Given the ECB’s fierce determination to persist with the Moores and Cook project, it comes as little surprise to see England’s opening batsman leading his side out at the Ageas Bowl in the third test against India.
The general public have expressed their opinion in no uncertain terms about Cook’s stewardship. Many have called for his head, while the more humane among us have politely asked for the Essex player’s resignation. Irrespective of the sport, the captain is always under scrutiny; the spotlight centres on him, particularly when results begin to turn against his troops. England were heavily shelled down under in a 5-0 whitewash against the Aussies, and artillery fire has continued to batter them ever since. A woeful run of Test match results since the summer of 2013 has seen England slip to 7 defeats, stutter to 3 draws and fail to win any matches against Australia, Sri Lanka and India.
The first of the complaints lodged against Cook’s captaincy is his tendency to take a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one, in the field. It has been largely speculated that were the selectors to hand over the reins to another leader, England’s tactical endeavours would not be compromised in any way. It would be difficult for anybody to describe Cook’s stewardship as “charismatic” or “dynamic”. Quietly standing at first slip while he hides away from the world’s glare behind his dark sunglasses, the skipper seems “pensive” at best. Rarely does his body language seem rousing, more often is the double-teapot hands-on-hips pose adopted as the game slowly but surely moves away from England. If the team have an opportunity to exert serious pressure on the opposition, it seems that this England side instinctively slip into defensive mode. Stuart Broad has recently revealed that he’s concerned about haemorrhaging runs when he storms into bowl, and this worry has been reflected in Cook’s field placings. There is a refusal to pack the slip corden and gully region to create catching opportunities. Instead, the sight of England’s opening bowlers having boundary riders at deep extra-cover leaves spectators tearing their hair out.
Then of course, there is the pressing issue of Cook’s plummeting form with the bat. In the days of old, the left hand opener would churn out runs for fun, helping himself to boundaries galore through mid-wicket, while occasionally smearing a short ball through point. He’s never been the most eye-catching of batsmen, but few have been more effective. He’s moved past Kevin Pietersen to become England’s 4th highest run scorer of all time in this morning’s session, and so has proved that he’s a fine international player. However, the corridor of uncertainty outside of his off-stump has proved his most recent Achilles heel. Such is the frequency of Cook’s nicking behind, or finding a slip fielder with his favoured outside edge, that people need not watch the game to discover how the captain is going to be dismissed. There was another heart in mouth moment as he found a meaningful edge that presented Ravi Jajeda with a simple chance before noon, but the skip was let off the hook with only 15 runs to his name. Cook has overcome a past habit of his weight falling towards the off-side to be a prime lbw candidate, but will the pressure of the captaincy distract him from rectifying the most recent problem with his batting?
Enough about Cook though. He is not the only senior player failing to produce the goods though. Ian Bell has endured a torrid time of late, scratching around for runs like a man on hot coals. When he first emerged onto the scene in 2004/5, Bell was targeted by the hostile Brett Lee, who’s fiery back of a length bowling had the Warwickshire player tied up in knots. This made the batsman keen to throw his hands at anything full, making him susceptible to a feather edge. Although Ishant Sharma is significantly slower than the express pace of Lee nine years on, Bell still looks as unconvincing against the aggressive bowlers. When England’s number four is in form, he’s arguably the most majestic player on the circuit. However, expose him to sustained pressure, and despite having accumulated a wealth of experience at the age of 32 now, many would expect Bell to crack. Averaging just 25 since last summer’s Ashes, a series wherein he starred, the aesthetically pleasing batsman is due big runs.
Should the top order get their act together – a job perhaps boosted by the inclusion of the extravagant but somewhat unpredictable Jos Buttler – the bowlers must back their efforts up. When England were the number one team in Test cricket, there was unwavering confidence in James Anderson and Stuart Broad ripping through their rivals. Despite having collected 600 wickets between them in the longer format of the game, they’re currently not working well in tandem. I have already alluded to Broad’s reluctance to pitch the ball up, and swing King Jimmy is suffering from a similar ailment. The first innings of the previous Test match at Lord’s epitomises the problem. Having won the toss and elected to bowl first, England were aided by a green surface and cloudy skies. The morning session was if not disastrous, quite simply not good enough. Taking three wickets in two hours was a poor return given the day’s conditions, with Anderson and Broad’s line and length far too erratic.
