May 8, 2014

Cook must bring the joy back

As England make a fresh start under a new regime, it's up to the captain to find a way to make his players cherish the national cap once again
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Tomorrow, in Scotland of all places, the renewal begins. After a winter of discontent, the summer of dreams has a starting block in Aberdeen. There may be more cricket clubs per capita in Scotland than in England but not many are much good (a Scottish cousin told me that). The weather is a threat - it can be pretty fresh up there in the spring - and the locals have nothing to lose, which is always a bummer for the favourites, especially away from home. Still, Peter Moores has had a week to lick the lads into white-ball shape and by Saturday morning the ghost of the Dutch should be back in his eyrie.

Alastair Cook has again admitted that he was close to handing in his papers after the tour of Australia, not that anyone doubted the seriousness of his intention at the time. Rarely, if ever, can a tour have taken so much out of one man and in so many different ways. A shadow of himself with the bat, increasingly helpless in the field, pale and pained, though never without dignity, in front of the media, and, by the end, pining for home and for Alice, his pregnant wife, it was Cook who best illustrated England's suffering.

He was, of course, badly let down. But that is old ground and to cover it again serves no purpose. When asked to continue in the job by Paul Downton, he accepted within the parameters of a few conditions and now they are in place, he is moving forward with a freshness born of a smiling baby daughter and a long break from the game.

The captain of England is making plenty of runs for Essex and says he is enjoying playing the other game, the one we all still play, where you write Test teams on bits of paper and tinker with them for as long as sanity prevails. Let's join in. The core of a competitive side remains intact. Cook himself, and Ian Bell with the bat, Matt Prior with the gloves (the captain appears to think Prior will be fit by early June) and both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad with the ball. We assume that Joe Root and Ben Stokes are in this mix too. Thus four more players are needed but they are not immediately obvious. Nick Compton, Sam Robson, James Taylor and James Vince each offer something different and promising with the bat. Steve Finn and Graham Onions remain a class above other fast bowlers. Ask a good county batsman who he least likes to face and he will say Onions, though most add that the Finn of a couple of years back was a mighty proposition. If it is pace we are after, the circuit says Tymal Mills has Mitchell Johnson wheels. The "heavy ball" bowlers are Chris Jordan and Jamie Overton. Others who get a tick for attitude and potential are Harry Guerney and Chris Wright.

Sadly, there is no spinner to catch the eye. A surprising number of county batsmen suggest reverting to Simon Kerrigan, whose debut at The Oval last summer was an excruciating embarrassment. There is a voice for Scott Borthwick but not as a sole purveyor, more of a Harlem Globetrotter option when the conditions are clearly in his favour. Moeen Ali is given a strong reference: tidy with ball, impressive with bat. Maybe he is the one then.

If Cook can find a way to deregulate, he will alleviate some of the numbing routine that, often imperceptibly, can drive players into a shell of suspicion

English cricket will have to get over Graeme Swann. The luxury of a big-spinning, wicket-taking, slip-catching, run-making, main-chance-taking, match-winning and media-savvy frontline slow bowler has gone to the great microphone in the commentary box. Moeen, it is over to you. Keep it tight at one end while the big guns blaze away at the other. Make yourself famous Moeen, it is your time.

But it is the personnel rather than the ethos that will interest fans and critics in the coming months. The real frustration in losing the Ashes was less the loss, more the nature of the capitulation. This summer, and if not then, certainly the next year will establish whether Cook is the man to lead England's mission of revenge in 2015, when the Aussies are back in England once more. Outwardly there is something vanilla about Cook. Only on the inside will you find the ruthless man. This introspection does not a captain make, so he must tinker with his own characteristics in order to get those around him playing effective and committed cricket.

On the one hand he must show the team the value of the family farm, where working the land and the livestock brings balance to his life. On the other, he must get them so focused on cricket that they don't muck up sessions that cost Test matches. On a number of occasions in Australia, England held the upper hand only to relinquish it with feeble responses. Even in Melbourne, with both series and spirit gone, England led by more than a hundred with ten second-innings wickets in hand but, predictably, made a hash of it. That collapse and those that preceded and followed it were astonishing to watch. In the blink of an eye - a couple of days in Brisbane, to be more precise - the England cricket team lost its cohesion and direction. There seemed nothing left to give and certainly not for each other. Cook suspected as much post-Brisbane when asked if a collective will remained for the fight. He said he hoped so. How fragile we are.

Probably, and the theory has been well documented, the players were on the edge of a burnout of sorts. Too much high-intensity cricket over the previous couple of years and too much scientific analysis and preparation to go with it. In short, they had been micro-managed to within an inch of their enthusiasm. A story was told in these pages by David Hopps of a young England player who felt there was no escape from the ongoing assessment of every little thing that you do. He said it wore him down and ultimately made him fearful of expressing himself. Peter Moores will have listened to such stories and learned from them, for he was guilty of such head-masterly scrutiny last time round. These things happen with the best of intentions. Andy Flower and the impressive men around him wanted nothing more than the best for the team and from the team.

Cricketers do lead extraordinary, often overwhelming, lives. They are well rewarded but this does not guarantee performance. The key is to have the players rested, relaxed and focused. Each match must mean something special or they will all merge into one another and become a chore. An England cap is something to be treasured and enjoyed. It should neither become a burden, nor lead to arrogance. There is a case for winding back the clock a bit to the days when backroom staff meant a coach and a physiotherapist and the warm-down was conducted in conversation over a beer. This is not to render ice baths and analysis obsolete but to say that cricket has always reflected the rhythms of life, which allow room for people of all shapes and sizes, never mind approach and attitude.

