Cook gets the job done - in his own time
Posted in England in UAE and Bangladesh
One of the most peculiar sights I have witnessed in a press box is cricket journalists cheering the abandonment of a match due to rain.
It wasn’t so much that they were looking forward to a drenching on the way to the car park, but the promise of an early finish (think kids getting sent home from school because the heating has packed in).
This image sprung to mind as commentators, pundits and reporters lined up to chide/criticise/lambast (delete according to which channel you watch or paper you read) Alastair Cook for his decision not to enforce the follow-on in the first Test against Bangladesh.
It seems a touch unfair that Cook, a 24-year-old leading his country for the first time in a Test - only the second time he has captained a side in first-class cricket - and one who scored 212 runs in the match, should be the subject of even the mildest rebuke given that England won the game convincingly.
His decision to bat again despite England boasting a first-innings lead of 303 was derided by many as a needlessly negative tactic, yet is it too cheeky to suggest their comments were influenced by the threat of the game going into a fifth day, and ruling out the prospect of an extra day by the pool or on the golf course?
The truth is that Cook’s decision had no bearing on the outcome of the game. Aside from a slightly worrying final morning, when Junaid Siddique and Mushfiqur Rahim raised the faint prospect of a draw, England looked set to triumph almost from the moment they were asked to bat first.
England followers are entitled to expect their side to make short work of the world’s worst Test side, but I suspect more than a few of them would have followed Cook’s example if they were in the same position.
Those casting judgement from the outside are free to make known their opinion without fear of reprisal, safe in the knowledge that they will be spared any criticism should England lose. It is akin to risk-free betting, a pursuit which Cook cannot partake in.
He claimed it was an “easy” decision not to enforce the follow-on, pointing to the workload his bowlers had to endure in dismissing Bangladesh for 296 in the first innings.
If the visiting attack, their energy and potency sapped by temperatures in excess of 30 degrees and humidity which touched 95%, looked weary during the 90 overs it took to bowl them out at the first attempt, then consider how they would have felt if they had to toil through a further 124 - the second-innings figure - straight on the back of that.
Lest we forget that Andrew Strauss sat out this trip to take a breather from an increasingly demanding schedule, so to expect those with the most physically demanding roles to be worked harder than need be seems a tad myopic.
Nevertheless, Cook’s initial forays into Test captaincy did give an insight into the type of leader he is - or will become if he ever assumes the post on a permanent basis - and conservatism was indeed a prevalent trait.
There were more than a handful of occasions when an extra fielder catching may have yielded a wicket, while it could be argued that players were dispatched into the deep earlier, and for longer, than necessary given the size of England’s advantage.
He never cut anything less than a composed figure in the field - he later claimed to be “pleased with how calm I kept” - rotated his bowlers with some frequency on an disheartening surface, and was rewarded for entrusting Graeme Swann with 78 overs in the match with a match haul of 10-217.
There was also the small matter of a first-innings 173 from Cook which helped shape the course of this hugely one-sided contest, and, on this admittedly limited evidence, he seems to have inherited Strauss’ strait of not allowing the captaincy to impact on his own game. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Cook is smart enough to know that England were far from ruthless in Chittagong: their bowling lacked discipline at times; their ground fielding let them down on occasions; and their catching was far from faultless.
But there is an oft-repeated adage in professional sport that you are judged on results and, on that count, Cook can claim to have made the perfect start.