England have been freed from Alastair Cook’s mindless batting but sadly also from Alastair Cook

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Alastair Cook has looked jaded. The modern way is to throw things away when they’re past their best. They left it too late, but we’d have had a go at recycling.

A routine can be a great way to continue doing things well. Once things start to deteriorate, it can be an even better way of doing things worse and worse and worse.

Cook seems to have been stuck in a downward spiral in recent times. Every opening bowler has known exactly how he was going to play to the extent that plans don’t even need discussing any more. Cook has responded to this by batting in the same position in pretty much exactly the same way.

We all know by now there’s no changing the second part of that, but maybe he would have found batting at three an invigorating change. It seems such a small thing and might in practice have only seen him arrive at the crease one ball later, but it would have rocked Cook’s world.

Doing things that feel very different can sometimes derail you from a somewhat mindless routine. It can force you back to the more fundamental thinking that first gave rise to what was once a very effective way of going about things and which is the real basis for your success.

That particular double espresso has of course been rejected, but England will still get a brand new opening partnership.

Breaking up the rigid, passive, left-handed opening partnership

As opening partnerships go, Cook and Keaton Jennings was the opposite of alchemy. Two valuable materials were combined to create something entirely worthless.

The two players were entirely non-complementary, each serving as entirely non-threatening practice for bowling at the other. Bowlers got in a  groove so magnificently perfect even Bootsy Collins was jealous.

We’d give Jennings a go batting with someone else. Pick at least two qualities out of right-handed, aggressive and adept at finding singles.

Equality in the opening partnership

This is important too, we feel. Walking out to bat with Alastair Cook in the last couple of years has been a hugely diminishing thing to do.

Doubtless you’re supposed to be all pro cricketer, alpha male unfazed by it, but it’s just such a fundamentally unbalanced thing to do. Would you even bother offering him a titbit of advice if something scudded across your consciousness, or would you just leave him to it?

Would it feel like you were one half of a partnership or just the main guy’s latest short-lived fling?

Maybe there was a way that Alastair Cook could have carried on, but a new opening partnership was long overdue.


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21 Appeals

  1. I am grateful to Cook for continuing to play Test cricket after stepping down as captain, for a while there it was looking like being appointed captain was the equivalent of a Lifetime Acheivement award.

    Also, how long until Moeen is asked to ‘fill in’ and open the batting in a Test?

  2. Now England need replacements for Strauss, Cook & Trott !

    Who will it be …
    … Root, Vince & Moeen ?

  3. I think he has gone on for a season too long. England could have tried out 4 or 5 openers over the course of the 7 tests this season to find 3 that worked reasonably well. Now, you pick 3 that hope will be able to play the turning ball and send them off to Sri Lanka, and then hope that they can manage Roach, Gabriel and Taylor when they tour the West Indies right after.

  4. Still not convinced he went on too long because he has had lean spells before. I’m not technically qualified to judge if the recent one is harder to recover from but he did get some good balls this series. He did seem under a cloud though and I wonder if he was starting to dwell too much on when to call it a day – it was reminding me of his steely gloom towards the end of his ODI career.

    I wonder whether someone in the England management team had, or should have had, The Conversation with him – we back you and believe you can get back to your best, but something has to change. Whether that’s a spell in county cricket or setting up a spell of Sheffield Shield or NZ equivalent over winter or a different batting position or some shakeup of the training regime. Or something else entirely. Maybe there was no solution. But when the same old, same old has stopped working then it is at least worth having a go – I can’t believe that Cook is so one-dimensional a batsman that if his one way stopped working then nothing else would.

  5. I have thought for some while that Cook should have tried batting at 3 again – it might even have solved that particular England problem.

    Perhaps Cook felt that his powers were waning, in which case the batting position issue was an irrelevance.

    33 is young for waning powers, but Cook has been a permanent fixture in the England test side for over 12 years; a remarkable run.

    To try and contextualise it, I recalled Cook’s test debut, which took place at the beginning of March 2006, on the day Daisy and I flew from Addis Ababa to Zanzibar, towards the end of the following remarkable holiday, mostly touring in Ethiopia, which was utterly fascinating:

    http://ianlouisharris.com/2006/03/09/ethiopia-and-zanzibar-placeholder-and-links-16-february-to-9-march-2006/

    We did listen to a fair chunk of that test match while on the beach in Zanzibar, a relaxing end to our holiday.

    Earlier today I did battle with and got thrashed by a 12-year-old tennis player, a junior champion who I’m sure is destined to excel at any hand/eye sport he chooses. That precocious youngster was only a few weeks old when Cook debuted for England in Spring 2006 and wasn’t even born the previous summer, when England won the Ashes in such thrilling style. 12 years is a long time in sport.

    • I am 33, Ged, and my powers are definitely waning. I can’t remember when they were waxing.

      • My sporting skills never waned, because they never waxed.

      • I feel your pain, APW & Marees. The only waxing I have experienced is in my ears, not between them.

        My pain, following yesterday’s thrashing by a pre-teen, is more physical than mental this morning.