If Cook can find a way to deregulate, he will alleviate some of the numbing routine that, often imperceptibly, can drive players into a shell of suspicion. His gift is to empower those players, encouraging expression through a free spirit. As they say in showbiz, to ensure they leave nothing out there, because years down the track, when the slippers are by the fire, even the most talented will look back and wonder why on earth they didn't make the most of their moment and do so with a smile on their face. After all, they are representing their country at cricket - surely the greatest privilege of all. It is with this in mind that Cook must set the course ahead.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on May 10, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    sure as soon as I think of cook and bell I am filled with joy ;)

  • RandyOZ on May 10, 2014, 1:28 GMT

    Hope there is plenty of humble pie in the cookbook

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 9, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    @dunger.bob (post on May 9, 2014, 0:37 GMT): Yeah I got what you meant and didn't think you were being bombastic; similarly I didn't mean to imply you were a 'Warner worshipper'. This whole 'fear of unorthodoxy' thing by the ECB has been discussed on a few previous threads, and frankly I agree with it. Several posters made valid points that it's highly unlikely the likes of Malinga and Murali would have ever stood a chance in England! I think the closest thing we've ever got to unorthodoxy is a few of the players dying/cutting their hair in amusing ways...

  • YorkshirePudding on May 9, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    @James C Birbeck Dar, as a Yorkshire follower, I don't believe that Rashid is international quality, While he scores runs and takes wickets, he generally lacks the ability to dry up runs and seems to bowl a 4 ball ever over. This can accommodated at county level, but cant be at test level.

    Hes only 26/27 so has plenty of time in him to improve and develop.

    In regards to KP, I'm sorry to say I disagree, KP hasn't been the player the media make him out to be since the start of 2009.

    The biggest problem England cricketers faced was the work load, over the last 12-18 months where they played 19 tests, of which 12 were overseas, and I'm not even taking ODI's into account of which there must have been 40+ played in the same timespan.

  • geoffboyc on May 9, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    I also think it might be worth taking a look at Rashid in the absence of a bundle of outstanding options. His bowling hasn't developed as hoped for but he's a good all round cricketer and offers a slightly different line of attack. All this "pride in the cap" nonsense drives me crazy! These guys are professional cricketers at the top end of their profession and they should take pride in their performance in every game and play according to the prevailing match circumstances. When a batsman walks to the middle or a bowler gets the ball thrown to him it shouldn't matter too much what colour cap he's wearing.

  • Rahbi on May 9, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    Nicely written piece, as ever Mark. Although I do feel you missed a trick when talking about Graeme Swann's new role.

    Articulating that the 'slow bowler has gone to the great microphone in the commentary box' might surely have been expressed as 'the slow bowler has gone to the great gig in the Sky'!

  • on May 9, 2014, 8:29 GMT

    Interesting and perceptive article by a former captain. The key, I think, is in the last paragraph, and the big "If" at the start. Cook has already been instrumental in firing England's most free-thinking and expressive batsman (whatever his other faults), and the aggression in England's cricket (in terms of the way it's played, not the verbals and pouting) has gone massively backwards since 2005 (look at run rates in tests). I really hope England can get back to playing aggressive, entertaining cricket, but I doubt it.

    One player who never gets a mention for the spinner's berth is Adil Rashid, who makes runs and gets wickets for Yorkshire. He last played for England 5 years ago, but he's still only 26. Time to take another look?

  • eggyroe on May 9, 2014, 8:19 GMT

    When it comes to selecting a Test Match Side,there only so many players to chose from.In the ideal world each country would like to have a team of 11 World Beaters,but in reality that will never happen.As an Englishman my preferred England starting line up would be:- Cook,Compton,Bell,Root,Tailor,Stokes,Prior,Broad,Anderson,Finn,Onions. People would look at that IX and remark about the spinning option,but England in the past have used Joe Root.As for Cook's captaincy,who knows if he was restrained by the previous Management Team or not,only time will tell in that regard.Fans the whole world over have opinions on the make up of National Teams and who the Captain should be and long may that continue,but unfortunately the fans do not have any say on the make-up of the IX or the Captain who finally take to the field of play.

  • latecut_04 on May 9, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    @f and what was the score line after NZ-Eng series .Indian bowlers will go all the way and hand the series over to the opposition .batting out 2.5 days scoring at will, chasing 416 to win etc are possible only against them on a regular basis.If Eng batting line up don't make runs against them they can forget about batting and I swear by that. Added to that their captaincy and field placements are the toast for any opposition.Thats all I meant.

  • xtrafalgarx on May 9, 2014, 5:21 GMT

    @landl47: Wishful thinking, and you know it. Same thing Botam said, do you really think the young bowlers will be injured for ever? Harris and Johnson didn't start playing consistent cricket till they were in their late 20's due to injuries, it's nothing new.

    Also, you are overestimating the power of age. Ponting, Hussey retired last summer at the ages of 38,37 respectively, don't be surprised if the old dogs you speak of are still playing in 18-24 months.

