Cricket / cook

Cook's retirement marks the end of a Dynasty
. The King is dead, long live the King! England's cricket team, selectors and fans have had the luxury of uttering these immortal words every time a high profile opening batsman has retired from international cricket in the recent past. From Geoffrey Boycott all the way through to Alastair Cook who played his last game in September of this year, there has been a clear line of succession from one great opener to the next for England for more than 50 years. So consistent have England been at producing at least 1 world class opener and in many cases 2 at any one time that you have to travel all the way back to 1998 to find the last time that England played a Test Match in which neither opener had won 20 caps or more for their nation. In that instance, it was Mark Butcher and Steve James who opened for England on account of Mike Atherton being injured. When England take to the field next Tuesday it looks certain that the most experienced opener they will have in their side will be Keaton Jennings a man who has 12 fairly unconvincing Test caps to his name and partnering him will be debutant Rory Burns. These are uncharted waters for England and ones that will have to navigate quickly if they are to build on their impressive 4-1 win over India, the world's number 1 ranked team. The King is dead, long live ........ Keaton Jennings? The time I met Alistair Cook! Was it the right time for Cook to retire? In a nutshell, yes! From a pure cricketing point of view, Cook's form had become increasingly sporadic over the past couple of years. A quick look at his run scoring in the final years before he announced his retirement clearly shows a man who wasn't capable of scoring consistent runs against various opposition in differing conditions. source The 2 massive double centuries that he scored, while fine knocks, were on very flat, batsmen friendly pitches and in the case of the first one against some fairly sub-standard bowling from the West Indies. Outside of those 2 innings and prior to announcing his retirement, Cook had managed just 4 half centuries in 35 innings! It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that Cook's farewell innings was his best overall contribution in an England shirt for 2 years. However, does this mean that he would be able to pull off the same feat again this winter or beyond as England look to build for the next Ashes series? For me that innings at the Oval was not only the perfect way to say goodbye it was a case of him leaving the game with little else left to offer. I think the best analogy to use for Cook's hundred against India at the Oval this summer would be that it was like squeezing the last blob of toothpaste from a now empty tube and in the end, he'd be fooling himself to think that he could get another brush from it next time around. In 2016, Cook flew to Bangladesh with England less than 24hours after the birth of his second daughter source Outside of cricket Cook has reached a point in his life where he appreciates that there are more important things for him to concentrate his time and effort on. He was married in 2011 and has had 3 children in 2014, 2016 and his latest just days after he made 147 in his final Test innings. Indeed, had the baby have been born early perhaps that innings wouldn't have happened at all. Since his marriage in 2011 Cook has spent over 2 years on tour with the England team alongside having to maintain his commitments during the summer, most of which he played as England's captain. That kind of time away from immediate family and particularly a young family with small children must be incredibly difficult. I realised as much when I met Cook at Guildford Cricket Club in 2017. Cook's county Essex had been playing a championship game against local side Surrey who always play a match at Guildford at some point during the summer. The ground itself is very close to where I live and is much smaller than the Oval, the venue at which Surrey play most of their games. As such it is a very intimate feel, with spectators incredibly close to the action.In 2017 as a result of the reconstruction of the pavilion at the ground, the players dressing rooms were simply large tarpaulin tents on the boundary edge meaning that fans got even more access than usual and so it was that after a day's play I bumped into Alastair Cook and we had a brief chat. My first instinct was of course to talk about cricket but to say that Alastair was not interested in the subject would be an understatement! Instead, knowing that like me he had young children at home, I quickly changed the subject to family life. The switch in his levels of enthusiasm towards me and the chat in general changed markedly and we talked and joked about the joys of parenthood for a few minutes before I decided I'd taken up enough of his time and we parted ways. Just a brief encounter but perhaps a telling one as to how Cook was feeling....... p.s. one day I'll write about the time I faced Shane Warne in the nets. Yes, I'm name dropping ;-) Guildford's new and modern looking Pavillion looks more worthy of hosting international quality players than the tents that were up in it's place while refurbishment was carried out in 2017 source1 England's failure to replace Cook For many English cricket fans, the failure to replace Cook is really a failure to replace his former opening partner Andrew Strauss. I've often heard commentators on TV and radio test their co-presenters by having them name the 12 men that Alastair Cook has been asked to open with post the retirement of Strauss. I never remember them all and more frustrating yet is that it's always a different one that a forget! Can you name them all? If not here they are Players have come, players have gone. Some like Carberry, Compton