        Daisy tried to sort out the mental side of it by suggesting that I should be flattered that the pros thought I would give that kid a good enough game.

        It’ll be a visit to the chiropractor this morning to sort out the physical pain.

  6. I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    Having Cook as the fixture at one end meant that the search for a new opening PAIR was a necessarily flawed idea. The question should have been, “Which players can play together to make this work?”. Instead, the question was, “Which player can make something out of the sow’s ear of a partnership with a desperately out-of-form but undroppable player at the other end?” And the answer to this wrong question was, inevitably, “Nobody”.

    Here is some analysis. Cook opened with Jennings in the previous eight test innings. They scored 150 each in these matches. Cook outscored Jennings five times, Jennings outscored Cook three times. Carrying on that list, with Cook’s opening partner and who scored the most:

    Stoneman 12, Cook 8
    Jennings 5, Cook 7
    Hamed 2, Cook 3
    Duckett 2, Cook 2
    Hales 7, Cook 13
    Ali 1, Cook 4
    Lyth 10, Cook 3

    That’s a total of 87 innings, in which Cook outscored his opening partner 45 times and that partner outscored Cook 42 times. That’s pretty close. The score for being dropped, on the other hand, was 7-0 to the other fellow, and would likely have become 8-0. Just look at those stats! Is it that obvious which is the underperforming player, that the same decision is made again and again and again?

    Now as you no doubt know, I have access to all alternative universes. And it turns out that in the one where Lyth was retained, Cook being dropped for Hales, they went on to become easily the finest opening pair England ever had.

    (I’m lying, of course. The best one was where Ian Austin opened with Chris Tavare, and where vanilla milkshakes weren’t fattening. In the Lyth Hales one they ended up having a fist fight with each other at a nightclub in Torremolinos. Bad days, bad days.)

    Finding a good opening pair isn’t easy; there is a lot of luck involved. But it is made impossible when half that pair is already inked in.

  7. I reckon they should go left-field and pick the Robson brothers. I don’t care if Angus has been playing 2nd XI for Sussex.

    —-
    Going back, I don’t remember a time when England didn’t have an established opening batsman of genuine quality. Except for those times in the 80s when Gooch was banned/sulking. No matter how crap England have been in my life, they’ve always had at least one guy up top who was good.

    Boycott -> Gooch -> Atherton (and Stewart) -> Trescothick (and Vaughan) -> Strauss -> Cook … ???

    • I feel the same way. Yet, when I Google the first test series of my lifetime (1962/63 Ashes) the Wikipedia entry includes the following quote:

      “The England middle order batting was its main strength, which with two wicket-keeper-batsmen and four all rounders made up for their lack of a settled opening partnership. [This remained] a problem between the retirement of Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook in 1956 and the emergence of Geoff Boycott and John Edrich in the mid-1960s. ”

      Plus ca change…

      • The openers who were plying their trade when I was begat, are described by cricinfo thus:

        “a twitchy starter, especially when there was movement for the seamers, and was at his most effective at No. 5 or 6”

        and

        “though he much preferred to bat No. 3, England forced him to open because there was no one else”

        Both averaged in the early 30s in an era of great bowlers. What we wouldn’t give…

      • Tavare would not have been a good idea at No 3 back then, whatever he would have preferred. He had a very good technique and was not quite as pedestrian as his urban myth infers.

        Derek Randall was most certainly suited to the middle order and could only be described as a makeshift choice as opener, in the “try Buttler” or “try Moheen” mould.

  8. There’s no way anyone could’ve dropped Cook from the side because he has such incredibly sad eyes. Imagine if he looks up straight at you while you were conveying the news to him. Just imagine. I bet you’d feel like you just killed a kitten while defiling a nun.

    It just couldn’t have been done I tell you — retirement was the only way.

    • Only Sam is missing from the leadership group

    • The lazy eye has always bugged me; looking up straight therefore seems a tad far-fetched. How he’s managed so many runs is a testament to the immense mental powers of the man. Buttler is similarly afflicted.

  9. I’m not convinced entirely about this searching for a new opening ‘pair’ idea as you simply need the best players in there. It is of course possibly true that batting with Cook did not help matters but up until relatively recently he was the best player and so had to play. On Bert’s analysis above about the top scoring idea; I think that is only half the story really (and would require someone more diligent than me to look into it) but if the times when Cook outscored his partners was because he was getting a 50/100 then that means a lot more than Cook nicking off early and the other guy only getting 20. Logic says if the other guy was regularly scoring runs then they would have hung around.

    Also whereas he has well documented fallow periods in the last 18 months in ’16 and ’17 he scored 5 hundreds and 15 50s.

    Right hand opening partnerships are common and so i don’t think necessarily that two left handers are a problem – given especially that Strauss and Cook were a pair that made it work. They just have to be good enough and I think we probably have dropped a couple of the alternatives tried too quickly I think its really only in the last 18-24 months that things have been really grim from a Cook perspective.

    That said i totally agree with Cook to 3 and we should have had Burns in for this test match.

    (My) longest comment ever and overly serious – apologies…

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