Cricket – One Day International Series
Alastair Cook is the youngest batsmen in the history of the sport to score 8000 runs in Test match cricket. Clearly he is proven at the very highest level but doubts have been raised about his captaincy skills following the Ashes debacle and ahead of the One Day International series against Australia for which England are 12/5 to win. Cook is in the squad for these matches but possibly that could help in the context of his status as the leader of the sport for his country.
Cook is not expected to lose his job as the captain of the England Test team. He is 4-9 to still be the skipper when England play Sri Lanka in the summer. One thing in his favour is that there doesn’t appear to be a viable alternative. Kevin Pietersen was not a success in the role and the latest reports suggest he could retire from Test cricket. Stuart Broad appears to be the only other realistic alternative to Cook.
If Cook does stay in the job it looks like he may not be working with Andy Flower. The current coach is odds-on not to be in the job for England’s next series against Sri Lanka. Newspaper reports suggest he is not prepared to work with Pietersen any longer and there appears to have been some serious disagreement between coach and player.
Flower has hinted that the England side needs something of an overhaul, with several stalwarts ending their Test career. However, that list is unlikely to include Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jimmy Anderson and Broad who are all long odds on to play against Sri Lanka in the First Test in June.
Cook and Flower appeared to be the dream team before the shambles of the series against Australia. Cook had won each series as captain to that point with Flower the coach throughout that spell. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over the last two months and Australia are just 2/5 to keep the momentum going by beating England in the best of five One Day series.
Having spent many sleepless nights over the winter watching cricket from Australia I think I am in a good position to offer some ideas to get England back on track ahead of the next Test matches against Australia. England are 6/5 to beat the old enemy in the summer of 2015. That schedule of matches provides a clue to how things could improve.
As far as I can recall from the old days the Ashes were only played for once every four years. Obviously the Aussies have had the same schedule but England looked tired from the first match in Brisbane. For the first time ever they were expected to play back-to-back Ashes series and England were always going to struggle away from home playing ten high intensity matches in six months.
I believe there is now too much cricket in general. Gone are the days when England played a five match series in the summer and winter and a handful of One Day Internationals. Even though not all the players are selected for each format the proliferation of limited overs matches and the popularity of Twenty20 cricket has led to a much busier schedule.
Conversely selecting Cook in all formats though increasing his workload may improve his captaincy skills. As one of my mates pointed out you would not select Steven Gerrard for the World Cup but then not consider him for the Euros and friendlies. The comparison may not be totally valid but there are good reasons to give Cook more responsibility as the figurehead of the sport rather than reduce his input.
It must be demanding to open the batting and captain the side. You can spend a day or more in the field, directing the side and making key decisions and then after a ten minute break you are back on the field as opener facing the best bowlers the opposition have in their side and the new ball.
Andrew Strauss and Michael Atherton had some success in combining both jobs but it would ease the burden if Cook moved down the order to number four or five. That would give him some breathing space to assess the options and take a look at the overall match situation away from the field.
Michael Vaughan was an excellent Test match batsman but he came in at number four or five and I’m sure that helped him in his role as captain. He had time to relax and then focus on the state of play. Clearly if a side loses early wickets the middle order players will get to the crease early in the innings but generally a player coming in at five will have a couple of hours at least to prepare himself to bat.
Those who disagree with this idea would question why we should forgo an opener who could well score more than 10,000 runs in Test match cricket. However, I can throw in a name not familiar with most in Sam Robson from Middlesex. He is an orthodox opening batsman with a touch of Atherton about him.
The irony of playing Robson against the Aussies is that he was born in Sydney to an Australian dad who works at the Sydney Cricket Ground. However his mum was born in Nottingham so Robson is eligible to play for England. He has committed himself to England so we could have a strange situation of an England player sledging the opposition in an Australian accent.
Tymal Mills of Essex is another young player who could make his debut this summer. He is just 21 years of age but is a seriously fast left arm bowler, just like Mitchell Johnson. The England bowling attack was limited after Broad and Anderson which meant Brad Haddin was able to score the runs at number seven that got his side out of trouble several times over the last two months.
A team built around Robson, Mills, Ben Stokes and Cook still as captain but batting further down the order could win back the Ashes in 2015. Several other youngsters could play against Australia and given some experience in Tests over the next eighteen months the side could look very good things to beat Australia at odds against when the Ashes are next being contested.