Archive for the ‘alastair cook’ Category
Sunday, September 2nd, 2012
So farewell, then, England’s Test supremacy; farewell too, to Andrew Strauss, a man who, in his role as captain, took England to the top, and who enjoyed a fruitful opening partnership with successor Alastair Cook until everything began falling apart.
A decent, quietly dignified man, Strauss leaves the team ironically in the same state of turmoil it was in when he accepted the captaincy, but between then and now he, along with Andy Flower – the Steve Jobs to Strauss’s Tim Cook – made a team that proved greater than the sum of its parts through a vision that hinged upon keeping things simple. He deserves respect for his 7037 Test runs, the 24 matches won under his watch, the 3-1 Ashes series win and the first by an England side Down Under in 24 years. He deserves respect for his statesmanlike steering of the team through the rocky rapids of the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal, and, because he strikes me as an honest, plain-speaking bloke, I’m inclined to believe him when he says his decision to resign and retire from all forms of professional cricket had nothing to do with the recent ruckus surrounding England cricket’s current bête noire Kevin Pietersen.
Strauss’s successor, Alastair Cook, may not be the most inspirational of leaders, or of speakers, judging by Wednesday’s presser – “you have to throw yourself into it and meet the challenge head on – I hope I have it in me,” isn’t exactly the “we happy few, we band of brothers” stuff that fires the blood. But then, given he’s inherited a dressing room currently missing its best batsman, riddled, it would seem, with cliques and raging egos (and I’m not just talking about Pietersen’s), and a team on the receiving end of a comprehensive Test series beating, perhaps simply throwing oneself into it might be the best and simplest strategy. As Joe Cabot says in Reservoir Dogs, sometimes you just gotta shit your pants, dive in, and swim.
Strauss, not the most tactically imaginative captain, succeeded largely because he was utterly unflappable. On the field of play, this worked extremely well – there can be no greater contrast in terms of “game face” than Strauss’s arm-folded inscrutability at slip when a carefully laid plan resulted in a bowler being smashed for three consecutive boundaries, and Andrew Flintoff’s public, near nervous breakdown in the field at Adelaide in 2006.
Cook’s Bambi-eyed demeanour doesn’t quite inspire the same confidence, though. It’s not just the on-field stuff he has to control, it’s the dressing room environment as well, the “behind closed doors” nonsense we’ve unfortunately been hearing a lot about lately. The fact that Strauss said in a televised interview before Lord’s that the dressing room tension alluded to by Pietersen “has all been a bit of a surprise to me” is rather worrying. Plainly tensions did exist, as evidenced by the “KP Genius” Twitter account set up by a friend of Stuart Broad purely for the purpose of having a laugh at Pietersen’s expense. A parody account set up by a fan is one thing; an account set up by a friend of a team mate, likely with that team mate’s knowledge, makes a mockery of the “trust and mutual respect” demanded by the England management in response to queries regarding the timescale – or indeed any possibility – of Pietersen’s reinstatement.
Graeme Swann provided another example of hypocrisy at work; he was less than complimentary about Pietersen in his autobiography, but somehow, his book – released in a print run of thousands, available in paperback now, at a WH Smith’s near you – was deemed less damaging to team unity than private texts sent to a couple of mates during a moment of pissed-off indiscretion. Given Broad is already captain of the T20 side and Swann too, for all his jack-the-lad image, has captaincy ambitions (he led the side in the absence of Broad for three T20 matches against the West Indies and India last year) it’s all starting to suggest a pack struggle, a jostling for a higher rung on the dressing room hierarchy, the kind of playground unpleasantness that too often goes hand-in-hand with a group turning on one of its own. If Andrew Strauss was unaware of this, then Alastair Cook seems even less likely to be able to keep a lid on it.
The Pietersen problem is one that demands an urgent solution. Examining how the situation reached this state of urgency is instructive. How Pietersen’s very reasonable concerns over a congested international schedule degenerated via tweets and “derogatory texts” (since believed to be sent via Blackberry Messenger) into the current block-headed stalemate is an interesting study in tabloid media sensationalism, knee-jerk pettiness, mob behaviour, and group-think.
