Was it tantamount to cheating for Essex to have Alastair Cook in the Bob Willis Trophy final?

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Essex won the Bob Willis Trophy because they scored more first innings runs than Somerset in the final. Essex made 337-8 and Somerset made 301. Alastair Cook scored 172. Only one other Essex player passed 30.

There is something satisfying about this; the idea that the best players are very obviously better. Sometimes the margins in elite sport are small and one player will get selected over another despite there being nothing much between them. This is not a very awe-inspiring thing.

Does it feel remarkable to watch the top percentile of a marginal gains competition trying to out marginal-gain each other? Or is it perhaps a little more exciting to feel like you’re watching strange beasts from another dimension engaged in a titanic tussle?

Test cricket is better when we think of the cast as outliers. That’s why it’s reassuring that after quietly monstering Test bowling attacks for 12 years, Alastair Cook quietly monstered a county one. It means he’s different.

But at the same time, what on earth does Cook think he’s doing? What business did he have being there, playing in that match?

Perhaps some of Cook’s 257 international matches felt less pressured than this domestic final, but the odds are he wasn’t wracked with nerves in a way that quite a few of the other players will have been.

There’s being ‘other’ and then there’s just playing the wrong level of sport.

Watch footage of Cook batting in the Bob Willis Trophy final and you will be struck by his demeanour between deliveries. We tend to think of him as a nervy, anxious sort, stumbling over his words, but he looked more laid-back than we’ve ever seen him before. This level of big match pressure was imperceptible to him.

Day to day, in the County Championship or the league stage of the Bob Willis Trophy, Cook is a top batsman. Add a bit more tension and pressure to the mix though and the difference becomes more pronounced. At this point he’s basically bringing alien technology to the fight.

Everyone else is tooled up with knives and meat cleavers, like in Gangs of New York, and Cook turns up in his spaceship having concocted an organic compound which can mutate other life forms and create hostile new species.

It is not a fair fight.

This rampant superiority is great for how we think about Test cricket, but it did give a bit of a Competitive Dad feel to the final of the Bob Willis Trophy.

17 comments

    1. That was the other things we almost wrote about today. Was in two minds and probably the wrong decision, but .co.uk swung it.

  1. A top county side shouldn’t be considered a full step below Test match level, I reckon. I suspect quite a few Division 2 sides would fancy their chances in a 5-day game against Zimbabwe, Ireland or Afghanistan, while a champion side ought to have their sights somewhat higher up the Test rankings. Maybe count them as half a step below Test level. Levels overlap I think.

    What feels a bit more “cheaty” to me, is when county sides bring in “their” England players who haven’t actually played for them for ages, or an overseas pro for two matches or so. The Chef’s been grafting away for Essex this year, so on that basis they’re entitled to his services. And he rose to the occasion – the usually-not-entirely-misleading sign of a class player – bearing in mind he’s been very good but not God Mode good for the rest of the competition.

    1. Joe Root returning to Yorkshire, who is is obviously committed to, feels OK.

      KP returning to whoever could put up with him at the time to score a triple century purely to thumb his nose at Strauss felt less so.

  2. Once Cook retires, no doubt with another first class trophy under his belt for Essex, I think he should become England’s Test batting coach.
    Maybe he could teach Sibley the art of the cut.

  3. Or maybe he could go into broadcasting full time.
    He would be a great replacement for Vaughn on TMS.
    In fact anyone would be a good replacement, even Lebron James.

  4. I was thinking this the other day when Root was on 50 off 20-something balls without breaking a sweat in the Roses T20. Then he started trying to sweep everything for no good reason and got flustered and this contributed to his run out to an extent. So maybe they’re not “that” much better.
    Generally though, he was just a class above. Even with his bowling to an extent. Since when is being “too good” a problem in pro sport though? Get better if you don’t like it!! It’s not really “fair” that Buttler wasn’t playing for Lancashire too though. Seems wrong that some do and some don’t make themselves available/aren’t allowed to play. Anyway. This is a long comment. Time to shut up.

    1. Root seems the sort of guy that will play for Yorkshire because he loves cricket even if he hasn’t seen his family for months.
      Whereas, Buttler would probably rather see his family than play for Lancashire.

  5. The player I remember seeing as a kid who looked completely out of place in a county side was Barry Richards.

    He just seemed to have so much more time than any other batsman.

    To some extent of course Cook looked streets ahead of the pack in the Bob Willis final, but so did young Lammonby in the second dig. Well impressed I was.

    1. In the late ‘90s or early ‘00s (I considered using the word ‘noughties’ but felt a bit sick), I was sitting in Edgbaston’s Eric Hollies stand during a county game. I was the only person there. Mark Ramprakash slog-swept a six which landed perilously close to me. Match report ends.

      1. Was that the old Eric Hollies Stand (known as the Rea Bank Stand when I were a lad) or the current thing that went up in 2003?

        I never experienced the old one on a county day, but the new one is really weird when it is empty. It is simply meant to be a heaving cauldron of thousands of (mostly drunken) fans. It’s not meant to be an echoing, empty space with just me and a couple of companions watching county championship cricket.

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