December 25, 2014

A Christmas miracle, but only sort of

How Alastair Cook became captain and then wasn't anymore

"I can see the future of English cricket. By Christmas 2015, they'll be praising me for a magical resurrection of the team" © Getty Images

It's a fact - an actual fact, not just a convenient made-up fact for the purposes of this column - that Alastair Cook was born on Christmas Day. Here's the story of how he came into the world, fully formed, in his mid-20s, ready to lead England in both the 50-over and Test formats.

Andy Flower arrived in Loughborough on December 24 with Alastair Cook in tow. Cook, at this point, seemed to be just an ordinary player, the same as any other. However, he was not just an ordinary player. He was more than that.

The prophet Giles Clarke had spoken of a chosen one. He said this boy would arrive and that all would realise that he was more than just an ordinary man. He said they would see that he was from the right sort of family and that he and his family were very much the sort of people that Clarke and other prophets would expect the England captain and his family to be.

On the other hand, there were heretics. King Athers said that Cook was no more than a plodder, adding that he was something of a donkey in the field.

But is it not true that the donkey of the field is the hardest worker of all?

Flower was looking for a place where he might crown Cook captain of the two longer formats, but alas Loughborough was full. Actually, it wasn't so much that it was full. It was more that he couldn't find any five-star hotels and wasn't willing to consider four-star places. Again and again Flower would knock on doors and ask whether the establishment in question had a fifth star. Again and again the proprietor would sadly turn him away with a polite: "No, sorry, it's four-star - but there's really very little difference."

In desperation, Flower was eventually reduced to trying the door of the National Performance Centre. There he found an empty conference room and it was here in these humble surroundings that Cook would become captain in two formats - but not the third, because that really would be stretching it. Pretty soon the press gathered, and there, surrounded by animals, Cook the captain was born.

That night a bright star was seen in the sky above the National Performance Centre. Shepherds noticed and went to see what all the fuss was about. As they were shepherds, they didn't really understand and quickly left again.

Soon after, three wise men arrived from the east. They had been on a spin bowling camp in Bangalore with a handful of promising young tweakers who had been named in a development squad.

The first wise man was Peter Moores. He brought Cook a gift of gold and these are the words he spake. That's right, spake.

"Truly, you are an appropriate England captain in two of the formats," spake he. "Do not listen to the heretics who deny that you are capable of building a solid base at the top of the order in the one-day game. They know nothing. I have spoken with the other wise men and we all agree that their words are worth little, for they are outside cricket."

The second wise man was Angus Fraser. He didn't look very happy about this momentous occasion, but he was. It was just that he always looked like that.

"I have brought you frankincense," spake Fraser. "Maybe you could use it instead of linseed oil. Do people still use linseed oil? I don't know. Anyway, here you go."

Cook graciously accepted the frankincense, but Fraser wasn't finished. He had more words to spake.

"Mike Newell asked me to apologise for his not being here today. The prophet Clarke said only three of us were allowed to attend - not sure why - but Mike's the one sitting this one out. He also wants you to know that he feels that you are 'due'."

Finally, it was the turn of the third wise man, James Whitaker. Whitaker had brought Cook a P45.

"Sorry about this, old chap," he spake. "But it's really not working out. We know we were pledging complete support up until about five seconds ago, but we've changed our minds. You can still captain in Tests, but with regards to the one-day stuff, we're starting to think that maybe the heretic King Athers had it right all along."

Then, in one collective voice, all assembled spake: "Merry Christmas and happy birthday, semi-Captain Cook."

What happened next is sadly not documented, but it is thought to involve a somewhat insipid World Cup exit at the quarter-final stage.

Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket

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