It has also demonstrated that if you repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. Take the infamous text messages, for example, reportedly sent to Pietersen’s friends in the South African team, reportedly “derogatory” towards Andrew Strauss and believed to contain encouragement to Dale Steyn to get him out, and later reported to contain advice on how to dismiss Andrew Strauss. Later, the tabloid that first broke the “exclusive” of these texts, admitted the messages contained no tactical information. Nevertheless, the damage has been done – the myth that these texts contained tactical information sent to the opposition persists on social media networks and “under the line” comments as sufficient reason for Pietersen’s permanent banishment. It has been an unsavoury, grubby saga of hearsay, leaks, innuendo and allegations, with precious little substance behind the hyperbole. Pietersen has since admitted sending texts, but the fact that it was not then – and still isn’t – known exactly what they contained while being cited in an ECB press release as a reason for his omission from the Lord’s Test is a quite staggering example of trial by tabloid in the absence of concrete proof.
As if this weren’t enough, we’ve been subjected to the deranged rantings of those such as Michael Henderson, who in a shrill, hectoring interview on BBC Radio, launched an unstoppable stream of bilious invective at Pietersen’s background, personality and motivation for playing for England. He referred to Pietersen’s replacement, Jonny Bairstow, as “a true Englishman” and justified his stance by saying it was one shared by those he spent time with while in the MCC President’s box – “no riff-raff”. Henderson has never considered Pietersen a “bona fide Englishman” and has grasped this controversy with relish, providing as it did another opportunity for him to air his xenophobic opinions. It was jaw-dropping, deeply offensive, and if you felt like having a hot shower and scrubbing yourself with a wire brush afterwards, you weren’t the only one.
Have we become so cynical that we accept that this is how the media can make or break a man’s career? Pietersen’s gaucheness may be to his disadvantage when it comes to his relationship with the media, but God help us all if a cricketer were ever to commit a truly heinous infraction such as murder or kidnapping – having already used up every known variation on words such as “vile”, “traitor”, “scandal” and “outrage” one tends to think a few of the sports commentariat have in this instance rather overreached themselves. But this, we are loftily assured, is how journalism works. It’s the way things are done. You’ll excuse me if I’ve had my faith in humanity, and my love for English cricket, dented slightly as a result.
Now, Pietersen is in the position where he is vilified if he says anything – no matter when he said it, or in what context – and castigated if he says nothing. That is how ridiculous it has become. He’s made a few mistakes, but isn’t it about time to get off the guy’s back and make a concerted effort to find a solution rather than letting it drag on?
From football-style tabloid sensationalism to the reinforcement of the stereotype that cricket is a game for public-school toffs who use servants as footstools and for whom the President’s box at Lord’s is the inner sanctum off-limits to those deemed “not one of us”, it’s fair to say the last few weeks have not been a shining advertisement for the sport.
Pietersen was due to sit down yesterday with Andy Flower in the first of a series of meetings that will, if pragmatism prevails, hammer out some kind of resolution that will allow the black sheep to return to the English fold. One hopes there will be compromise from both sides.
Kevin Pietersen may look back on this in time and know there were things he should have done differently. But he did not solely create this situation, or indeed the disunity within the team. He has only lifted the rock – or rather, kicked it over – and shown what is scurrying underneath.
Kevin Pietersen's future remains uncertain
Saturday, August 13th, 2011
“It’s kicking off in Croydon now,” the hospital porter told me gloomily as he brought me back from the X-ray department.
Monday night, well, early Tuesday 1:15AM to be precise. Guest of the Royal Infirmary since 8AM the previous morning due to an ongoing condition that flares up from time to time. Morphine in my system; 40 hours with no sleep, pain by now dulled to something slightly less excruciating.
There’d been a queue for the x-rays: me, teenage lad with broken wrist, old man on trolley. By this point I had no clue as to the day, or the time, but I knew that London was burning.
“There’s a blaze at a furniture warehouse,” said the porter. “A big one.” I felt I should offer an opinion on it, and sensed he was expecting one, but I didn’t have the energy. I just wanted to sleep.
Back on the ward a quick check of Twitter informed me that the riots might be coming to Leicester. I had visions of waking up like the Cillian Murphy character in 28 Days Later, or like a character out of a John Wyndham novel, to a city burnt out and abandoned.