The problems are paramount for English cricket during this stage of transition from experience to youth. As Cook raises his bat to celebrate his fifty at Southampton, there may just be faintest trace of a senior star beginning to take some responsibility. Now to step on the gas …
Saturday 21st June was filled with glorious sunshine, a welcome relief from the heavy downpours that have blighted the cricket season to date. Fielders were able to hare around in the outfield in pursuit of balls that batsmen clubbed away. Bowlers meanwhile pushed their bodies to the limit, and even the umpires were capable of raising an index finger to signal that the batsman was out.
Sadly, this is not a reality that can be shared by everybody in the world. This is because yesterday was Global Awareness day for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a physically debilitating illness that currently has no cure. As its name would suggest, MND affects the nervous system. As time progresses, the electrical signals that continue to be sent from the brain and spinal cord, cease to reach the body’s muscles. The terrifying consequence for sufferers is initially physical weakness, followed by inevitable wasting with the hands and feet often affected first. It is an emotionally draining experience for both those given x months to live, and for their supportive families who understand that that their loved one’s cognitive processes remain largely unchanged. In other words, the active mind is locked inside a failing body.
FACTS ABOUT MND
- Motor Neurone Disease affects up to 5000 people in the UK at any one time.
- There is no specific way of testing for MND. Doctors first have to rule out other diagnoses, before the condition can be identified.
- Similarly there is no specific cause; rather the disease has been linked to an amalgamation of genetic and environmental factors.
- Adults of any age can develop the disease. Most will be over the age of 40, but many sufferers have young families when they learn of their diagnosis.
- Twice as many men as women are affected.
Over the last couple of years, there has been increased support for MND from the cricketing community. The Broad Appeal (who can be found on Twitter @TheBroadAppeal) has been instrumental in this movement. For those of you who don’t follow the game, the Broads are renowned in the sport and have international pedigree. The father, Chris, was a successful opening batsman for Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire and England. Son, Stuart, plies his trade as a bowler for Notts and England, while daughter Gemma is also involved with the England men’s team as a video performance analyst. Chris lost his beloved second wife to MND, and with his children’s help has used the family’s high profile to raise awareness about the terminal illness for a non-profit organisation.
As part of MND global awareness day, people were invited to take photos holding the “Thumbs Up To Cure MND” sign and making the appropriate gesture. As well as the likes of international star, Ian Bell, supporting the campaign at the 2nd Investec Test Match against Sri Lanka, it is important that recreational cricket shows a similar interest. Nottinghamshire Premier League teams Mansfield Hosiery Mills and Caythorpe were only too willing to support the initiative when the sides met at The Fieldings. The home team have a personal interest in wanting to find a remedy for Motor Neurone Disease, with a key figure of their backroom staff having observed its crushing effects in years gone by. Despite the match being played in a fierce spirit, as competitive sport should be, there was a clear sense of communion when the two captains posed for a shared goal.
On the pitch, Caythorpe bossed the game from the second ball of the innings when Gareth Curtis was sent on his not so merry way by seamer Ben Powell for a duck. Matt New couldn’t post a meaningful score for the Millers and was bowled by the accurate Mat Dowman for 20. Over the last few matches there has been evidence to suggest that Hosiery Mills have a fragile middle order. This was exemplified again as regular wickets fell to leave the hosts reeling on 80-5. However, two senior members of the squad rallied against the Caythorpe bowlers. Tom New was trying not to be handicapped by a thumb broken in three places as he defiantly scored 85 (124). It wasn’t a lone hand either as Keshara Jayasinghe took the game to his opponents by smashing a quick-fire 68*. After Kunal Manek’s maximum off the final ball of the innings, Hosiery Mills had made a good recovery to finish 213-7, and suspected that they had a route back into the contest.
This proved to be wishful thinking though as Caythorpe negotiated the opening overs unscathed, and Martin Dobson even unleashed the occasional thumping boundary shot. With the score on 66, Hosiery Mills finally made the breakthrough as Dobson slashed the blade one time too many, caught at slip for 34. This was of minimal significance though as Steve Allcoat picked up where Dobson left off, smearing the ball through the covers time and again. Rob Townsend eventually accounted for Allcoat when he was awarded an lbw decision, but not before the batsman had notched 43 from just 40 balls. Captain marvel, James Hawley, was the mainstay of the innings, and although he found early conditions testing, closed the innings undefeated on 84.
The Millers secured a solitary bowling point when Dowman fell to Jayasinghe for 22, but James Oldham eased his side to victory alongside Hawley with 16 balls to spare. Defeat for the Millers has cut them well adrift at the bottom of the league table, while Caythorpe can be contented with 116 points from 10 games, as they moved into 5th spot.
Despite the two clubs’ varying fortunes, there was only one real winner for the day, that of raising awareness for MND.