    Also, a year ago Australia had the youngest team on show. The years if urt between 2009-2013 gave Australia a group of 8-10 young players with test experience already, hungier than ever to break into the side. People forget that blokes like Langer, Hayden, Martyn were never fixtures till their late 20's, so don't count out Hughes, Khawaja, Starc, Pattinson, Cummins, Doolan, Marsh, Wade, Bird, Paine and more just yet.

  • on May 10, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    sure as soon as I think of cook and bell I am filled with joy ;)

  • RandyOZ on May 10, 2014, 1:28 GMT

    Hope there is plenty of humble pie in the cookbook

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 9, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    @dunger.bob (post on May 9, 2014, 0:37 GMT): Yeah I got what you meant and didn't think you were being bombastic; similarly I didn't mean to imply you were a 'Warner worshipper'. This whole 'fear of unorthodoxy' thing by the ECB has been discussed on a few previous threads, and frankly I agree with it. Several posters made valid points that it's highly unlikely the likes of Malinga and Murali would have ever stood a chance in England! I think the closest thing we've ever got to unorthodoxy is a few of the players dying/cutting their hair in amusing ways...

  • YorkshirePudding on May 9, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    @James C Birbeck Dar, as a Yorkshire follower, I don't believe that Rashid is international quality, While he scores runs and takes wickets, he generally lacks the ability to dry up runs and seems to bowl a 4 ball ever over. This can accommodated at county level, but cant be at test level.

    Hes only 26/27 so has plenty of time in him to improve and develop.

    In regards to KP, I'm sorry to say I disagree, KP hasn't been the player the media make him out to be since the start of 2009.

    The biggest problem England cricketers faced was the work load, over the last 12-18 months where they played 19 tests, of which 12 were overseas, and I'm not even taking ODI's into account of which there must have been 40+ played in the same timespan.

  • geoffboyc on May 9, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    I also think it might be worth taking a look at Rashid in the absence of a bundle of outstanding options. His bowling hasn't developed as hoped for but he's a good all round cricketer and offers a slightly different line of attack. All this "pride in the cap" nonsense drives me crazy! These guys are professional cricketers at the top end of their profession and they should take pride in their performance in every game and play according to the prevailing match circumstances. When a batsman walks to the middle or a bowler gets the ball thrown to him it shouldn't matter too much what colour cap he's wearing.

  • Rahbi on May 9, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    Nicely written piece, as ever Mark. Although I do feel you missed a trick when talking about Graeme Swann's new role.

    Articulating that the 'slow bowler has gone to the great microphone in the commentary box' might surely have been expressed as 'the slow bowler has gone to the great gig in the Sky'!

  • on May 9, 2014, 8:29 GMT

    Interesting and perceptive article by a former captain. The key, I think, is in the last paragraph, and the big "If" at the start. Cook has already been instrumental in firing England's most free-thinking and expressive batsman (whatever his other faults), and the aggression in England's cricket (in terms of the way it's played, not the verbals and pouting) has gone massively backwards since 2005 (look at run rates in tests). I really hope England can get back to playing aggressive, entertaining cricket, but I doubt it.

    One player who never gets a mention for the spinner's berth is Adil Rashid, who makes runs and gets wickets for Yorkshire. He last played for England 5 years ago, but he's still only 26. Time to take another look?

  • eggyroe on May 9, 2014, 8:19 GMT

    When it comes to selecting a Test Match Side,there only so many players to chose from.In the ideal world each country would like to have a team of 11 World Beaters,but in reality that will never happen.As an Englishman my preferred England starting line up would be:- Cook,Compton,Bell,Root,Tailor,Stokes,Prior,Broad,Anderson,Finn,Onions. People would look at that IX and remark about the spinning option,but England in the past have used Joe Root.As for Cook's captaincy,who knows if he was restrained by the previous Management Team or not,only time will tell in that regard.Fans the whole world over have opinions on the make up of National Teams and who the Captain should be and long may that continue,but unfortunately the fans do not have any say on the make-up of the IX or the Captain who finally take to the field of play.

  • latecut_04 on May 9, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    @f and what was the score line after NZ-Eng series .Indian bowlers will go all the way and hand the series over to the opposition .batting out 2.5 days scoring at will, chasing 416 to win etc are possible only against them on a regular basis.If Eng batting line up don't make runs against them they can forget about batting and I swear by that. Added to that their captaincy and field placements are the toast for any opposition.Thats all I meant.

  • xtrafalgarx on May 9, 2014, 5:21 GMT

    @landl47: Wishful thinking, and you know it. Same thing Botam said, do you really think the young bowlers will be injured for ever? Harris and Johnson didn't start playing consistent cricket till they were in their late 20's due to injuries, it's nothing new.

    Also, you are overestimating the power of age. Ponting, Hussey retired last summer at the ages of 38,37 respectively, don't be surprised if the old dogs you speak of are still playing in 18-24 months.

    Also, a year ago Australia had the youngest team on show. The years if urt between 2009-2013 gave Australia a group of 8-10 young players with test experience already, hungier than ever to break into the side. People forget that blokes like Langer, Hayden, Martyn were never fixtures till their late 20's, so don't count out Hughes, Khawaja, Starc, Pattinson, Cummins, Doolan, Marsh, Wade, Bird, Paine and more just yet.

  • Greatest_Game on May 9, 2014, 4:44 GMT

    @ stormy16 commented that Monts will not be picked "in the early English summer where it will be a 4 man pace attack."

    It might be more accurate to say "4 man military medium pace attack…."