But the main thing was getting home for the Test. Nothing else mattered as much to me. To take my mind off where I was, I’d tried to focus my disgruntlement less on the online rantings of the String ‘Em Up Society and the Moral Decay Brigade than on Ravi Bopara being picked to replace an injured Jonathan Trott ahead of James Taylor. It was a decision I regarded as profoundly bonkers and still do, with Taylor making 106 for the Lions on the same day Bopara managed only 7 being a case of “figures that speak for themselves”.
But then you’d have to say that’s possibly the only thing England have got wrong recently.
This was the Test billed as the big one, the one that could see England ascend to number one status. The staging of it was very briefly in doubt due to the fact Birmingham too had been hit by the riots, with 3 confirmed deaths to follow.
It truly was a case of cricket down the rabbit hole. You could pick a less surreal time to hold a Test match.
It is now Saturday evening. The Test is over because India capitulated far quicker than we would ever have imagined back in May when the Sri Lanka series proved so disappointing. They still have not scored 300 in an innings, or taken twenty wickets. Sachin still does not have his hundredth hundred. Even Dravid could not save them; one of the few Indian players who’s come out of this series with any credit, he was bizarrely given out “hit shoelace”.
Alastair Cook’s batting was better than morphine. Effective but soporific. Hitting the pain that sometimes comes with being an England fan, and that doubled us over in 2006-07 and made us grind our teeth in a cold sweat at the agony of it. Jimmy Anderson’s lethal deliveries were the scalpel that cut away the last of those dead-flesh memories; Kevin Pietersen’s 63 the adrenaline injection straight to the heart.
It’s good to be home, and good to see England complete the recovery that started with Pietersen’s kill-or-cure revolt against Peter Moores in the early months of 2009.
The patient is not only fully recovered, it is kicking arse.
The riots and the looting are over now. Talking heads are occupying the news channels and the blame game is in full swing.
The cricket bat signed by the Lancashire team for Mal Loye’s benefit year remains propped against the wall next to my bed, just in case.
The country’s in a bit of a mess at the minute, but I am home, England are number one, and that’s pretty good to be going on with.
But Jesus, what a weird week.
Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Paul Collingwood is “very disappointed” at being stripped of the Twenty20 captaincy.
Stuart Broad, his replacement, has said, “It’s a huge privilege to be named England Twenty20 captain and form part of a leadership team that I’ve no doubt will work well together with a great deal of synergy,” craftily using management-speak pablum to repeat himself in the same sentence.
Alastair Cook, England’s new ODI captain, looked like a Chinese water deer in the sights of one of his own shotguns as he proffered some flannel about how his one-day form for Essex has improved even though he hasn’t been a part of England’s one-day side “for a while” – not since March 2010, to be exact.
One can understand Andrew Strauss relinquishing the One Day captaincy and retiring from this form of the game. He, along with Andy Flower, have been the prime movers in England’s recent Ashes success but both men have recognized the need to pace themselves. There is the suggestion that Flower, in extending his coaching contract with England, will be able to sit out selected tours, and Strauss, who will be 38 at the time of the next World Cup, understandably wishes to concentrate on Test cricket and the captaincy job he has performed so admirably.
The message today’s split-captaincy announcements seem to send out is that, with the Test team settled, the 2015 World Cup is now the next item on England’s agenda.
The only problem is, neither of these captaincy appointments is ideal and smack of a makeshift approach because of a lack of other options.
Cook’s form in Test cricket is unquestioned. But for a man who has played only 3 ODIs in the last two and a half years to not only be shoehorned into the team but also given the captaincy sounds like desperation. It suggests that since Cook is Test captain-in-waiting he was the only option.
He may very well turn out to be effective in the opening position Strauss has now vacated – I doubt he will perform any worse than Matt Prior did – but leading the team to victory in one series against Bangladesh hardly suggests a CV with any great depth in the captaincy department.
I have bigger problems with Stuart Broad as England’s new Twenty20 captain.
Cook may have captained England in five matches already; Broad does not even have that.
At the start of today’s press conference, England managing director Hugh Morris referred to Broad’s “leadership credentials”. What those are, exactly, remains unexplained. Broad, while being of undeniable value to an England team in terms of his bowling, will hardly be of much use to his country if he is watching from the sidelines because he has clashed heads with officialdom.
