Tag: Alastair Cook (page 2 of 7)

Cook and Kohli – captains with and without influence

Alastair Cook

Oh for a captain who knows what it’s like to win a Test series in India. England have had just one such leader since David Gower triumphed way back in 1984-85. It was, er, Alastair Cook.

This probably goes to show that ‘knowing how to win in India’ is just the smallest slice of the equation.

England’s tour

Set aside the fact that this India side is superior to the defeated 2012 vintage for a moment, it’s interesting to contrast the two England teams. The overwhelming difference lies in the bowling.

Back in 2012, we were keen to highlight that England had managed to field three or four wicket-taking bowlers, adding:

“That’s not really been possible in places like India and Sri Lanka before. England normally have one or two bowlers who seem like they might possibly threaten for a bit of the time and then a couple of support acts – either good bowlers who aren’t well-suited to the conditions, or county cricket makeweights who are.”

We’re quoting ourself for an obvious reason. Clearly, we have returned to normality.

In this series, Adil Rashid’s the one bowler who seems like he might possibly threaten for a bit of the time. The other spinners, including Moeen Ali, have effectively been county cricket makeweights. All the seamers bar Stuart Broad have been good bowlers not well-suited to conditions and on this tour unable to transcend them.

Take a look at the averages. It’s nasty stuff, whereas the batsmen have actually performed fairly competently.

It’s interesting to ponder what Rashid’s average might have been if anyone else had been chipping in and he hadn’t spent 90 per cent of his time bowling to set batsmen.

India’s future

On the Indian side of things, Virat Kohli appears to have achieved something beyond even his quarryload of runs. He has put his shoulder to the weighty Indian system and somehow shunted it in a different direction.

The team has historically been reluctant to field five bowlers, preferring instead the insurance of a sixth batsman, even in conditions where runs have been readily available. Kohli has however insisted upon it, even when spinners have been likely to do most of the work.

The effect has arguably been threefold. The remaining specialist batsmen, with another rival vying for their place and greater responsibility thrust upon them, appear to have responded well. The all-rounders and lower-order have also upped their game batting-wise.

In the field, the fresher seamers have been sharper and more incisive, while the fifth bowler has provided an additional option.

It’s easy to say that Kohli’s lucky enough to have the players to do this, but we’d make a strong argument for his having contributed to those players becoming what they currently are.

Conclusion

In the 2012 series, Virat Kohli averaged 31. In this series, he averages 128 and has access to a bowling attack that permits him to attack from all angles.

In 2012, Alastair Cook made three hundreds and had access to a brilliant left-arm spinner, a brilliant right-arm spinner, plus a highly effective version of Jimmy Anderson.

Captaincy’s a piece of piss if you can ensure you inhabit the right year. Sometimes you eat the bear…


Will Alastair Cook deploy the carrot?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

History tells us that when it comes to declarations, Alastair Cook is not a carrot-dangler. History tells us that when the moment comes, the carrot will be unsighted for Pakistan and they will in fact be only dimly aware of its existence.

The match and series situation also hint at a cautious declaration. It is 1-1, there is much on the line and it has taken quite an effort for England to haul their way back into this match. The effort they’ve invested makes even the faintest risk so much less likely. Sunk costs and all that.

Then again, history also tells us that Alastair Cook the batsman is a plodder, yet in this series he’s been positively piratical, slashing the ball to the boundary with a joyous “Ha-haaa!” as if he’s been possessed by the still-very-much-alive Sanath Jayasuriya.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that by the time you read this article, the decision will already have been taken and these few short paragraphs will seem entirely redundant. Might be worth checking the comments though. There’s probably something witty, insightful and still relevant down there.


Alastair Cook in the second division of the County Championship

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We always say that the second division of the County Championship doesn’t count. Hopefully it’s obvious that this is rhetoric.

Our exaggerated stance is not borne of a belief that the cricket played is worthless, but of a perception that some still haven’t quite accepted that it is in any way a lower standard. The sport isn’t always swift on the uptake. When MCC voted on whether or not to allow female members in 1998, it took two votes before the ‘modernisers’ got their way.