  • Greatest_Game on May 9, 2014, 4:41 GMT

    Cook must bring the RUNS back. Joy is nice. However, runs win matches. Joyful runs would be great. Joyful ducks would not be considered a positive step!

    English fans will not be particularly impressed with joyful losers. However, after being subjected to Stuart Broad for all too many years, the rest of the world has had enough. If Broad did manage a little joy when he is on the receiving end it would be a welcome respite! Cook must summon runs. Broad must summon joy - or at least a little less sulk.

    P.S. Some posters here seem to have missed the point that this thread is about the ENGLISH cricket team.

  • on May 9, 2014, 3:58 GMT

    England has an easy summer coming up. 5 test matches against India! Prepare green, moist and seaming wickets. Roll over India. And all what happened in Australia will be forgotten! Seems so very subcontinental mentality..!!

  • dunger.bob on May 9, 2014, 0:51 GMT

    cont..

    @landl47: You're right about the age of our team of course. They're definitely a 'mature' bunch and a few will need replacing fairly shortly. I'm worried about Harris more than anyone else at this point because his importance to Mitchell Johnson can't be over-stated. They hunt as a pair and they're a damn good team. Take the Rhino away and Mitch will think he's lost a lung. .. I do think you under-estimate our young batsmen though. There's some talent there and the next year or so will see the cream rise. .. NSW signed a 17 yo the other day. The youngest state player for 20 years (since Ponting). That boy can bat, but we won't be seeing him for a few years. There are others chewing at the bit and you'll see a couple of them the next time we visit England.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to hijack the article and make it about Australia when it's very clearly not. I just felt the need to explain myself a bit better than before. Cheers.

  • dunger.bob on May 9, 2014, 0:37 GMT

    I just re-read my previous post and I'm sad to say it came out nothing like I intended. It looks a bit bombastic but that wasn't my goal. I'll try again - what I really meant to ask is this: Is there any room for unorthodoxy at the grass roots of English cricket or is it 'over-coached' just like I think we Aussies sometimes do? I used Warner as an example because he's the most obvious example I can think of to illustrate my point. His place in the Aussie team is due to an inspired piece of work by the selection panel who swooped on him BEFORE the various coaches had a chance to cloud his mind with too much talk of technique etc.That came after he was picked, at least for a while anyway.

    @ R_U_4_REAL_NICK: I'm no fan-boy of Warner but I'm quietly confident that he can become more than just a bouncy track bully. The best evidence so far is his ton on a diabolical Hobart track a few years ago. Nz beat us in that game but Warner was the standout batsman from either side. . cont

  • MarinManiac on May 8, 2014, 23:59 GMT

    A word about Kerrigan and his mishandling -- this could have been Monty, Borthwick, or anyone else other than Swann. Consider: one difference with the Australian team that has not been spoken about much is how well Clarke handled Lyon, and how well Lyon responded. (In fact, Clarke is a much better captain than Ponting was when Ricky didn't have Warne at his disposal, and a major factor is in how Clarke handles his spin options.) For Cook to raise his game he needs to learn to trust his slow bowling options, whether they be Kerrigan or anyone else, and until he can do that, the spinners will always look substandard. Witness the one day game -- whether 50 or 20 overs, it's so often that the spinners that are the key. No different in Test cricket, and Cook has to have the guts to go out on a limb, emulate better captains like Clarke and McCullum, play to win, nurture spin, and above all don't continue with the same old stuff that has gotten England into so much trouble recently.

  • jb633 on May 8, 2014, 22:36 GMT

    Why are the Aussies coming onto moan about 'poms' yet again? You haven't played in Asia yet so before you get arrogant just remember it is the UAE next for you and you have no spinners and have one bat who can play it. Please get over yourself and Mitch et al will probably have 2 years at most in them. As for our side I am not so positive. My biggest fear is the lack of depth in the bowling department. You say Onions and Finn but they are not exactly smashing down the door of the selectors. There isn't a bowler coming through who looks world class. In particular with the spin issue I am dreading going away from home especially against India where will be whitewashed for the next 5 years. I expect us to beat SL and then lose against India. I feel they will pile the runs up and have just enough with the ball. I think Cook should have stepped down after the Ashes tour but nothing can be as bad as that ever again so I hope he takes some harsh lessons on board and grows as a leader.

  • kensohatter on May 8, 2014, 22:33 GMT

    @Landl... Rubbish. Australia will always remain competitive. They have an excellent first class system and are allowed almost unlimited access to county cricket in winter to further develop at twice the speed of the poms. Both teams have some good batting prospects England will rely on Root and maybe stokes and then have Robson and taylor but australia still look stronger with warner and smith and then Hughes, Khawaja and Marsh (all with test exp and centuries against quality attacks against their names). All these players will only get better. But the main difference between the sides in 5yrs time will be the bowling. Australia have already uncovered its future. Starc, Cummins and Pattison. Again all with some success at test level all with geniune pace and aggression. Once anderson and broad are gone England have Stokes and maybe Finn if he finds a way to bounce back. They will rely on their usual mix of medium pace and gentle off spin which will never win test matches.

  • Enoughchat on May 8, 2014, 22:16 GMT

    Manxmuppet The big difference is/was. Australians had bottomed out. Poms still have a long way to fall.