Broad, while earning plaudits for his bowling and batting in the series against Pakistan last year, won himself rather fewer fans with his on-field behaviour, and there were many, myself included, who believed the penalty levied against him for petulantly hurling the ball at Zulqarnain Haider should have been considerably stiffer.
Broad says he has “learned from that” and wants to “set a good example and play the game in the right way,” but I am yet to be convinced.
I’m always wary when it comes to setting up sportsmen as paragons of what examples to the young should be, but it’s the idea that the England management have confused petulance with competitiveness – and worse, leadership potential – that worries me.
Personally, I’d like to have seen Kevin Pietersen given another shot at captaincy – in either format – but despite what KP might say regarding being in large part responsible for England’s renaissance after the removal of Peter Moores (and I’d be inclined to agree with him), the fact that Andy Flower was also in his sights no doubt remains a black mark against him.
So now, England will take on this summer’s visitors Sri Lanka and India with two inexperienced captains, a new ODI opening partnership and a bowler-captain who is rightly praised for his ability to take wickets but not for his maturity or anything that would suggest statesmanship or tactical nous.
This has been brought about because the England management have decided there are no other options: hardly a ringing endorsement for the two new incumbents.
Andy Flower has admitted the appointment of three captains is a gamble – “over the next few years we will see if that works or not,” and referred to it as “the most effective use of our resources”.
Such as they are.
Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
Australia are staring down the barrel of another defeat in this last 2010-11 Ashes Test.
Peter Siddle cleaned up nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson early on but Alastair Cook just kept going. And going, and going. By the time Cook fell for 189 he had passed 1000 first class runs for this tour, and with 766 Test runs is second in series runs for an Englishman only behind the great Wally Hammond’s 905.
All this from a man many, myself included, believed should not even be in this Ashes squad.
Paul Collingwood suffered a brainstorm on 13 when he really should have been grinding out much needed runs; his mistimed skier to Ben Hilfenhaus at mid-on was the shot of a man who had never looked comfortable at the crease and whose leaden-footed, ill-timed jabbings at the ball had started to exasperate even himself.
It may be unlikely he will be called upon for a rearguard rescue operation in the second innings. If this proves to be the case I suspect the England management may give him one last opportunity against Sri Lanka when they visit England in May to prove he can represent his country in the Test arena.
England were 226-5 when Ian Bell joined Cook in the middle, and controversy was to follow.
First, Michael Beer was deprived of Cook’s wicket a second time when Phil Hughes took a low catch at short leg that on replay did not carry, though Hughes claimed the catch – albeit after enough time to indicate he was not entirely sure that the catch was clean. It was this aspect, Hughes’ celebration with his team mates, that provoked the ire of sections of the crowd, and much celebration and comments regarding sportsmanship (or lack thereof) when Cook was allowed to carry on.
The most contentious moment of the day, though, came later when Ian Bell was given out caught behind off an inside edge off the bowling of Shane Watson.
Bell consulted with Prior and asked for a review. Hot Spot showed no edge, and onfield umpire Aleem Dar reversed his decision. What has provoked the wrath of many, though, is that Snickometer later showed the edge.
No system is infallible, and whether you consider Ian Bell a cheat or not is down to how far you are prepared to tolerate using a system to your advantage that allows you to do so.
Snickometer is not part of the Decision Review System as it needs a human being to synchronize picture with sound spike; for one, the process takes too long, and secondly, the technology as it now stands is too reliant on the thoroughness or otherwise of its operator to provide a decision-making tool that is within acceptable tolerances.
One could ask why, if it is not part of DRS, why it was shown at all – the answer is that the host broadcaster (in this case Channel 9) can show what the hell they like, and a bit of controversy is always good for ratings.
Bell may be lying when he says he wasn’t sure if he had hit it.
He could also have been telling the truth.
He did nothing wrong according to the current decision making process, and whether his request for a review was because he was confident in his innocence and because he knew that Hot Spot would show nothing, or conversely because he knew Hot Spot does not always show something, is up to the individual to decide where his own tolerances lie.