We’ve had two divisions for almost as long, but there are still plenty of people who will cite a ‘first-class’ average when pushing the international case of a particular second division player. Alastair Cook has tried to put such figures in perspective so far this season. He has played four County Championship matches and only failed to make a hundred in the first of them, when he made 65 in his only innings.

At the time of writing, he is averaging 156. He is playing in the same match as Moeen Ali, who is averaging 210.

Cook is an exceptional individual, but it’s worth remembering this kind of thing the next time you read an article in which so-and-so’s said to be making waves after averaging 44 – or, more likely, after they’ve made a hundred during a season in which they’re not even averaging that.

Cook’s clearly seeing them well in the second division, so he’ll be hopeful of performing well when he returns to the nets with England.


Alastair Cook is a complete part-timer

Epic, they say. Monumental. Alastair Cook batted for 836 minutes against Pakistan. That’s almost 14 hours. Or, in other words, not even two days’ work for a normal person.

So before we start lauding Cook’s extraordinary powers of concentration, let’s just stop a minute and ponder whether he could spend a full 37 and a half hours working on the same bloody spreadsheet. No six-hour shifts with breaks every two hours either – proper, long, miserable stints where even taking a lunch break is frowned upon.

How would he cope then? It’s pretty easy to avoid playing an airy-fairy cover drive – most of us achieve this goal daily – but how would he cope trying to work out which cell contains a buggered-up formula? How long could he spend methodically entering data without getting a decimal point in the wrong place?

That’s concentration, Alastair. That’s work. What you did was what kids do at playtime.


Alastair Cook does the big shop

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

After sizing up the bowling and briefly treating himself to a strange and hugely entertaining ‘mustn’t handle the ball’ dance, Alastair Cook quickly moved up through the gears. At times he got as high as third. Mostly he sat in second. When there was a break in play, he refuelled, pumped up his tyres (whatever the hell that might entail in this analogy) and then he carried on.

It was Alastair Cook doing the Alastair Cook thing; playing those four Alastair Cook shots and being there for bloody ages.

Like Shoaib Malik’s monumental 245, a Cook innings is hard to take in. It’s hefty but oddly featureless. Really, the whole point is the size. It’s not an exquisite meal out. It’s the weekly big shop.

Attempting to eat a whole week’s food in one go is inadvisable. That’s not the way to go about it. You need to pace yourself, take a step back. What’s important is that at the end of the week, you’re still alive.

The value of being alive is not to be underestimated. It’s hard to enjoy the finer things in life when you’ve lost your anima. One day, Alastair Cook will disappear and England’s health will instantly deteriorate.


Ben Stokes: Brutal Deluxe

There are times for thoughtful analysis and there are times for giddy enthusiasm. Today is clearly the latter.

At the peak of his powers, if you said the name ‘Flintoff’ to someone during a match with the right look in your eye, that person would immediately drop whatever they were doing and rush to the TV because no-one wanted to miss a moment of one of his innings. Already, Ben Stokes seems like Flintoff Deluxe – Brutal Deluxe, if you will.

In this Test, Stokes made 193 runs off 186 balls, hit 30 fours and four sixes. He emerged at 30-4 and at 232-4 and had a massive impact in both situations. He has achieved the impossible and made the arrival of Jos Buttler feel like something of an anticlimax.

A mechanical watch is full of all sorts of sprockets and cogs and springs and screws and when all those components are correctly positioned, everything works satisfyingly smoothly. But then there are other devices, like hammers, which do the job for which they are intended equally well without requiring all that complexity.

Stokes is very much a hammer. Not many of his shots go behind square and each makes a clean percussive sound you rarely hear even in this era of power hitting. This is a batsman who hits the ball with the middle of the bat and propels it forwards. That’s his method and may he never complicate it.

Kudos to Alastair Cook as well. He was there before Stokes and he was there afterwards. It was his day too.