  • cloudmess on May 8, 2014, 21:54 GMT

    It is strange Monty is being overlooked and all the talk is of finding a non-spinning off-spinner who can bat a bit - ie picking a man not good enough either as batsman or bowler to be in the England side. Plus ca change. Perhaps Monty's face no longer fits in the new robotic regime.

  • Coastaltown on May 8, 2014, 20:14 GMT

    Blimey, Shane Bond. Let it never be said the cricinfo comments sections don't know what they're talking about.

    In all honesty, after that winter, all I really want to see this summer is the team enjoying themselves. There's no point trying to emulate Aus and go gung ho at every opportunity. We'd soon come unstuck doing that and it runs counter to Cook's nature. Hopefully parenthood's given him a little perspective and will relax him a bit. I just want to see the team playing with a bit of freedom, and with smiles on their faces.

  • stormy16 on May 8, 2014, 15:34 GMT

    Has Eng just forgotten about Monty - he was on the Ashes tour and played around 50 tests and has a decent record, surely he is a real option as a spinner but presumably not in the early English summer where it will be a 4 man pace attack. The other notable ommission is Bresnan who missed the Ashes but is a handy bowler and batter and with sub-continental teams on show this summer, Bresnan's heavy ball could be handy. Bell has to bat at #3 for me now with KP and Trott out of action, Bell must assume the senior batsman's role and take on the all important #3 spot. The guy has played nearly 100 tests and has a solid record and is surely the obvious option. Root has been pushed around the order and not allowed to settle and he should be given a spot for the summer - say number 4.

  • landl47 on May 8, 2014, 13:59 GMT

    @dunger.bob: It's interesting to compare Warner with KP; both brilliant but somewhat prone to get out to rash shots and both have had off-field issues which have caused them to be disciplined by their respective employers. KP eventually went a step too far at age 33 and is gone. Warner is younger and claims to have learned his lesson; we'll see whether that is the case. Even Australia won't tolerate unacceptable behavior indefinitely, as Andrew Symonds found out.

    It's fascinating to see the Aussies on here talking up their superiority and their 'rebuilt' team. 6 of the current Aus XI are older than the oldest England player likely to face Sri Lanka and the wins over England and SA were entirely due to MJ taking 59 wickets in the 2 series @15 each. Take him out (and he's 33 this year) and Aus is in as big a mess as ever, with an old side and few young prospects, especially batsmen. Some good young quicks, but none of them can stay fit. In a couple of years Aus will be in deep trouble.

  • on May 8, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    @Latecut All those batsman India pampered on NZ tour have a respectable record against England too. For instance Taylor had a great series and he has an excellent record vs England too (as he showed last may and in 2008 before). Kane Williamson had a great outing and he has a respectable record vs England too if not great (and whats more, he's out there scoring for Yorks) and finally Mccullum. He had a brilliant series in 2013 across all 3 formats amd was successful in 2008 too.

    Others like Guptill, rutherford, fulton have a good record too. So that undermines your comment that India actually made us look good with poor bowling, which clearly isn't the case.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 8, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    @dunger.bob (post on May 8, 2014, 8:44 GMT): I reckon the answer to your question is no. England perhaps toyed around with the idea in trying to emulate Australia and find a similar Hayden/Warner-like opener... why else would Carberry of all people get a look-in for so long? But patience is too rare in England, and outside of Australia and South Africa even you must admit Warner is abysmal; therefore, for right or wrong, I don't think England would/will persist with a player like that at the top of the order. When KP's runs dried up, even he wasn't exactly immune to the chop. My advice: horses for courses. Keep your Warners for Australia/South Africa series; anywhere else where the ball swings, he's done nothing but struggle. For England, I liked and miss Strauss opening alongside Cook; it could be a rotating-door slot for quite some time now and I don't think ECB enjoys risks.

  • CodandChips on May 8, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    In terms of a spinner I would pick Kerrigan if we want a front-line spinner. If we want a part-time spinner who can bat, I would prefer to see Borthwick. Yes he bowls some dross but he takes wickets, though he hasn't had a great county season yet. Moeen Ali hasn't been great either, but he is a solid batsman who bowls with control, though he didn't exactly cover himself in glory. Rashid and Patel have been in the runs.

    Monty got 6 wickets yesterday though this season, last season and during the ashes he has looked passed it.

    In terms of the leading spinners statistically this season, Riley has the most in first class cricket. However he is young and inexperienced. Next is Dean Cosker, who always performs well for Glamorgan, though at 36 I can't see him playing. The leading English spinner in Div 1 (after Jeetan Patel) is Kerrigan, and although he hasn't got bags full of wickets, his economy rate suggests good control. I still think he is the best front-line spinner we have.

  • Westmorlandia on May 8, 2014, 11:35 GMT

    I'm not surprised people are still taking about Kerrigan. To discard him on the basis of one innings of bowling when he is considered once of the best spinners in county cricket would not be very bright. Selectors should know better. He isn't the first bowler to get smashed around by Watson, and he won't be the last.

    The problem is that Cook is never able to give the ball to bowlers that he doesn't trust. I don't think that reflects very well on Cook, but the reality is that he would need to be completely on board with the selection.

  • PeerieTrow on May 8, 2014, 11:06 GMT

    Not sure I agree @shillingsworth. The selection of Mitchell Johnson in 2009 helped England win, but in 2013/14 he helped Australia win. The press may criticise the Barmy Army on occasion, but they got it right on both occasions singing "There's only one Mitchell Johnson", albeit ironically during both tours. History has shown that poor selection and dressing room disquiet are major factors in winning and losing, it's just the conflict in the green no man's land that tends to be remembered.

