Some of the best ideas and some of the worst too are aired over a beer. During the recent Perth Ashes Test Match when Alastair Cook failed again and England’s bowling was far from penetrating there were plenty who were happy to air their views. Some were worth listening to, some were not.
Former England Captain Alastair Cook has been struggling throughout the series and was once again unable to find runs during his 150th Test Match. He has recorded scores of 2, 7, 37, 16, 7 and 14. A total of 83 runs in six innings at an average of 13. HIs poor run has in fact gone on longer than this Ashes tour, he has scored just one century and passed 50 only three times in his past 27 innings. To show just how wonderful his career has been, this is the first time that he has gone 10 innings without a half-century, however his supporters will point out that just six Tests ago he scored 243 against the West Indies.
When one considers how important an opening partnership is in Test Cricket there were some who were saying that it was now time to drop Cook. Younger supporters of England argued that you do not drop England’s greatest ever run scorer. Why not? This was the question understandably fired back. There was no real answer, just a stating of facts, that Cook is England’s most capped player, is the leading run-scorer in Test matches for England, was the youngest player to complete 11,000 Test runs; the 10th overall and the only Englishman. Also that Cook has scored a record 31 Test centuries for England. That was why he should not be dropped.
Yet does that argument really hold water?
Only the great WG Grace along with possibly Sir Viv Richards and Sir Donald Bradman could claim to be players who would cause a public outcry if they were dropped. As all three were guaranteed to fill stadiums. Sachin Tendulkar would do the same in India. Of course Bradman was dropped after one Test when he managed just 18 and 1. He returned after missing the second Test and scored 79 and 112.
So how long should selectors stick with a player out of form based on his past achievements?
Have England paid a heavy price sticking with Cook? Should they have dropped him down the order?
There is no doubt that Cook has been a magnificent player for England. However, how long can the team stick with him? Cricket is a game based on performance and at the moment he is underperforming. Would a novice player have been give the same run if they had returned similar scores? The answer is that probably they would not have.
Former England Captain Michael Vaughan has come out in support of Cook saying “I still think he’s got a couple of years left in the side. Cook’s had these spells before. Eventually there will be a moment where he decides enough’s enough. I haven’t seen anything to tell me he’s lost his desire, he’s just going through one of those spells against a good Australian attack.”
If he is going through a rough trot, maybe a spell out of the team may be just what he needs to rediscover his form. There must be other batsman chomping at the bit to be given a chance to show what they can do, why should they be prevented that opportunity because the selectors lack the courage to make a hard decision and do what is best for the team?
Those of us old enough to remember will recall England Captain Mike Denness dropping himself from the England team for the 4th Test at Sydney in 1974-75. Denness had scored only 65 runs in 6 innings (6, 26, 2, 20, 8, 2) in the first three Tests. Denness did return for the 5th Test in Adelaide but only because his replacement John Edrich was injured, and he achieved his highest Test score of 188 at Melbourne in the 6th Test and led England to win by an innings.
In that series Australia was dominant with Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson leading their attack.To be fair to Alastair Cook apart from a lack of runs England’s experienced bowlers have also failed to deliver.
James Anderson arrived in Australia for this tour having never taken five wickets in an Innings on three previous tours of Australia. Yet this is England’s leading Wicket-taker. However one glance at his career record will show as you would expect, that the lion’s share of his wickets have been taken at home in England where the ball swings. (335 wickets of 518 taken in England – 64%). It is therefore no coincidence that his first five wicket haul in Australia was during the day/night Test match when the ball swung in the evening in Adelaide.
This is Anderson’s fourth tour of Australia and he has only managed 10% of his 518 wickets in Australia. However it should be pointed out that games against Australia in Australia make up 12% of his career matches; 57% of his career matches have been played in England.
These same young men who believe that Cook should not be dropped were equally adamant that Anderson and his second lieutenant Chris Broad, who is England’s second leading wicket taker, should not be dropped. Maybe this is because they believe that there is no one pushing to replace them.
Selections for tours such as an Ashes Tour must be based on form, a players suitability to the conditions and also whether the player in question fits into the squad as an individual, as well as a player.
Were Anderson and Broad really England’s best options to lead the attack? Are their bowling stocks so bare that they lack a genuine pace bowler?
Bob Willis is fourth on England’s all time wicket takers list behind Anderson, Broad and Ian Botham. He like Anderson had four tours down under and 22% of his 325 wickets were taken in Australia. He took 72 wickets in 24 matches at an average of 29.80. Anderson has taken 55 wickets in 16 matches at an average of 35.69. Anderson’s wickets per match is slightly higher than Willis’s. Was Willis’s success because he was a genuine pace bowler? Was it because in his era England played a series of proper warm up games and prepared more adequately for Australian conditions?
No player no matter what he has achieved should be guaranteed their place in a team, as they say, the end comes to us all. Some have the privilege of opting when they decide to finish playing. Those who opt to keep playing lose that option. The fans in the main have to hope that the selectors have the strength to make the hard decisions when they need to be made.
Should Cook sit out the next Test? His form says that he should. Yet will the selectors have the courage to drop one of their finest players? If they do make that decision how much pressure falls on his replacement?