If Stokes enjoyed himself in the afternoon, the morning was no time for fun. There was work to be done. The lawn needed mowing, the dishes needed doing, the laundry needed hanging out. It was only once all those jobs had been ticked off that England could relax and start enjoying themselves. Suppose that’s teamwork or summat.


The week in politics

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Like a tired bear in winter, let’s try and put this to bed for a few days. Maybe it’ll have to get up again at some point next week to go for a wee, but we’re kind of hoping that we can concentrate on the New Zealand series from now on.

As far as we can tell, this is how it’s gone…

Colin Graves told Kevin Pietersen that if he came back and played county cricket and maybe made a triple hundred, he couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team. He said this because he genuinely couldn’t see why he wouldn’t get back in the team.

Then, while Graves was in the Caribbean, he discovered that England’s captain, Alastair Cook, was adopting a ‘him or me’ position on the issue. Not mad keen on having Joe Root as Test captain just yet, the ECB opted for ‘me’ in favour of ‘him’ and tried to ham-fistedly make the best of that.

Kevin Pietersen came back, played county cricket, made a triple hundred and requested his place in the side. Andrew Strauss broke the news to him.

This is perhaps why, at the press conference the following day, Strauss said that Pietersen wouldn’t play for England ‘this summer’, while adding that he couldn’t offer guarantees beyond that. He was basically just acknowledging that there are two possible scenarios.

  1. England win the Ashes, Cook stays, Pietersen remains excluded
  2. They lose, Cook goes and Joe Root – who has just been named vice captain – takes over

Cook presumably feels the presence of uppity Pietersen with his inability to keep his trap shut makes captaining the side impossible. If the public comes to accept the version of events outlined above, he may come to reclassify that particular ‘impossible’ as merely ‘very, very difficult’ in comparison to what he is likely to experience should England start losing this summer.

Strauss said of Peter Moores that every game had become a referendum on whether he should continue to do the job or not. It would be like that, only a hundred times as vitriolic and a thousand times less dignified.

Here’s the real nub of the problem

The main problem, as we see it, is that some people seem to think that being England captain is a big deal; like it somehow elevates you above all other England cricketers. If Alastair Cook didn’t see captaincy as something to aspire to, he could have acknowledged that it wasn’t especially his thing at the very outset and instead busied himself with the greatly more important job of scoring Test runs. Pretty much everyone would have liked him more for it.

You’d never get this kind of thing with Pakistan. Pakistan would have had about nine different captains by now and everything would have been much less chaotic as a consequence.


Alastair Cook hasn’t made a hundred since yesterday

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Restart the clock.

This may have been all of 10 runs more than he made just a handful of Tests ago, but it rewrites a tired script. Suddenly people can’t fall back on ‘hasn’t made a hundred since…’ and so they’re instead forced to look at the facts. Those facts are that Alastair Cook has been scoring quite a lot of runs in Test cricket of late.

Cook knew that the fifties didn’t really count though. He knew their value would only be seen in the light of a three-figure score. The man has more grit than a resurfaced rural road. Having painstakingly worked his way past fifty five times in his previous eight Test innings, he started again from nought. Again he wrung painfully deliberate runs out of this West Indian attack. Again he put the hours in.

He nurdled, worked and occasionally hoicked it to leg; he ignored the ball when it could be ignored; and when he called a team-mate through for a single that was never there, he ensured it was a homicidal single, not a suicidal single. He did everything in his power to ensure he reached three figures and for once, no-one stepped in at the last minute to deny him.

It meant a lot to him. You could tell. He even let fly a huge, bestial roar.


Joe Root makes a hundred on The Day of Inevitable Fifties

Joe Root and a load of grass

For a while it seemed as if no-one would make it all the way – even if it had felt inevitable that several of them would get halfway. Trott was out for 59, Cook for 76 and then Ballance for 77. They were creeping closer and it was Root who added that crucial extra digit.

If you don’t think the third figure matters all that much, ask Alastair Cook, who must continue to endure “hasn’t made a hundred since…” comments even though he made a 95 all of four Tests ago.