and Trott have all but retired from the international game since being dropped - I believe Nick Compton is now an underwear model? Others like Joe Root and Moeen Ali have gone on to find success lower down the order for this England team, although even now the final batting position for those players has never really been settled. Then there are the youngsters like Sam Robson, Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed who will all still harbor ambitions of playing for England again, although in the case of Hameed, one of the most exciting prospects that we've produced for many years, he'll need to get a place back in county cricket first. Yes, the failure to have found a suitable partner for Cook does now mean that he doesn't have that experienced head to hand the mantle of number 1 opener over to and thus the dynasty is broken. However, I've always felt that England's problems stemmed as much from their inability to replace Marcus Trescothick as they did to replace Strauss. On that list of great openers, Trescothick is the most expansive stroke player and the man with the highest career strike rate. Of course by the time he debuted for England at the turn of the century the game was very different from any previous era in cricketing history. Sides were playing more expansive cricket, scoring at over 3 an over during a days play and with the onset of T20 cricket those boundaries were being pushed ever more. At the time, Trescothick was the perfect player to help England achieve par with other Test playing nations who could call upon the likes of Virender Sehwag (India), Mathew Hayden (Australia), Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa) and Saeed Anwar (Pakistan) to get them off to a fast start even in Test Match conditions. Matching the power of Australia's Mathew Hayden at the top of the order led to England turning to Marcus Trescothick source By comparison the men to follow Trescothick in the dynasty (Strauss & Cook) are the more traditional, conservative style, plodders at the top of the order. Guys who would look to settle in at the crease and require a crowbar to be removed once they'd done so. For me, the Trescothick / Strauss opening partnership was the best that England have produced in my lifetime simply because the 2 men complimented each other so brilliantly. Trescothick was happiest playing a few crunching drives through the off-side against opening bowlers who felt his lack of foot movement might see him knick off early on, whereas Strauss was very happy to play second fiddle to his partner's more aggressive instincts. People will argue that Strauss’ form was effected by him taking over the captaincy but I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that he struggled more once Trescothick had prematurely called time on his career. The fact of the matter is that modern bowlers and captains don’t like conceding boundaries. That may seem like an obvious statement but in past generations there has always been a theory that it doesn’t matter if you get driven for a few 4’s because in the medium to long run the batsman is likely to be out caught behind or in the slips, it’s a trade-off between the two. These days you see bowlers being hit for 4 and the captain immediately begins to take away slip fielders or other catchers in order to protect the fence – captaincy in the 21st century has become very reactionary! If England could have found a man to partner Cook at the top of the order who could hit those boundaries and begin to move the fielders out from under the batsman’s nose then I believe we’d be in a much better position at the top of the order. The best opening partnership I have ever witnessed England have source When Cook replaced Trescothick, Strauss tried to take on the role of aggressor but was always found wanting because that is not his natural game! Of the more aggressive style batsmen that England have tried – Lyth, Hales and Duckett, none have been up to the grade. Furthermore, the defensive style players, in particular Nick Compton have been placed under pressure to try and adapt their game to score more freely. England need to understand the games, mentality and technique of the players they are selecting and ensure they are allowed to play accordingly. The square pegs into round holes style of selection that has been a feature of the last few years is just not going to cut it, particularly when considering the importance of a solid opening partnership in Test cricket. Who's next at the top for England? Rory Burns has finally been given a chance! I had been arguing for his case for inclusion all summer with the hope that he, Jennings and Cook would form a top 3, allowing Root to slip down to 4. Eventually Root did move down to 4 but only when Moeen was moved yet again up the order to 3. The rationale being spread by the mainstream media was that by moving Moeen up the order England were preparing for a winter where they’d likely need 2 spinners in the team. Fine we all said, good idea! However, if England were really looking that far in advance then why didn’t they select Burns ahead of middle order stroke makers like Malan, Vince and Pope? We have plenty of options for batsmen who could play at 5, 6 and 7 not many who can do the hard graft at 1,2 and 3. Is it that the England management were slightly blindsided by Cook’s decision to retire? Maybe they thought he’d be available up until at least the end of the next Ashes series? Can Rory Burns start a new dynasty for England? source My feeling, as I've stated before, is that Bayliss and Farbrace have not given the Test format enough attention over their 3 year tenure in charge and a team that already has many cracks in it is now left with a gaping hole at the top of the order.

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