  • on May 8, 2014, 10:31 GMT

    "A surprising number of county batsmen suggest reverting to Simon Kerrigan, whose debut at The Oval last summer was an excruciating embarrassment" What an utterly ridiculous statement for a man of your cricket experience to make. Basing a young players test future on one game, would you have decreed that Gooch should never have played for England again after his debut? The "surprising" number of batsman is based on facing the skill he has shown for three years at County level, most wickets for a spinner in that time. Graeme Swann he may not be yet but he is some distance above the two options you've provided.

  • shillingsworth on May 8, 2014, 10:20 GMT

    @jackiethepen - What you term analysis is in reality precisely the reverse. The journos you list took the easy option - blame a load of people who didn't actually bat, bowl and field and add a bit of management speak for effect. The Ashes were won and lost on the field, nowhere else.

  • PeerieTrow on May 8, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    Come on Elvis; "….encouraging expression through a free spirit."? I'm not sure how a chap who had the good fortune to captain a first class team with names like Greenidge, Kippy and Judge Smith and Marshall on his team sheet could possibly imagine such an approach to the game. Keep up the good work. The watching public need these insights into the dynamic behind the game on the green bit.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 8, 2014, 9:07 GMT

    Why is Magic Monty still not being considered as the main spinner? This pathetic mindset that 'all bowlers must contribute with the bat and/or be outstanding fielders' is going to slow down this rebuild even further. You really think Moeen Ali will cut it as the main spinner? I have nothing against him being part-time/fill-in, but primary spinner = silly.

    Re. Cook, rather than simply perform the role of 'mouthpiece for England' as jackiethepen elegantly said in an earlier post, there is no substitute for decent runs on the board and several victories under his belt before fans break out the fanfares. Personally I would also like to see him make much more of an effort in the field with consoling/strategizing with his bowlers. I still maintain it was only the likes of KP who periodically ran over to the bowlers during petering out series such as those against New Zealand.

  • PeerieTrow on May 8, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    I really love the spirit of the Aussie. Freefall into terminal cricket decline, well and truly barbied on the subcontinent, and just because one Aussie player turned over one of the worst England touring set ups in years now they're a nation of philosophers. Read your history Bruce, it's coming to get you.

  • dunger.bob on May 8, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    I hate being micro-managed and I can only guess that talented cricket players are the same. It's stifling and restrictive and I've left jobs because of it. .. by the time you get to Test level your game should be in good shape technically and by then it's all about the x-factor anyway. Having the courage, and freedom to do something audacious should be encouraged, not frowned upon.

    I'd like to ask England supporters a simple question. Do you really think a player like David Warner would have ever made it through the English system to be first choice opener for his country? Before you answer remember that Warner was known as a T20 only player at that point. He'd only played a few FC matches before being picked for Australia in a Test match. .. at the time it seemed an outrage and many English posters took the time to tell us so. Yet he piled on 1000+ runs in 8 Tests at a run a ball last home season. .. Has England got it in them to take such an out and out risk?

  • Manxmuppet on May 8, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    @Enoughchat: "If you Poms think you are going to get an EZY fix by picking a couple of potential players along with a couple of rejects and turn it all around in a couple of series...You can forget it"

    Errrrrr.......isn't that exactly what Aus did with Boof?

    Shows the quality of the man as a coach, but also shows it can be done. Don't write us off just yet. Wait until 2015 Ashes and then you can give us some stick (if we are as bad as you reckon)!

  • rajatmehra on May 8, 2014, 8:28 GMT

    Amazingly, a rare article after a long time which spoke of English resurgence, Ashes capitulation, et al and still didn't have the words "Kevin" or "Pieterson" in it.

  • jackiethepen on May 8, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    Cook has to be given a chance to work with Moores. I think he would have had a better time of it with Giles. But the ECB decided to go with a Flower lookalike. If the media had played more of a role (Mark Nicholas included) then Flower's role in the Ashes debacle would have been more thoroughly examined. It is to the credit of Cricinfo that their team stood up, Dobell, Kimber and Hopps were the only journalists prepared to analyse the failure rather than the kneejerk reaction of just blaming the team. Nicholas tends to take his cue from the media but he is more involved in Australia these days. We get the criticism of micro-management but he dodges the issue of who actually performed that kind of stifling management. Nobody else but Flower ran the ship. As for Moores as best County coach? Strange then that Lancashire were relegated after their championship win and have been struggling a bit this season. Giles has left Warwickshire a better legacy. Durham topped both. 3 wins in 6 years.

  • Nutcutlet on May 8, 2014, 8:12 GMT

    Whether Cook can 'tinker with his own characteristics' (what a very odd expression, btw) sounds to me to be a rather an uncomfortable exercise. If it means change his persona, then that, for a person of Cook's undoubted integrity and natural introspection, may prove a bridge too far. Surely all that anyone can be is himself, in his best and most positive mode, of course. Cook is at his captaining best when he's contributing well at the top of the order. Then (as in India) he leads with greater confidence, but therein lies one of the major problems - if his batting form dips, then so does the captaincy (Aus.2013-4). Realistically, there's no one else to lead Eng, atm. He may improve ( I hope he does) but he'll never be a natural, 'flair' skipper. This is a time of retrenchment & of growth: unglamorous & experimental, looking for small gains, match on match - a gentle sustained upwards curve. Let's be patient and - yes - have some fun too. To start -- all smile for the photo, please!

