Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 22nd May 2024

Cook's one-day career ended by barrage of tin drums

Personal View: Charles Randall

In club cricket, changing the captain of a weak team would not usually improve results. The same would apply to all cricket. If sacking the leader was the answer, Bangladesh would have to appoint half a dozen captains a year while they struggle to justify their international status.

England, though, are not allowed to have a weak team without recrimination. After Alastair Cook's one-day players are flattened by a very good Sri Lanka side, the ECB might have pointed out that changing the captain would not improve the team's quality just before the World Cup in Australia. That would be the truth, but naturally no such diminishing comment could be made publicly however much it needed saying.

A media bandwagon picked up momentum with a grinding din that ended with the sacking of Cook. A fruitful run-making trip to Sri Lanka would have saved him whatever the result, but he failed at the crease, and the selectors did not hold their nerve, opting for Eoin Morgan.
At press conferences Cook himself seemed to imply as captain that he could not make 10 other blokes play better as though by magic. He commented that he hoped the group would “learn” from each thumping defeat. Sri Lanka had superior players, but that was not emphasised in the media and Cook could not really say as much. Take Kumar Sangakkara as just one example of experience and effectiveness. The left-hander clocked up his 368th one-day innings, averaging 46.52 against England at a cracking rate of 88 runs per 100 balls.

Inexperienced England have a few good players, including Morgan and Joe Root. There are no finished articles of world class apart from possibly James Anderson. His high ability with pace and swing was not available in Sri Lanka, which was unfortunate for Cook. England's bowlers were terribly ineffective. Sri Lanka scored at about six an over in five games, winning four of those in the 5-2 series success. In those circumstances the batting was less 'to blame' than widely assumed.

A media crescendo called for the removal of Cook, as though this would be a natural solution. Michael Vaughan said in the Daily Telegraph that the decision was “simple” because Cook was not making runs in a losing side. He urged the selectors to go for Morgan. “I know he is not in great form,” Vaughan added blithely as though Morgan's poor form in Sri Lanka was alright and Cook's better form wasn't.

Another former England captain Nasser Hussain said in the Daily Mail that his choice for captain would be Morgan “at his best” when Morgan had been below his best in 2014 and well below his best in Sri Lanka. Not very helpful, as Cook “at his best” would presumably not have been sacked in the first place.

Having called for Cook's removal, Hussain added by way of afterthought that the England's bowling was “an even bigger worry than the batting”. So was Cook to blame or not? Hussain seemed to have no idea.

Even George Dobell, the respected chief cricket correspondent for ESPNcricinfo, went all airy-fairy on the subject of captaincy. One could understand former England captains trying to appear trenchant in newspaper columns without substance, but after the announcement of Cook's sacking George reckoned Morgan as captain “symbolised a new start”. Unlike pundits, selectors don't have the luxury of “symbolism” in their decisions.

“Morgan's appointment is a risk,” conceded Dobell, looking to February's World Cup, “but England had little to lose. Under Cook they were sleepwalking to almost certain failure. At least, this way, they should go down fighting. And, with a young side, they have the opportunity to build for campaigns long in the future.” No mention of scarce bowling resource. Just defeat again, but a different sort.

These pundits were far from alone in their view, but the ECB should not have been influenced by a barrage of tin drums. It remains here to wish England well  under their new captain as they leave for Australia on 6 January for a tri-series against Australia and India ahead of the World Cup.

Some one-day statistics:
Cook innings 92, ave 36.41, rate 76.96 per 100 balls
Bell 146, ave 36.62, SR 76.18
Morgan 123, ave 36.52, SR 85.75
Root 41, ave 41.61, SR 79.89
Pietersen 136, ave 40.73, SR 86.5
Vaughan 83, ave 27.12, SR 68.39
Hussain 87, ave 30.29, SR 66.99

England open their World Cup campaign on 14 February against Australia in Melbourne with, as so often before, low expectations. The hope must be that the return of Sri Lanka absentees Anderson and Stuart Broad can give the bowling a lift.

The England Lions selectors have handed club cricket products the chance to excel. They include batsman Sam Billings (Hartley Country Club CC), fast bowler Matt Dunn (Banstead CC), batsman Jason Roy (Reigate Priory CC), seamer Craig Overton (North Devon CC) and off-spin all-rounder Adam Riley (Bexley CC).

England one-day squad

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex, capt)
Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)
James Anderson (Lancashire)
Gary Ballance (Yorkshire)
Ian Bell (Warwickshire)
Ravi Bopara (Essex)
Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire)
Jos Buttler (Lancashire)
Steven Finn (Middlesex)
Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire)
Chris Jordan (Sussex)
Joe Root (Yorkshire)
James Taylor (Nottinghamshire)
James Tredwell (Kent)
Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

England Lions four-day squad

Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire, capt)
Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire)
Sam Billings (Kent)
Jack Brooks (Yorkshire)
Matthew Dunn (Surrey)
Alex Lees (Yorkshire)
Adam Lyth (Yorkshire)
Craig Overton (Somerset)
Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire)
Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire)
Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)
Adam Riley (Kent)
Sam Robson (Middlesex)
James Vince (Hampshire)
Mark Wood (Durham)

England Lions one-day squad

Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire)
Sam Billings (Kent)
Jack Brooks (Yorkshire)
Harry Gurney (Nottinghamshire)
Alex Lees (Yorkshire)
Adam Lyth (Yorkshire)
Craig Overton (Somerset)
Stephen Parry (Lancashire)
Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire)
Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire)
Boyd Rankin (Warwickshire)
Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)
Jason Roy (Surrey) 
Ben Stokes (Durham)
James Vince (Hampshire)