubted and England need him to get back to his high-scoring best – and soon. Whilst searching for runs of late, a position he has been in before, he was also searching for the right tactical combinations in the field. With his captaincy and his form both at low ebbs following the visit of Sri Lanka, it appears as though he spent more time on his captaincy. Credit where credit is due, his leadership of the England side has been much improved against India, even despite the 1-0 score line to the visitors.
Yet, this is not where England will benefit most from Cook. He has done his best work in an England shirt unburdened by leadership. He is clearly a popular figure in English cricket, as the crowd reactions to him at Lord’s and Southampton testify, but is this more a case of English crowds not wishing to kick a man whilst he is down?
Cook’s stubbornness, a fine trait in any elite sportsman, married to the blind leadership alley run up by ECB managing director, Paul Downton, have left him in a near impossible situation. To back down now would be a huge embarrassment for all concerned; Cook is afraid of looking weak, Downton is afraid of being proved wrong, although to most, he already has been.
Vociferously backing your captain after a 5-0 whitewash in Australia looked misguided at the time. Hindsight has afforded that judgement no further clarity. Axing your top run scorer from that series was always going to be contentious. The ghost of Kevin Pietersen will haunt this set up until the moment it disbands. There is, simply put, no moving on from it.
Had the decision been taken to remove, for example, Matt Prior after the Ashes, there would not have been the wailing and gnashing of teeth, nor the odd quotes about players being from the right families. It was also a decision that placed Cook further under the microscope.
For my part, I think the ECB got most, if not all, of what they did wrong. They believe that the system that was successful for Andy Flower is the blueprint going forward. It is a blinkered view that they cannot back down from now and the England team is suffering as a consequence. They did not appoint ‘the coach of his generation,’ they appointed a patsy – someone to sit in until a better option becomes available. They also appointed someone who will not question the system, someone who was happy to be dictated to as to who his captain would be and who he could select. Hardly surprising that Gary Kirsten wasn’t interested in the gig. Who is running this team?
We’ve had a moan about this before - www.thecricketblog.com/peter-moores-not-good-enough-then-not-good-enough-now and www.thecricketblog.com/england-stuck-in-a-philosophical-loop
The ECB measures its success in terms of income. Now at the top table of the ICC with India and Australia, it is content. To hell with the end product. Its hubris is what will destroy it and its money lust is being proved with five Tests in 42 days against India that will further push the England players to the brink of breaking point.
Cook, as a result, has been hung out to dry in the winds of poor form, a poor team and his own self-belief. He has spoken of falling on swords a lot, but has yet to fall on his own. He is clearly a popular figure in English cricket but his continuing as England captain stands only as a symbol of all that English cricket has got wrong in the past 12 months.
I hope for Cook that he re-finds his form and sets a stiff record for the most centuries by an Englishman. I hope for England that he does this without the millstone of captaincy around his unsuited neck. I hope, also, that humility creeps into the ECB and a new direction is sought. The current direction is clearly the wrong one and is damaging English prospects for the years ahead.
By Miles Reucroft