The overnight score hinted that there were runs to be had and none of the fifties were a surprise. They were just steady, reliable batsmen on a steady, reliable pitch making steady runs – you could rely on them to do that.

Root, however, is at present even more reliable than your trusty old hammer and somehow achieves this while scoring at a fair old lick. This was his sixth Test fifty on the bounce, a period during which he’s scored at about 70 runs per hundred balls.

Only one thing could possibly have outshone Root and that was an unholy melding of mischief, humour and knobheadery. Step forward Marlon Samuels, who opted to send-off Ben Stokes with an ashen-faced salute, hat clasped to his heart.

This infuriating goading was all the better for the fact that Stokes isn’t really the kind of person who’s at all happy to laugh at himself – particularly moments after picking out a fielder in the deep. He’s more the kind of person to call you a C-word, before calling himself a C-word, before calling some inanimate object a C-word, before attempting to dismantle that inanimate object with his fists. This is pretty much what he did, although now the rest of the team are wise to his punchy rage-venting, they presumably wrapped him in a giant duvet onesie in a bid to prevent self-annihilation.


Is Alastair Cook a plodder? How long does it take to diagnose ploditis?

Alastair Cook and all that them battings and that and them and that

Alastair Cook says that he’s doing everything he possibly can to try and turn his form around. This begs a rather obvious question. If you’re practising really, really hard and doing everything you possibly can to prepare, but you’re still not scoring runs – what does that actually say about your ability?

At least if you’re dossing about in practice and turning up for matches half-cut, there’s an obvious way to improve your returns. If you’re preparing assiduously and you’re still crap, it might be that you’re simply not cut out for the job.

A bit of a plodder

Mike Atherton’s doing a good job of not saying ‘I told you so’. That’s possibly because he’s a mature, level-headed individual who has inexplicably found himself in the world of English cricket. Back when Cook was made one-day captain, Athers called him a plodder. A fair assessment, you’d have thought, but when Cook then made a bunch of runs in impressive fashion that summer, there were a few digs.

Verbal battles and wars. Fast forward three years and Cook has spent a hell of a lot of the intervening period being a plodder. Athers was fundamentally right and the case for making Cook one-day captain appears to have been exposed as a poor one. Most of the fans’ anger revolves around what is (and isn’t) happening now, but the real mistake came long ago. It’s strange to say this about such a conservative organisation, but picking Cook as one-day captain was a gamble.

What happened to Cook’s batting?

Is Cook out of form or is this actually the norm? Maybe it’s the latter.

To provide some context, after six months or so as captain, we concluded that Cook was quite possibly England’s best one-day batsman. Crucially, we qualified that with an ‘at the minute’.

In the summer of 2011, he averaged 58 in 10 matches, scoring at a run a ball. The following winter, he averaged 50 in nine matches and while he scored a little bit slower, he made a couple of hundreds and three fifties. Worth his place in the side? Absolutely.

Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? It was. In his last 20-odd matches, he’s made one fifty.

Maybe he got found out. When Cook took over as captain and made all those runs, he still did it in a rather limited way. His new ‘expansive’ game seemed to hinge almost entirely on the slog-sweep to cow corner.

At the time, we described his use of the shot as being like when a bad husband repeatedly brings flowers. It seemed little more than an apologetic gesture designed to distract from major shortcomings. It was odd that it worked, but even the most flower-loving wife will see through such a shallow ruse eventually.

The menu

Unsurprisingly, opponents have taken the slog-sweep off the menu. They’re serving up off-spin in the first over instead. Cook doesn’t appear to like the taste.

Cook has a place in Test cricket’s All-You-Can-Eat Hall of Fame, but he’s picky. He doesn’t like mushrooms ‘because they’re slimy’ and he won’t eat anything with bones in it. You need to have broader tastes in one-day cricket. You need to eat everything because there’s only a finite amount on offer.

Test cricket involves endless courses, so you can pick at dishes you don’t like and gorge on those you do. One-day cricket is more of a taster menu. Miss out on anything and you risk going hungry. In the last year, Cook has basically starved.


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