ENGLAND NEED TOO MANY COOKS…
This was the first Test of his first series as official captain. It could not have come at a more inopportune time. The team has lost its No. 1 Ranking, worse, they have lost their captain, the guy who got them to the top. Their most prolific batsman has been ‘re-integrated’ in the team and the dressing room atmosphere is less than cordial. They have come to India, a place with almost hostile conditions, for a series that is hyped up to be an almost Imperialist revenge like plot. In the midst of this, he is just a left-handed opening batsman who has to play for the first time without his trusted new-ball partner in less than favorable conditions, while forging a new partnership with a debutant, while keeping up with a headstrong Coach, while leading a stumbling team in a crucially difficult series.
All this sounds like a perfect recipe for disaster. But not if you are Alastair Cook.
England lost the first at Ahmadabad by 9 wickets, a result much better that expected. And all thanks to that rookie captain playing for the first time without the guidance of mentor Andrew Strauss. But Cook has no reason to be disheartened by his team’s loss. Because there was a huge win in there for him. Scoring a fighting century, a 374-ball 176 no less while your team is following on after getting out for 191 in the first innings, is the mark of not only a good batsman, but of a great cricketer. That right there is the biggest positive England can take from the loss.
T o be perfectly honest, England does not look half as the team that tormented India last summer, whitewashed them 4-0 and took over the Test mace. Over the last 12 months, a lot has changed for the England Test team, even though most of their frontline players remain the same. Although it is agreed that the situation is different as this series is being played in the sub-continent and not on the bouncy green tops back home. But then they played South Africa in the very same conditions and lost 2-0 in what was one of the most intense Test battles of 2012. England played West Indies at home before that and did just fine with a 2-0 victory. Of course I consider their 1-1 draw in Sri lanka as a plus in England’s favor because winning a Test match there takes great effort, for batsmen who are susceptible to spin on rank turners. (It must be said that major credit here goes to a certain Mr. Pietersen whose splendid century lit up the series & possibly saved it) But the pivotal point where England started losing the plot came as early as January, a time when they were still No. 1. England’s UAE tour, the Test bit of it, was disaster to say the least. Pakistan won the 3 match series 3-0, completely humiliating the visitors.
Cut to November, and after one Test down in the series, the challenges still remain the same for the Barmy Army. Kevin Pietresen can proclaimhis loathing for losses all he wants, truth is that they have a lot of ground to cover before the next Test in Mumbai starts. It is not about the English batsmen’s affinity (or rather the lack of it) for spin, it is not about the mental games of playing no spinners in the tour games, it is not about India preparing bone-dry, spinning pitches. If Cook and Matt Prior could have batted it out following on, there is no reason why the others couldn’t. As the captain said post match, English batsmen failed because they did not trust their own methods. If England has to turn a new leaf, then it is the batting that will have to come out strongly, start using their feet, try not to come ahead and sweep every ball that spins. And they have an excellent example of the same in the form of Captain Cook.
He did not get the Man of the Match award, there was a Double Centurion from the opposite side who deserved it. But what he did get was respect, a lot of it. Alastair Cook’s gritty century won him a number of admirers, most of them Indian, and rightly so. He has set the tone for the series, one which if the rest of the team follows, it will be the perfectly intense competitionwe have been waiting for. It is always said that too many cooks spoil the broth, but in this case, I think England needs too many Cooks!