Monday, 21 July 2014

Alastair Cook, England's saddest puppy

Imagine a sad puppy. One who has had its favourite toy taken away from him and is now sat in the corner, staring at you with big pleading eyes. It hurts to look at it and yet you can't help but look.

Multiply that by ten. That's Alastair Cook at the moment.

He sat on the Lord's balcony, eyes hidden behind sunglasses but with a look of detached bewilderment on his face. He'd just watched his side take team unity to a whole new level as three batsmen decided to get out to the exact same shot. Ishant Sharma, a man who has lost more games that he has won for India, had just bounced England out. Bounced them out on a pitch that was tailor-made for Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson. That hurts.

It hasn’t been a slow decline for England so much as a free-fall since the winter. Bullied by Mitchell Johnson, out-thought by Ryan Harris and his bionic knee, very little has gone right for England, and Cook, since. There's been some dreadful moments in between - at least losing to the Netherlands was slightly funny. Losing to Sri Lanka at Headingley hurt but this loss at Lord's was worse.

England looked the gift-pitch in the mouth and squandered it. They bowled short on a pitch that begged for a full length. Matt Prior conceded his 50th bye of the season and celebrated by dropping a couple of catches, just for good measure. Anderson look jaded; Broad bowled one decent over and surrounded it with several overs of dross; Liam Plunkett bowled short and wide and Moeen Ali was left to languish at fine leg, rather than bowl.

Cook is trying. He is trying so hard and yet somehow that makes the situation ten times more pitiful. Watching him battle on the fourth day, playing one commanding shot before blocking, prodding and poking as he simply tried to stay at the crease and find some form, was painful. He is not a natural leader. He lacks the statesman-like qualities of Strauss, the ability to motivate a team that Vaughan had. He doesn’t feel like he can demand more from his senior players because they are his senior players; they’ve won test match after test match, they took England to number one in the world, how can he ask them to change if they’ve done all that?

But something has to change. This was Headingley all over again. The only difference was the opposition and the speed with which the end came. At least this time there was no false hope as Anderson blocked out 55 balls to try and save the game.

Two bowlers who have a combined 167 Test caps to their name were shown how to bowl on a green pitch by a bowling attack from the sub-continent. The wicket-keeper who saved the game for England against New Zealand two years ago flapped at balls behind the stumps and was barely better when standing in front of them with a bat in hand. Ian Bell has disappeared when Cook needs him most. Cook might not be the most able tactician but he deserves more from these players.

If he can’t get any more from them, if Prior is physically unable to cope with the demands of a Test match, if Anderson is so exhausted that he cannot carry on, then Cook should let them go. He shouldn’t cling to past successes and hope that they will reappear. They won’t.

The ECB have taken a similar stance with Cook, hoping beyond hope that a man with 25 Test hundreds can rediscover the form that has all but deserted him. He can’t. That much was clear as he wafted his bat to another delivery outside the off stump and edged behind. Enough is enough.

Cook the captain and Cook the batsman are not too completely separate entities. His performance during England's successful tour of India showed that. But right now, England need Cook the batsman. What will they miss if Cook is no longer captain? In all honesty, nothing.

England cannot develop this new era while clinging so desperately to the old one. It is best for everyone if they just let it go.

1 comment:

  1. S'funny, of all the people written off over the last year, it was only Prior who a) really was done and dusted and b) in need of being written out (hearing Swann describe how Prior was in charge of "The Bubble" was fairly cringeworthy and smacked of something pulled from out takes of The Office).