Demanding loyalty or earning support

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‘How about we put together a nice cosy environment where everyone goes along with everything Alastair says?’

Imagine we’re not talking about cricket for a second and put yourself in a position where someone’s just said that to you. How do you feel? Do you think that sounds like a good idea? Some bloke called Alastair? Does he know best?

As ever, there’s the fact that we DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL, but if you overlook that minor detail and read the words of yesterday’s ECB statement, that first paragraph feels like the subtext.

“We must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”

No. You earn support. You earn support by making good decisions. Did England lose because the captain didn’t have the full support of his team, or did the captain not have the full support of the team because they were losing?

People should be challenged. Leaders, in particular, need to be challenged – if only because they tend to be the kinds of people who think they know best. The kinds of people who see themselves as leaders are, by and large, less open to other opinions than your average sentient human.

We’ll be honest, our opinion is coloured by our own experiences, but we’ve been in enough work situations where someone has demanded loyalty to know that it is almost always a sign that they have lost control – usually because that person doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

The disappointing part is that we’d kind of warmed to Alastair Cook’s captaincy. Back when he was the anointed one, we were far from onside, but the more Shane Warne slagged him off, the more we thought he was doing plenty right. The on-field tactics were often a bit wobbly, but that’s the kind of thing you can pick up over time. The off-field stuff’s harder and Cook appeared to be keeping things together.

That view would now appear to be massively, massively wrong. A week or so ago, we really felt like this winter battering might have been the making of Cook. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but apparently it can also make you weaker and a little bit insecure.


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  1. Yes. Superbly put.

    It’s been said here before that weak management craves uniformity like Shane Warne craves publicity. The new generation of coaches all seem to want the same thing. Duncan Fletcher (who started it) had a diverse set of players that probably needed a bit of direction, which he provided. But as with all management ideas, what was done to correct a problem soon became a mantra, then an ideology, and finally an obsession. A proper leader shapes diversity into a common goal. As long as people aren’t working in different directions, it shouldn’t matter how an individual goes about it. But that takes skill and subtlety as a leader.

    In football and rugby the interaction between players is so great that brilliant players can have a negative effect on a team. But cricket is not like that. It is more like Ryder Cup golf, a set of individual performances wrapped up in a team game. Just about the only direct interaction a batsman has with his teammates is running between the wickets. When KP is batting, in the actual act of hitting the ball he is on his own. What he does to get himself to the crease in the best shape and what he does to maximise his score when he’s there ought to be entirely up to him.

    To sum up, as almost everyone has been doing recently – hippy, playboy, dour Geordie miner, eccentric fop, and Yorkshire egotist, arranged and directed by an Oxbridge academic. In the brave new world, the first five would have been made “unavailable for selection”.

  2. very good point(s). as for “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – they do indeed say that, it being one of the most overused quotations in recent years, even before that lame-ass pop song came out. (before that, it was usually heavy metal bands who were fond of quoting it. all the bloody time.) anyway, let’s not forget that it was nietzsche who said that: fascinating bloke, brilliant writer, very very clever – and completely disqualified from expressing sensible opinions on human life, since he basically didn’t have one. closeted academic from his early teens, severely limited life experiences, spent his last decade as a physical and mental cripple. dunno about the rest of you, but i’m not looking to him for life-lessons.

  3. The parallels with Gooch and Gower are of course huge. That decision was so bad that one thought it could never happen again.

  4. Cook has been re-anointed, but only as caretaker while England finds someone better IMHO. Nothing else makes sense.

    Am I the only person (other than Daisy) who has been observing Eoin Morgan making a subtle move or three to the front of the chasing pack over the past few days?

    Eoin Morgan is not a yes man. He’s also not Alistair Cook.

    Remember where you read it first.

    1. The Morgan thing’s interesting. We’d certainly like to see him back in the Test team so that there’s an element of ‘this could be interesting’ for fans during England’s innings despite Pietersen’s absence.

    2. Interesting. About 2 years ago I saw a Sky interview with Eoin who stated his ambition was to Captain England. I remember he stated it in such a way that it was a case of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ in his mind. Subsequently his form stuttered slightly and then I felt he seemed to be discarded too easily. Almost as if the powers that be didn’t approve of the lads cheeky ambition.