Bell used the process – as it stands, to his advantage – and while I am not saying the system is perfect, the tendency towards a rose-coloured nostalgia for more gentlemanly, honourable times is a hankering for a utopia that never existed. Cricketers have always ruthlessly used the rules to their benefit, and the great WG himself was not above replacing the bails and continuing to bat on if he felt his dismissal to be a little too previous for his liking.
In the greater context of the match, Bell’s apparent let-off allowed him to continue on his way to an inexorable and beautifully played ton, controversy aside, and Matt Prior too chipped in with a half-century.
Michael Clarke swapped bowlers, and the ends from which they ran in, so damn often it was difficult to tell whether this attack was coming or going – though it was mostly going, and mostly for a shitload of runs.
Granted, England have had the best of the bowling conditions, and today the pitch was probably at its most docile, but the Australian bowling looks as toothless as ever, and captain Clarke looks like a man who is already running out of ideas.
England are currently 488-7, and lead Australia by 208 runs.
Hughes gets ready to claim the catch
Saturday, December 4th, 2010
When Alastair Cook was interviewed in front of the Adelaide Oval pavilion after close of play on Day 2 of the Second Test, he didn’t look like a man who had finished the day on 136 not out.
He did not look like a man who has scored 438 runs so far this series, or been on the field of play for all bar 11 overs to date, or, counting his epic second innings at the Gabba, batted for 1022 minutes without being dismissed.
He looked like a man who had had a bit of a net.
He looked as fresh as a fucking daisy.
As Australia’s seamers pounded in for over after over under a searing Adelaide sun it was a case of spent, rather than unstoppable, force meets immovable object.
Gone is the leaden footwork, especially against spin; gone is the stiff-legged hesitancy that minimised scoring options and left him stuck in his crease; gone is the suicidal tendency to waft outside off stump.
He has not so much reworked his technique as stopped worrying about it and gone back to how he used to play. The result is that he is now playing with the kind of regained confidence and technical assuredness that grinds down bowling attacks expecting easier prey.
It seems that every time he goes out to bat now, another record falls.
Aside from runs scored and minutes batted – breaking the records for both for an England player – he is now the second most successful England batsman to play in Australia in terms of average, and the first for ten years to follow a double century with a century.
All this and he is only 25 years old. Only Sachin Tendulkar had scored more centuries than him by the time he reached the same age.
After the early loss of Andrew Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott continued their consolidation of the record for England’s most successful second wicket partnership. Trott’s innings was an especially swashbuckling one – before lunch he was cracking along with a strike rate in the 70s – and his superlative onside play (shades of the great Gordon Greenidge at times with that raised left leg) was once again augmented with sweetly-timed driving through the covers.
Trott’s was the only other wicket to fall, and Kevin Pietersen set about the bowling in brisk and imperious fashion. It is no surprise that he targeted Xavier Doherty in particular, given Doherty has been included in this Australian side at the expense of Nathan Hauritz purely because of Pietersen’s recent, and self-inflicted, vulnerability against left-arm spin.
The way England have been batting recently, Doherty must have been wondering if he’d ever get a crack at the man he is supposed to unsettle. Pietersen, dancing down the wicket and at one stage driving the unfortunate young Tasmanian back over his head to the boundary, was very plainly having none of it.
Pietersen is back, and all is right with the world.
He and Cook will need to continue where they left off. England are 72 runs ahead. Andrew Strauss must surely be eyeing a total in the region of 600. If England achieve this – and there is, of course, no guarantee – Australia will need to dig deep if they are to escape from this with a draw.
Monday, November 29th, 2010
One by one, the records fell.
By the time Andrew Strauss called Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott in – yes, that would be the same two who started the day with their team only 88 runs ahead – England had not just sacked Fortress Gabba, they had taken up residence and were throwing a party complete with hookers, coke and midgets.
In a veritable orgy of statsporn, England’s second innings total of 517-1 declared, with Cook on 235 and Trott on 135, encompassed the following milestones:
- This is only the 6th time a team has passed 500 without losing more than one wicket. It is also England’s highest total for one wicket down.
- Alastair Cook’s 235 not out is the highest Test innings at the Gabba, surpassing Don Bradman’s 226 against South Africa in 1931.
