Captain Cook isn’t cruising well

A change in England leadership would be to the benefit of all concerned, not least of all Alastair Cook who might, if he no longer had to worry about the exact position of mid-off or the taking of the new ball, start batting better, which is his main job, writes Ted Corbett.

Shane Warne was feared in England from the moment he stepped up to the crease at Old Trafford in 1993 and, with his first ball no less, bowled Mike Gatting and left him with an expression that could not have been more bewildered if a child of five had bowled the ball.

From that moment on, until he retired after another devastating series Down Under in 2006-7, Warne was like a star from a horror film with his mix of leg breaks and googlies, top spinners and that collection of weird balls with exotic names that were part of his conjuring tricks.

Then he quit and we all said what a great bowler he was and that he would be greatly missed. He went on to play for Hampshire but that was not the end of his show.

Warne was even allowed to come over here and talk on our television and admire the way the reconstituted England side kept winning Ashes series. He was pretty fair-minded about it as well. Not that he had much choice as the Australian side of that era was in a state of disarray mainly because of his retirement.

Even to this day he is causing trouble for our Test side.

Last winter he was fair-minded too when Australia won the series 5-0 but that caused trouble over here. What right had an Aussie, even one as great as Warne, to say that we had faults in our side? Wasn’t it entirely down to bad luck and his pal Kevin Pietersen? And, worst of all, how dare he criticise our captain Alastair Cook, handed the leadership on the retirement of Andrew Strauss in accordance with the succession of the divine right of skippers which has been in place since WG Grace had only one initial.

We also have the divine right of the stiff upper lip so those in authority took no notice of his nasty imputation that Cook could not comfortably captain a rowing boat much less a Test team or a battleship until the eve of the second Test against Sri Lanka when Warne let fly another volley of well-directed criticism.

Cook immediately came back with a demand that such criticism should be banned which really got to the sports commentators. Censorship is a sore issue with all journalists and just to prove the point a number of senior correspondents began to write that all was certainly not well with the Cook captaincy.

I’m one of those who belongs firmly in the Warne war camp on this issue and I have been saying quite firmly that a change in England leadership would be to the benefit of all concerned, not least of all Cook who might, if he no longer had to worry about the exact position of mid-off or the taking of the new ball, start batting better, which is his main job.

Cricket is, like almost every other 21st century activity, governed by the strength of one’s public relations and at about the same time the England and Wales Cricket Board PR section sprang to life and unearthed a couple of facts that cast doubt on the validity of the Warne arguments.

Someone put forward the idea that Warne had never been Australian captain and, before anyone could argue that you did not have to be a piano player to criticise classical music, that he had been cruising on a luxury yacht taking the sun and far from either a radio or a television set which made his criticism invalid.

(I am sorry to say that I do not have up to date information about the state of his relationship with the film star he has been romancing but he still seems to be able to lead the luxury lifestyle she introduced him to; and no doubt on those floating mansions getting to see a Test match is comparatively easy. Besides he can read and ask questions and if you play cricket long enough you can smell where trouble begins and ends.)

I thought for the first three days of the second Test against Sri Lanka that Cook’s captaincy had improved but on the last two days he messed about so much that England lost the Test and the series.

Frankly, and I have never told it any other way, England would be better off without him. First he needs a complete rest, then a return as a batsman pure and simple, with someone else in charge of the side. Some of my more knowledgeable pals reckon he is a great captain in embryo. I reckon he never played cricket at a low level and therefore is not aware of the simple tricks that get you out of trouble when it comes along.

If I were Chairman of Selectors — instead it’s former Leicestershire captain James Whitaker who was on the fringe of the Test side most of his career — I would ask Cook if he had ever hauled a big roller up and down a pitch like a reserve team player might be expected to do, if he had played village cricket and he had read Mike Brearley’s book on captaincy.

Cricket is not, as Warne makes clear, all about the precise positioning of square leg for a left-arm fast medium bowler on a hot day or getting to know the umpires ailments so you can ask politely after them from time to time.

It’s insider knowledge for a start. One great cricket coach told me that Sri Lankans hated sledging. I wonder if Alastair Cook knows that; Shane Warne certainly does.