  • latecut_04 on May 8, 2014, 8:08 GMT

    After the Ashes nightmare this is going to be a cheerful summer for English fans. They will be celebrating test victories after quite some time. NOW this is not because new look England side is victorious BUT because of the quality of opposition. Let us take SL first. No world class bowlers and other than Sangakkara and to an extent Jayawardane nothing in batting either.1.5 players wont make any difference and result will definitely be 2-0.Bring on India who have the habit of pampering international batsmen(ask NZ) and again the likes of Balance,Prior or Cook will be among runs. Indian batting may come good especially towards the end of the tour but their bowlers will more than compensate with their efforts.4-0 England.6-0 beckons English supporters this summer. NOW please don't think Eng cricket has started rebuilding because of that. they are where they were after Sydney test.they may painfully discover this when SA arrive next year.!!!

  • on May 8, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    its a tougher challenge for Alaister Cook first Sri Lanka and then India

  • Enoughchat on May 8, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    If you Poms think you are going to get an EZY fix by picking a couple of potential players along with a couple of rejects and turn it all around in a couple of series...You can forget it. The pain us Australians have just gone thru is nothing compared to what you are about to experience. I hate to say it but you have'nt bottomed out yet. Cook will probably need to go before the rebuild starts Good luck you are going to need it.

  • tinkertinker on May 8, 2014, 6:51 GMT

    Cook is a robot and looks set to sack anybody who isn't his type so fun for england looks unlikely.

  • Harlequin. on May 8, 2014, 6:47 GMT

    Decent article despite the fact that England fans know all of it already:

    They know England had an awful winter

    They know that there is a talented core of players

    They know that there are promising players in the wings

    They know that the reliance will be on swing/seam over the next year or so, though this can still win games of cricket.

    However, they also know that captains are born not made, and that Cook is not a naturally born captain. They also know that England have a choking over-reliance on analysis and statistics which has ruined every new player within the space of 6 months.

    They hope for a change in attitude from the captain and the coaching staff, but all they can do is go over and over the same problems hoping that Cook/Downton/Moores have seen them too. That is what this article reads like; another desperate plea to England to stop with the analysis and rigidity. Will England listen though? IMO, not a chance!

  • imtiazjaleel on May 8, 2014, 6:03 GMT

    One man- MITCHELL JOHNSON can make such a difference then if they have two of them. Then other teams will stop playing cricket with Australia.

  • SoyQuearns on May 8, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    Cook needs to stand down. He's a terrible captain (defensive, one-tricked, reactive, lacks imagination or the killer instinct) and it has large and negative impact upon his batting (which used to be very good).

    England are in a terrible state of disrepair since the Ashes hiding, and so a change in captain may only rock the boat further. But at the same time, could they do any worse?

    Like Ponting, Cook's wins were mostly down to the quality and deeds of his players.

    Clarke, the superior captain by obvious distance, has performed wonderfully well as captain and batsman recently, and was always willing to have a go and take a risk or act upon a hunch (even during our admittedly terrible rebuilding phase).

    Our rebuilding phase, whereby we attempted to replace more than 10 world-class players who all retired within about 3-4 years of one another, Langer, McGrath and Warne all at once, was understandably long.

    England's current state is not due to that, which is worrisome.

  • notimeforcricket on May 8, 2014, 5:30 GMT

    Finn is a tricky one. they must have sent a clear message to the potential England players that they need to front up at the startof the season and win their places. Finn is the top wicket taker with 25 in 4 games. A great return. Most other options are not doing as well. However, if we rush him back, it could de-rail his confidence. A full season knocking over county teams might benefit him in the longer term. On the other hand SL in May is not a tough opponent. Balance, Bell, Cook have all won their places. Robson has probably done enough. not sure about wicket-keeper. We could throw Moeen Ali in at 3 as part of a top 6 (Bell, Root, Balance at 4/5/6), Stokes at 7, keeper at 8. Broad, Anderson and someone else (Jordan, Onions, Finn) to finish. Alternatively throw in an older stager like Compton/Carberry at 3 to make the top look more solid.

  • landl47 on May 8, 2014, 5:26 GMT

    Either Mark Nicholas knows something the rest of us don't, or he just plain forgot about Gary Ballance- you know, the young guy with the batting average of 54 and a couple of first-class centuries this season. Chris Woakes is less obvious, but shouldn't he be at least under consideration?

    The XI for the Sri Lanka tests might look something like: Cook, Robson, Bell, Root, Ballance, Moeen, Prior (or Bairstow if Prior is not fit), Woakes, Broad, Jordan, Anderson. Taylor hasn't been in great form, Vince is a great prospect but not ready and Compton's day has come and gone. Stokes hasn't yet recovered and frankly he looked all at sea in the WI; he needs more time at FC level to get his game back in shape. Mills needs a lot more work before he'll be a test bowler. I think Kerrigan will be a test bowler eventually, but in England against Sri Lanka and India he'll struggle. Let Moeen and Root do the containing and the seamers get the wickets.

  • ruester on May 8, 2014, 4:04 GMT

    Not sure I think Prior has justified his inclusion after being dropped, he hasn't kept wicket and is injured again. Is Cook really back to his best after a couple of centuries against Division 2 bowlers? I wish he had resigned the captaincy, he is hardly inspiring and I would just want him to make runs.

