England’s leadership debacle

Alastair Cook’s unusually conservative captaincy terminated England’s dominance over Australia and certainly has done no favours in promoting the game of test cricket.

Cook said that he and Coach Andy Flower are still the right combination to drive England forward. Right, so are Dennis Dugan and Adam Sandler.

Test cricket can ill-afford to stand still and tolerate slow overrates, corrupt administrators, and captains who clearly have little interest in inspiring the paying public and struggle to latch onto the game’s pulse.

Expecting the BCCI… I mean, the ICC, to behave as a guardian angel to cricket’s oldest form is like expecting Michael Slater to ask a post-match question other than, “How does it feel” (C’mon Slats! I’m beginning to only like you for, one, your nickname and, two, for the time you jumped onto the stage and drunkenly sang at the conclusion of another Allan Border Medal Night).

Players, and importantly, captains, are primarily responsible to ensure that not only test cricket remains cricket’s ultimate form, but also that the game remains relevant in a fiercely competitive commercial environment. In partnership with Flower, Cook has failed to do so.

Cricket’s relevancy, domestically and internationally, is a serious issue. For all of the Twenty20 insanity, retired washed-up athletes competing under a lame marketing-fueled slogan, ‘battle of the bashes’, is not top-class competition – nor inspiring entertainment. Heck, the players might be telling the truth that they do take the competition seriously. But the fact remains that Australians and other cricket lovers are accepting second-rate competition.

Let’s say, hypothetically, basketball faced the crossroads following the NBA relapsing back into its cocaine-fueled-orgy days (stay with me). Sure, we would all love to see a 50-year-old Michael Jordan hit the hardwood again in some pseudo- basketball league to help basketball remain one of the world’s most popular sports. Yet, if this Jordan-led retiree league (mixed in with talented young players) was what we pinned our hopes on to reinvigorate basketball in the long term (STAY WITH ME!), then the integrity and standard of the game would be further cheapened. Yes, millions of people would tune in for another glance of MJ, but the core problems would still exist in basketball. Bums on seats do not always accurately measure the sport’s state of health.

Ummm, anyway, back to England’s mess.

I imagine playing under Cook and Flower is a bit like enduring Dean Bailey and then Mark Neeld as your coach. Although, at least Cook pretends to be in complete control with his icy stonewall persona on the field.

Despite trailing 2 – 0 leading into the Perth Test, England refused to make tactical adjustments. Following another humiliation in Perth, signs for change were as obvious as Tiger Woods’ sexual appetite for girls whose names ended with two n’s or two e’s, or girls who have names with two k’s or two x’s back to back.

Joe Root batting at number three typified England’s refusal to counterpunch Australia’s fast bowling battery, which was led by Mitchell Johnson. Root is talented, if not slightly overrated, and should have never been asked to man cricket’s most important batting position.

Sure, positional changes and more daring batting wouldn’t have hindered Australia reclaiming the Ashes, but it may have induced a more spirited and fierce contest.

As Shane Warne continually repeats on air, showing positive intent is sometimes just as important then the bottom-line. Your captain shouldering a straight ball delivery is not showing much fortitude.

Five tests and 21 days of cricket were played, and England refused to waiver from its raw conservative tendencies at the crease and in the field.

For such a fine player, Cook exhibits a severe case of Ponting-itis.

Despite England being a model of consistency over the last five years, it’s difficult to say how truly great they were. India faced multiple retirements, Pakistan was dirtier than an inner-city brothel, Mickey Arthur coached Australia, New Zealand alienated Ross Taylor (Player management 101: Do not under any circumstances piss off your lone star talent), and only South Africa championed the world.

How do we characterise England’s era? Every great team consumes an identity that either transforms the way cricket is played or captures a generation of young cricketers’ imaginations. Besides England’s consistency and South African heritage, this era is difficult to define.

For all of Cook’s shortcomings as captain, he remains a key catalyst to England’s revival in 2014 and beyond. Just perhaps not as the man steering the ship.

Meanwhile, Flower might be better off collecting a pen and paper and joining Mickey Arthur’s homework club.


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