- Cook’s 329-run stand with Trott is the highest by an England pair in Australia, and, perhaps most satisfyingly, is the highest partnership ever at the Gabba, usurping Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin’s 307-run stand in the same match.
Who could ever have predicted all this when Andrew Strauss directed only the third ball he faced straight into the hands of Mike Hussey at gully on Day 1?
It’s been a strange match, a roller coaster of a match; a match where if you were an England fan you girded your loins and prayed that England would escape the Gabba with at least their dignity intact.
They have done more than this, much more. Aside from the bare facts of the draw, and the graphs and charts and numbers that flashed up on the screen with almost dizzying regularity during Cook and Trott’s marathon stand, the psychological advantage England now has heading into the 2nd Test is perhaps the most important accoutrement they will take with them on the plane to Adelaide.
Alastair Cook’s celebration on reaching his double ton was an unalloyed joy to watch. I am holding my hand up here to admit he has never been my favourite player; the flaws in his technique, big runs scored against small opposition, his early anointing as future captain by the England management for no immediately obvious reason, are the reasons why I’ve never really warmed to him as a batsman.
He will never be the prettiest of stroke-players, but the fact this knock was so important within the context of the match – salvaging a draw that had looked extremely unlikely after England’s paltry first innings total of 260 – must be recognised for the gutsiness and downright balls it took to compile.
Jonathan Trott continues to be England’s anchor. He now has over 1000 Test runs in 2010, and with his average now at 59.95, is England’s most successful number 3 for 50 years. There has been talk of Ian Bell perhaps being promoted up the order in the future, but Trott has made this position his own and I cannot think of anyone else I’d rather see walking out to the middle when the first wicket goes down.
Australia, if not quite up the proverbial creek, needs to carve itself a paddle and quickly.
Doug Bollinger and a fit-again Ryan Harris have been added to the squad for the 2nd Test after Mitchell Johnson showed his absolute loss of form and confidence with a performance that was nothing short of abysmal. If his Test match could be encapsulated in a single ball, it would be the one he bowled round the wicket to Jonathan Trott and that disappeared down the leg-side for 4 wides.
Steve Harmison would have been able to sympathise.
The Australian selectors, however, may be of another mind entirely.
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
When Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook walked out to open England’s second innings, the task in front of them seemed almost insurmountable.
The mountain they had to climb was one that had been raised up on the back of a six wicket haul for Peter Siddle, and whose peak was lost in the clouds of newspaper headlines praising Michael Hussey’s return from purgatory and his epic stand with Brad Haddin.
As with those two icons of English pluck (and ultimately tragedy) Mallory and Irving, we do not yet know whether Strauss and Cook did enough to lay the foundations of success in avoiding defeat. But by the time Cook and Trott walked back to the pavilion, play suspended for the day due to bad light, England had reached parity and batted themselves into credit for the loss of only their captain.
And a captain’s innings it was, too. That England will start the last day of this Gabba Test on 309-1, 88 runs ahead, is due in large part to the perfect instance of a skipper leading by example. Anything wide of off-stump was cut away; charges down the wicket ceased to become a novelty from this normally staid batsman, and we were treated to several sumptuous cover-drives – a sure sign that Andrew Strauss is up for taking the fight to the opposition.
When he fell for 110, stumped (for the first time in his career) off the bowling of part-timer Marcus North, his partnership with Cook was worth 188, the highest English partnership ever at the Gabba. When Cook brought up his 14th Test hundred with a sweetly-timed cut to the boundary, it was the first time both England openers had scored centuries against Australia since 1938.
That the wicket played flat and the bowling was toothless should not detract from England’s achievement yesterday, but Australian eyes will be focused in particular on Mitchell Johnson who seems to have suffered an almost catastrophic crisis of confidence.
Victory for England is almost certainly out of the question, but after finding themselves all out for 260 in the first innings, a draw will feel almost as good.
Base camp has been reached; the tent pegs hammered in; but there is still a long way to climb. As all adventurers know, sometimes the conditions have a habit of suddenly turning nasty.
All it will take will be for Johnson to rediscover his mojo, even temporarily, and if more than two wickets fall in the morning session, the climb to safety could yet turn out to be a rocky one.
But if England can continue where they left off when Cook and Trott take their guard this morning, the clouds obscuring the summit might just begin to lift.