      He’s clearly come back with a determined attitude to prove himself (remember the oddly defensive ‘earned the right’ to bat at 5 comment?) so it will be interesting to see what comes from this.

      I also remember another interview where teammates unfortunately described him as a ‘quiet’ lad and bit of an ‘introvert’ in the dressing room. Not sure , keeping youself to yourself whlst concentrating on the battle ahead is what England see in a ‘team player’. In this current England set up the main CV dealbreaker to be an England regular is either a conformist ‘Chum’ (Cooke) or equally conformist ‘Joker’ (Swann).

      Morgans window of opportunity, if he gets one, will be brief and he’ll have to pray he takes it with better hands than the England side fielded with for the recent series!

  5. Cook’s captain and thou shalt all fall into line behind him. Thou shalt not question his decisions, nor shalt thou question his indecisions.

  6. Pop quiz, hot shots.

    Who is the only opening batsman to never have been dismissed in his Test match career?

    1. “…only opening batsman to never have been dismissed ”

      That’ll be Clive and Daves brother…Andrew!

    2. Mind you being put in hospital for a week, having blurred vision and never playing test cricket again is not the way I would choose to get that record!

  7. I have to say, I for one feel totally enlightened as to the reasons for KP’s perma-dropping from representing England in all international cricket after the ECB’s clear and unequivocal statement on the matter. Thank you ECB for your consistently transparent decision-making.

  8. I love this blog and have been an avid reader for a few years. The writing is genuinely insightful and pretty funny (as are the comments). These last two Pietersen posts have been a bit bollocks though. It is hard to know what to make of it all, a bit of an information vacuum and everyone really wants to know the details but you might as well put answers on the back of raffle tickets as much as come up with this, “What makes a good leader/manager” stuff. You could say it’s an incredibly strong example of leadership, dropping your best player following a 5-0 kick in the balls but we don’t know so what’s the point?

  9. Pietersen was an employee. Cook is a middle manager (and a perfect example of the Peter Principle).

    Your manager might be utterly incompetent, but you can’t make it clear to him that you know it without suffering disciplinary procedures (up to and including dismissal). You have to grit your teeth and make nice, and wait for him to be re-assigned, then go through the whole charade again.

    We’re definitely still talking about Pietersen here.

  10. The loyalty thing – in my experience its usually expected by folks who really have no understanding of its meaning i.e. ‘I want blind obedience’.
    I once worked [not for very long] for a dickhead who stated ‘I value loyalty over competance’… takes a particular brand of insecurity to value this particular combination.
    Must be one of those traits that 18th schoolboys and the MCC value above all else. ‘Into the breach / over the top chaps’

  11. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — you quoting Kelly Clarkson now?

    Btw, that saying is bullshit. Cutting of a leg won’t kill you, but I’m damn sure it doesn’t make you stronger either.

  12. At least one commenter on the Graun is convinced that Morgan will be the captain in all three formats before too long.

  13. As I alluded to on another thread, the “fitness session” that Cook thought would solve all our problems at 4-0 down really bothers me, regardless of KP’s part in it. It may not quite be Gooch and Gower all over again, but it definitely looks like Gooch all over again. Which is nearly as bad.

    ‘How about we put together a nice cosy environment where everyone goes along with everything Alastair says?’ is absolutely brilliant by the way.

    1. In itself the concept of a single ‘fitness session’ suddenly turning the team into supermen that can run all day is batshit crazy.
      That story (if true) speaks volumes about the kind of leadership that Cook offers.
      Something seems to have gone very very wrong quite a while back, from before KP was dropped in the series against South Africa. As an Australian I can empathise – I am reminded of the transition between Ponting and Clarke as captain, and the purging of Kattich from the team at that time.

  14. Why is it Piers Morgan keeps appearing everywhere like a sort of self appointed England Cricket Tsar?

    I have the same problem with slugs in my garden. They get in the weirdest places. The other day I found one dried out on my kitchen floor. It somehow got in through a locked door.

    I must go to see the bloke in B&Q about the slugs… but does anyone know what to do about my Piers Morgan problem?

    1. Piers Moron ought to have gone to prison years ago for insider dealing. He’s somehow managed to escape the phone hacking probe too, despite being rather heavily implicated.

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