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  • ruester on May 8, 2014, 4:04 GMT

    Not sure I think Prior has justified his inclusion after being dropped, he hasn't kept wicket and is injured again. Is Cook really back to his best after a couple of centuries against Division 2 bowlers? I wish he had resigned the captaincy, he is hardly inspiring and I would just want him to make runs.

  • landl47 on May 8, 2014, 5:26 GMT

    Either Mark Nicholas knows something the rest of us don't, or he just plain forgot about Gary Ballance- you know, the young guy with the batting average of 54 and a couple of first-class centuries this season. Chris Woakes is less obvious, but shouldn't he be at least under consideration?

    The XI for the Sri Lanka tests might look something like: Cook, Robson, Bell, Root, Ballance, Moeen, Prior (or Bairstow if Prior is not fit), Woakes, Broad, Jordan, Anderson. Taylor hasn't been in great form, Vince is a great prospect but not ready and Compton's day has come and gone. Stokes hasn't yet recovered and frankly he looked all at sea in the WI; he needs more time at FC level to get his game back in shape. Mills needs a lot more work before he'll be a test bowler. I think Kerrigan will be a test bowler eventually, but in England against Sri Lanka and India he'll struggle. Let Moeen and Root do the containing and the seamers get the wickets.

  • notimeforcricket on May 8, 2014, 5:30 GMT

    Finn is a tricky one. they must have sent a clear message to the potential England players that they need to front up at the startof the season and win their places. Finn is the top wicket taker with 25 in 4 games. A great return. Most other options are not doing as well. However, if we rush him back, it could de-rail his confidence. A full season knocking over county teams might benefit him in the longer term. On the other hand SL in May is not a tough opponent. Balance, Bell, Cook have all won their places. Robson has probably done enough. not sure about wicket-keeper. We could throw Moeen Ali in at 3 as part of a top 6 (Bell, Root, Balance at 4/5/6), Stokes at 7, keeper at 8. Broad, Anderson and someone else (Jordan, Onions, Finn) to finish. Alternatively throw in an older stager like Compton/Carberry at 3 to make the top look more solid.

  • SoyQuearns on May 8, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    Cook needs to stand down. He's a terrible captain (defensive, one-tricked, reactive, lacks imagination or the killer instinct) and it has large and negative impact upon his batting (which used to be very good).

    England are in a terrible state of disrepair since the Ashes hiding, and so a change in captain may only rock the boat further. But at the same time, could they do any worse?

    Like Ponting, Cook's wins were mostly down to the quality and deeds of his players.

    Clarke, the superior captain by obvious distance, has performed wonderfully well as captain and batsman recently, and was always willing to have a go and take a risk or act upon a hunch (even during our admittedly terrible rebuilding phase).

    Our rebuilding phase, whereby we attempted to replace more than 10 world-class players who all retired within about 3-4 years of one another, Langer, McGrath and Warne all at once, was understandably long.

    England's current state is not due to that, which is worrisome.

  • imtiazjaleel on May 8, 2014, 6:03 GMT

    One man- MITCHELL JOHNSON can make such a difference then if they have two of them. Then other teams will stop playing cricket with Australia.

  • Harlequin. on May 8, 2014, 6:47 GMT

    Decent article despite the fact that England fans know all of it already:

    They know England had an awful winter

    They know that there is a talented core of players

    They know that there are promising players in the wings

    They know that the reliance will be on swing/seam over the next year or so, though this can still win games of cricket.

    However, they also know that captains are born not made, and that Cook is not a naturally born captain. They also know that England have a choking over-reliance on analysis and statistics which has ruined every new player within the space of 6 months.

    They hope for a change in attitude from the captain and the coaching staff, but all they can do is go over and over the same problems hoping that Cook/Downton/Moores have seen them too. That is what this article reads like; another desperate plea to England to stop with the analysis and rigidity. Will England listen though? IMO, not a chance!

  • tinkertinker on May 8, 2014, 6:51 GMT

    Cook is a robot and looks set to sack anybody who isn't his type so fun for england looks unlikely.

  • Enoughchat on May 8, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    If you Poms think you are going to get an EZY fix by picking a couple of potential players along with a couple of rejects and turn it all around in a couple of series...You can forget it. The pain us Australians have just gone thru is nothing compared to what you are about to experience. I hate to say it but you have'nt bottomed out yet. Cook will probably need to go before the rebuild starts Good luck you are going to need it.

  • on May 8, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    its a tougher challenge for Alaister Cook first Sri Lanka and then India

  • latecut_04 on May 8, 2014, 8:08 GMT

    After the Ashes nightmare this is going to be a cheerful summer for English fans. They will be celebrating test victories after quite some time. NOW this is not because new look England side is victorious BUT because of the quality of opposition. Let us take SL first. No world class bowlers and other than Sangakkara and to an extent Jayawardane nothing in batting either.1.5 players wont make any difference and result will definitely be 2-0.Bring on India who have the habit of pampering international batsmen(ask NZ) and again the likes of Balance,Prior or Cook will be among runs. Indian batting may come good especially towards the end of the tour but their bowlers will more than compensate with their efforts.4-0 England.6-0 beckons English supporters this summer. NOW please don't think Eng cricket has started rebuilding because of that. they are where they were after Sydney test.they may painfully discover this when SA arrive next year.!!!