‘The worst day of captaincy I have seen at international level in almost twenty-five years’ was how Australian spin legend Shane Warne described Alastair Cook’s performance on the fourth day of England’s test match against Sri Lanka last week.
The day played host to a monumental English batting collapse, with the first five wickets being lost for just 57 runs with Cook only contributing 16 of them after being bowled by Dhannika Prasad following a horribly misjudged pull shot. It seems fitting that a man experiencing such a torrid time with the bat should be dismissed following the attempt at a shot that had previously been one of his most prolific.
Predictably, when one of the greatest bowlers of all time comes out with a comment such as that, the cricketing world takes note but Warne’s critique should be put in context as both him and Piers Morgan (another one of Cook’s fiercest critics) are both close friends with former England batsman Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen was obviously recently dismissed from England’s plans by the ECB, with Cook thought to have had a decisive influence on the decision and tensions still exist between the former team-mates.
Nonetheless, it is undeniable that a lot of Warne and Morgan’s condemnations are valid with their criticisms centring largely around Cook’s form with the bat. In his last 24 innings, he has managed to secure just 601 runs at an average of 25 which completely contrasts his overall Test average for England of 45.
Cook looks a shadow of the player he used to be with bat in hand and at international standard cricket, a team simply cannot afford to be carrying members of their batting order (particularly towards the top) which is something England have unfortunately been seen doing on too many occasions with their captain. A lot of his dismissals have simply been too cheap for a man of his quality and his inability to push on for scores above 50 have been painfully apparent in recent matches.
It is probably a fair comment to assert that Cook hasn’t the been the same batsman since becoming captain, with only two centuries being secured since the start of 2013, but it is his captaincy itself that has come under most scrutiny from his critics.
During England’s catastrophic tour of Australia last winter, Cook was accused of using defensive fields and seeking to build-up pressure on opposition batsman rather than constantly seek wickets. Certainly his performance as captain was in contrast to his opposite number Michael Clarke who effectively employed the talents of bowlers like Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon to wreak havoc in the English batting order.
I personally have also held serious doubts over the timing of many of Cook’s declarations which have recurrently appeared too conservative, meaning England had posted an unreachable score but without enough time to ensure the opposition’s ten wickets were taken. He was guilty of this again in the second test match with Sri Lanka when he allowed Gary Balance to secure his maiden test century instead of throwing down the gauntlet in the afternoon session and giving England’s bowlers well over four sessions to secure a win going into the final test. A laudable act, but there is little room for niceties in test cricket, as the fact that the final two test matches of the series came to down to the last few overs demonstrates.
As a man, I have no doubt that Cook is the right man for the job however. He is well-spoken, calm and logical whilst also possessing the capability of making hard decisions, as shown by his encouragement of isolating Kevin Pietersen from the international scene. He comes across extremely well in media interviews as well and is arguably very much the quintessential English cricket captain; uncontroversial, respectable and solid.
Yet this solidity is shaking and with his batting form at an all-time low, his position is rightly under question before a crucial home series with India, one of the world’s most dangerous cricket teams.
I do think Cook should be given one final chance however and should seek the refuge of his county Essex in order to try and rectify his batting, work on his technique and clear his head before what is bound to be some of the most crucial few months of his careers.
When Cook is in form, as he was in the Ashes series of 2010-11, he is truly one of the greatest English batsman to have ever graced the field. He possesses a mental strength that allows him to retain enough concentration to accumulate monumental scores such as his 294 against India at Edgbaston in 2011 and it is this quality which he needs to use to address his weaknesses, seek improvement as both captain/batsman and lead his country into a new generation of English cricket.
With individuals such as James Anderson, Ian Bell and Stuart Board; he is a leader of a team that possesses genuine world-class quality and with promising youngsters such as Moeen Ali, Gary Balance and Joe Root all showing promise in the Sri Lanka test series, I am honestly of the belief that we are on the dawn of another exciting epoch of cricket in England.
I am also equally of the opinion that Cook is the right man to oversee it and believe a resurgence of his batting form will help get the critics of his back and signal genuine improvement in his captaincy as well. Cook must however address his conservative nature and become much more willing to employ attackive tactics to ensure England start winning test matches again. There is nothing wrong with being cautious and safe but this should be balanced with the ability to know when risks should be appropriately taken.
The Oxford Union was the scene of a heated and topical debate on Scottish independence last Thursday. Despite impassioned pleas from the proposition that Scotland should be an independent country, the opposition won the debate. The debate itself, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the scandal overhanging the union at the moment.
Acting President Mayank Banerjee addressed this issue before the debate kicked off, pointing out that “…we live in a country with a legal system where a person is innocent until proven guilty. Ben Sullivan has not yet been proven guilty, this may change in the future and if it does I sincerely hope that he is punished with the full force of the law.’
He then urged the Union to turn its full attention to what proved to be a heated and interesting debate. There were two major bones of contention: one, the problem of an unrepresentative government, and two, the potential economic fallout from independence.
The proposition was quick to incite “Tory-hatred” and annoyance that they are being run by a coalition which they did not vote. Anne McGuire MP pointed out that she, as a Labour MP, did not vote for David Cameron or Alex Samond, but that that is how democracy works – a claim which won the approval of the chamber.
The other major topic discussed in the debate was the economic costs or gains of independence. The opposition was emphatic in its argument that independence would ruin the Scottish economy, but was hampered by a lack of evidence.
The proposition, however, stated that Scotland would be far better off as an independent country; indeed, Tasmina Ahmed-Skeikh stated that Scotland would be the fourteenth-richest country as opposed to England as the eighteenth. However, slightly tired economic arguments were supplemented by fears of radicalism, and proposition speaker Robert Harris argued that it could trigger a resurgence of Irish nationalism.
Pat Kane turned the angle of the debate to culture, and spoke of an independent Scotland thriving by going back to its own heritage. He suggested a return to the Gaelic language as a means of returning to nature – and even as a potential solution to overcoming the difficulties faced by global warming.
The audience was clearly refreshed by this after an hour of economic slanging matches. The Union was in danger, in this debate, of disintegrating into a shouting match as members from the floor engaged in heated exchanges. This undermined the proposition, making them seem desperate to win points without real argument. Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Wallace of Tankerness had to contend with an objection from the floor: cries of “no evidence!” left the politician temporarily speechless.
A controversial and memorable movement in the debate was the first speaker from the floor for the proposition.
He gleefully stated that he couldn’t wait for independence as he thought, after socialism had failed, Alex Salmond would come crawling back to the UK, making the Union stronger than ever.
The proposition in general highlighted some intelligent and thoughtful arguments, often going further than the tired arguments so often wheeled out in the debates for Scottish independence.
However, its arguably extreme language – claiming that the UK sees Scotland as a “colony”, for example – was reminiscent of the “Punch and Judy politics” that Ed Miliband is so keen to avoid in the House of Commons. They were unlikely to convince what seemed from the outset to be a largely pro-Union audience, and so it proved.
Proposition: Georgina Barker, Tasmina Ahmed-Skeikh, Colin Fox, Michael Gray, Pat Kane
Opposition: Robert Harris, Anne McGuire, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, John Dunsmore