August 16, 2014

Cook's greatest hits

Starring Colossus Buttler and Sir Don Carberry

Is it even possible to have more legendariness in one frame? © Getty Images

Modern cricket was moulded in the 19th century, so it is not surprising that for decades it bore the imprint of that era. Victorian ethics were most evident in the treatment of professional cricketers. They were treated like children, since, like children, they lacked the foresight to have established an independent income for themselves.

Well into the 1980s, professional cricketers were seen but not heard. They were put to work playing non-stop cricket for a pittance all summer, then turned out to fend for themselves in the autumn. It was character-building, it taught them self-reliance, and it meant the MCC could keep most of the cash.

But times have changed. We no longer accept that the best way to pass on the wisdom of the ages to our offspring is by lashing them hard with blunt instruments. Education is now child-centred and cricket has become cricketer-centred.

It is no longer enough for chairmen to arrange a discount at the local chippy and to ensure the bar is well stocked with pork-scratchings and real ale. In order to get the best out of the little darlings, you have to tempt their palate with granola breakfasts, flaxseed, banana and Echinacea smoothies, and the latest in couscous-based cuisine.

Fitness training no longer involves having your chaps wheeze five times around the boundary every April in between cigarettes. The modern cricketer needs constant physical stimulation to stop them getting bored and spending too long playing Minecraft.

Above all it is recognised that cricketers do best in an atmosphere of continual praise. However, there is a problem. Cricketers, like children, are not entirely stupid. If you keep telling them they are good at something, after a while, they will stop listening, and you are then forced to administer ever higher doses of praise just to get them to notice.

This explains Alastair Cook's comments on Thursday. He could plausibly have described the Burnley Lip as the most skilful bowler he's worked with. But Jimmy has heard that so often, it has no effect. So, covering both of his ears in order to shut out the sound of Fred Trueman's ghost spluttering into his celestial pint, Alastair described James Anderson as the greatest England bowler ever.

He didn't stop there. In an effort to rouse his charges for one final effort this summer, he had to reach right to the back of the superlative cupboard. Here's what he had to say about the rest of them:

Ian Bell
"The most technically accomplished batsman in the history of the game, as well as being the world's leading authority on 18th century French sculpture and a philanthropist on a scale that makes Bill Gates look like Ebeneezer Scrooge."

Jos Buttler
"A colossus with a bit of wood in his hand, he is basically Brian Lara, only better, and by the way, he's the best ballet dancer I have ever seen. If there is anyone who has ever danced a better Swan Lake than Jos then I have never seen them."

Stuart Broad
"The guy is a legend, in fact, he's better than a legend. If you were to ask me to rank all of the tall blond English fast-medium bowlers I had ever shared a dressing room with in order of legendariness, then Stuart would be first on the left, assuming that they were standing left to right in descending order of legendariness. He's a legend, basically."

Gary Ballance
"I love this guy. Seriously, how can anyone not love him? The guy's innately loveable. He's a batting genius, obviously, but he's also great for the dressing room. Basically, if you sent Gary to the Middle East, he'd have the whole thing sorted in a week, ten days tops."

Michael Carberry
"If you gave me the choice of having ten Don Bradmans in the team or one Carbs, it would be Carbs every time. He's like a magician. I've literally never ever ever seen anyone bat as well as that, the guy's an absolute legend… sorry, what? Not in the team any more? Oh right, I forgot. No he's all right. Seen better."

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here