A jaw-dropping moment on the front page of Her Majesty’s Daily Telegraph the other day: ‘How to fix England’, read the blurb, ‘by Kevin Pietersen’. Rather like ‘How To Stamp Out Diving, by Arjen Robben’; or ‘Take Vanity out of Football, by Cristiano Ronaldo’. Pietersen joins a dressing room full of former international captains — Shane Warne, Geoffrey Boycott, and Michael Vaughan — who these days devote their column inches to slagging off Alastair Cook in particular and most of the English Test team in general.
It’s worth having a look at the flavour of the Telegraph Four’s jottings. ‘Cook’s captaincy is the worst I have ever seen’ (Warne); ‘A masterclass in how to throw away a Test win’ (Boycott); ‘How not to captain a Test team’ (Boycs again); ‘Let’s hope Cook has not opted to be boring again’ (Warne); ‘A good captain would not have axed his best player’ (Warne on KP, of course); ‘Anderson and Broad are letting Cook down’ (Vaughan); or ‘England captaincy eats away at you — sometimes you need outside help’ (Vaughan again. Actually that was a good piece. But you get the picture).
What the Four Musketeers seem to believe is that every captain should be a master tactician, another Mike Brearley. It’s an absurd idea: Allan Border was tough and respected and a pretty successful captain for Australia but never gave the impression that he cared very much whether leg slip should be moved a couple of yards. What this carping about Cook misses is that strength of character, constancy, honesty and a commitment to the job and the team can be every bit as good a qualification as when you decide to bring on your change spinner.
Thankfully now Cook has been given a massive pat on the back from Andy Flower in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph. ‘It seems to be forgotten that this is a young man who has done some extraordinary things — for himself and for his country. He has scored the most Test centuries (for England) — that itself is an amazing achievement. He is an outstanding cricketer and we, the English public, should be proud of having Alastair Cook in our midst.’ Hear hear.
How pleasing that Cook’s predecessor as Test captain, Andrew Strauss, was overheard, when he thought the sound was off during commentary, describing Pietersen in less than complimentary terms: as a ‘complete cunt’, in fact. Strauss is a man of the highest integrity, and has rarely made an unguarded remark. When he announced his retirement at a press conference at Lord’s, there was spontaneous applause from the cynical hacks. As a man he was universally admired; and by his team as well. If Andrew Strauss calls someone that, they probably are. It was ironic that Strauss’s remarks were only picked up in Australia, where of course everyone would agree with him.
It all happened at Lord’s on Saturday where KP was playing for the Rest of the World against MCC in a sort of legends’ beer match. A terrific day it was too. Pietersen, however, made 10 off 13 balls before his ego gave Ajmal the charge; for Surrey he’s played five T20 innings and made 47 runs; he made one 50 in 11 innings in the Indian Premier League. He’s not that good any more, and why we should want to hear him bad-mouthing Alastair Cook is beyond me.
So the Tour de France has come and gone. And an extraordinary image from Yorkshire and here in London on The Highway outside the Times offices as the peloton roared by: where else would you see motorcycle cops highfiving spectators along the route? We love our sport here, and we do it very well. So come on Fifa, do the decent thing. Give Qatar the heave ho and bring the 2022 World Cup to Britain.
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Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.
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