July 10, 2014

How to get through five Tests in 42 days

Alex Bowden
"I'm conserving my energy by rationing the extent of the front-foot movement while playing the cover drive"  © Getty Images
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"What's important is not to think about it," said MS Dhoni and this seems to me to be the correct head-in-sand attitude. If you think about it too much, you find yourself having endless conversations about knee problems, bowler rotation and the ageing process.

No one wants to talk about that kind of thing. This is sport. Sport is fundamentally about running around like children. It's supposed to be gleeful and joyous and all this earnest talk of physical ailments is far too reminiscent of everyday life.

I can't help but feel that the home team have missed a trick here as well. Had they managed to spread the Tests out a little more - to, say, one a year - then R Ashwin would be obliged to remain in the country for long enough that he would become eligible for England selection. That would resolve the lack of a spinner and also ensure an ultra-conservative batting line-up in which ten batsmen would be Test centurions.

Perhaps it could still happen. Perhaps the captains could arrange some sort of trade. England could offer a two-for-one deal. Dhoni might be in the market for a couple of seam bowlers and the Chrises, Woakes and Jordan, are knocking about without much to do.

But to return to the faintly aged, joyless vibe emanating from these back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back Tests, it is compounded by the demeanour of the England captain. Alastair Cook has doubtless fantasised about being England captain since he was a boy, but now that he has the job, all youthfulness has been sucked out of him like flavour from a cheap ice lolly.

Look closely and you can see Cook's skin slowly wrinkling before your eyes. For him, the England captaincy isn't a glorious position in sport, it's a stressful middle-management job where no matter what he does, he's done wrong. He therefore seems to have decided that the best course of action is to keep his head down and do everything in a cold, functional manner in the hope that he escapes the next round of redundancies.

Like most management jobs, it's not about taking the right decisions. It's about making out that you've taken the right decision, no matter what. It's also about shamelessly contradicting yourself, such as by saying that Jos Buttler isn't ready for Test cricket shortly before calling him up as cover.

It's a world of spreadsheets and resource allocation where you can't even fire an awkward member of staff any more without facing some sort of employment tribunal. In short, it's dull and stressful and this is now compounded by having to work these longer hours.

Perhaps, in the spirit of work-life balance, Cook should ask if he could work part-time. What is squad rotation after all, but job sharing? A traditional cricketing approach would see Cook skipping one-day cricket, using his new-found free time to reacquaint himself with the art of ignoring balls delivered just wide of off stump.

But what if he went for a three-day week? Timed correctly, he could captain on days when England were batting before handing over to someone else on days when they were in the field. How long has Shane Warne been in the country? Has he qualified for selection yet? If nothing else, Warne would bring much needed boyish zeal to proceedings - or a certain childishness, at any rate.

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