June 16, 2014

Cook and the leadership guru

England's captain gets some useful advice from someone who knows all about being powerful and unpopular

"If there aren't bourbon creams at these meetings, we will secede" © AFP

Lord's. A worried-looking Alastair Cook sits opposite Giles Clarke in a meeting room. They are nibbling at biscuits.

Clarke: So, Alastair, how are you doing?

Cook: Well, not terrific, to be honest. People keep being horrible about my captaincy.

Clarke: Okay, well, don't stress. I know something needs to be done so I've got someone special coming in to give you a few pointers.

Cook: It's not Shane, is it?

Clarke: No, it's not Shane. We've identified somebody much better suited to helping you. A true inspiration.

The door opens. A well-padded figure strides in purposefully.

Clarke: Chairman Srinivasan! Welcome, welcome. You look lovely, as usual. Alastair, stand up please. Have you met the new ICC chairman before?

Cook: I have, yes. Hello, Mr Srinivasan. Why on earth are you here?

Clarke: (laughing nervously): Alastair, don't be impolite. Chairman Srini is here to help you improve your leadership.

Cook: Not Mike Brearley or Mark Taylor?

Clarke: No, not Mike Brearley or Mark Taylor. You need to speak to someone who can really empathise with what it's like to be powerful and unpopular. I couldn't think of anyone better than Chairman Srini.

Cook: (a bit bemused) Er, okay. Fine.

So... people say I'm too defensive with my field settings and move players back too soon. What should I do?

Chairman Srini: Hmmm, well, I really can't see the problem, in all honesty. I also prefer to only have three men in important positions and everyone else kept as far back as possible. This seems to work perfectly well at the ICC. Giles agrees. Don't you, Giles?

Clarke: Very much so.

Cook: Okay, then. I'll take that on board. Also, people say I won't admit to my mistakes, which is nonsense frankly, because I can't remember actually having made any.

Chairman Srini: That's the spirit, Alastair. Leadership is all about being firm. Let's see if you can do that in a role play. Giles, pretend to be a journalist and ask Alastair a toughie.

Clarke: Certainly, Mr Chairman. Alastair, you've led England to their sixth Test defeat in seven matches, the ODI side is a slow-scoring anachronism, your own form is abysmal, and you've really let down the ECB after its brave decision to free the side of its best player. Why don't you just resign?

Cook: (a bit shocked) All right, Giles, steady on. Well, I, er, think there were positives to take with the new players that...

Chairman Srini: No, Alastair! That won't do. Just copy how I deal with journalists' questions. Say after me: "I have done nothing wrong."

Cook: I have done nothing wrong.

Chairman Srini: And again.

Cook: I have done nothing wrong.

Chairman Srini: Splendid. Keep repeating that and people will eventually come to love and respect you. Next question.

Cook: Well, everyone's saying I can't take criticism because I complained that Warnie's comments were personal.

Chairman Srini: Hmm, a bit tricky. I've had similar problems with a few ICC executives.

Cook: And what did you do?

Chairman Srini: I offered them a home series against India.

Cook: Um, I'm not sure I can do that with Shane.

Chairman Srini: Okay, well, I'm not a miracle worker. Last question.

Cook: I'm getting a bit worried I'm losing the team's support. I need to do something to make them realise how much they'd miss me if I resigned. Any ideas?

Chairman Srini: This is a common problem in leadership. The best thing to do is to threaten you're going to walk away even when you've got no intention of doing so. Watch this...

Giles, I'm going to walk out of this room unless you let me have all the biscuits.

Clarke: That's fine, Mr Chairman. Please have all the biscuits.

Chairman Srini: See? Easy, isn't it?

Cook: I guess so. Okay, well thanks for coming to see me. I feel much better about things.

Chairman Srini: Not a problem, Alastair. Now, Giles. How am I getting back to my hotel?

Clarke: Your helicopter will be landing on the Lord's outfield shortly, Mr Chairman.

Chairman Srini: Thank you, Giles. Where would I be without you?

James Marsh writes Pavilion Opinions. He is also a Tefl teacher whose students learn superlatives by being shown Graham Thorpe videos