Friday, 1 August 2014

Column 22, 2014 – Over Cooked?

NOT Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 94, Friday August 1, 2014.
[Full text below]

The column I wrote this week was on Alastair Cook. It was entirely an opinion piece about Cook and the England captaincy, and my conviction that he shouldn't have it. This was fairly controversial, coming as it did in the wake of perhaps his finest win as captain, in a Test in which he didn't put a foot wrong, either as batsman or skipper. 

The editor decided that there were too many opinion pieces on Cook in this week's paper, (David Hayter, Aakash Chopra, Paul Nixon, Ashley Giles,) and one more solely on the England captain from a columnist whose brief is the amateur/fan's perspective on the game was one too many. He elected, as is his inalienable right  his job, in fact  not to run it. 

Ironically, the only one not to run took me by far the longest to write. It's a complicated and involved subject, and was whittled down from an initial brain-splurge of nearly two and a half thousand words. Though I remain sure of the convictions in it, I was not as surprised as I thought I'd be that it didn't run. If that makes any sense.

Here it is. (The paper writes the headlines, which is why it doesn't have one.)

The column will return to the paper next week. If selected, of course.

2014 column 22

Here’s a contentious premise: Alastair Cook’s Rose Bowl runs were bad for England.

Cook made 95 dogged, hard-fought runs in the first innings, and it would take a hard heart indeed not to feel happy for him, or rise with the crowd and the ovation that clapped him off the field. There’s a lot of goodwill for Cook, and rightly so.

But I honestly don’t think it did him or England any favours. The likelihood is that runs for batsman Cook will mean a stay of execution for captain Cook – wrongheaded, but almost certain to be the case.

Had he continued his run drought, sooner rather than later the powers that be would surely have been forced to relieve him of the captaincy. For the wrong reasons, but that’s how this works.

I am an Alastair Cook fan. I remember his debut in Nagpur in the winter of 2006. Trescothic went home with depression, Vaughan’s knee flared up, and Cook was flown in at the last minute. It was a dramatic, daring rescue, a fresh faced public school choirboy whisked off the plane and straight out to open the batting for England. It was like a Boy’s Own fantasy adventure.

He instantly belonged, scoring a half century in the first innings, and a full one in the second. He has never looked back. Eight years and 25 centuries later, he’s never been dropped. There was a period in 2010 when he was out of form and there was some talk of dropping him, but that was swiftly forgotten after a magical Ashes tour with 766 runs at over 125.

He is a fantastic batsman.

Remember that guy? I want that guy back. The guy who averaged 125 opening the batting against Australia.

Remember him? He’s only 29. He could still be opening the batting for England in the next Ashes, and the one after that. And the one after that.

Will he though? If he continues to also be saddled with a job he is so clearly not very good at, and which is so evidently stressing him out?

He is not a good captain.

The nascent young England team (six of this side have single figure Test caps; the seventh is Joe Root) needs to coalesce as a unit, and they need to do it under a strong captain who can take them forward. I don’t believe Cook is that captain, I don’t know anyone who believes Cook is that captain, and I can’t help wondering if the only people who do are those with a vested political interest. And him.

Cook making runs in Southampton will not miraculously make him a good captain. All it will do is delay the inevitable – either he goes as a captain or he goes altogether. And for my money, as a fan of both, that delay is bad for Alastair Cook, and it is bad for England.

- ends 485 words -

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