Before we start, we are well aware of the saying about people in glass houses not throwing stones. But throwing stones has always been one of our favourite pastimes, as our neighbours (and the local constabulary) will confirm. Hence we’ll just dive in and say that the Cricinfo website seems to have gone to the dogs. Not only does the flash player thing crash our browser all the time, it’s become almost impossible to follow the various live scores without having a million tabs open, meaning that we are often a good two minutes behind everyone else in laughing at Essex.
Add in some pretty dreadful attempts at comedy articles (yes: glass houses, stones etc.) and those bloody awful cartoons and there’s basically just a couple of things left to enjoy: Statsguru, one of the great human inventions, and the Switch Hit Podcast, which is also usually quite entertaining, even if it does sound like Mark Butcher is thinking about topping himself in the studio every week.
On the most recent edition of said podcast, George Dobell opined (and not for the first time) that Ian Bell could and should be made captain of the England Test side. He was generally mocked for this, but we have to admit: it’s not the worst idea we’ve ever heard. That honour probably belongs to Margot Robbie’s legal team, who somehow thought that taking out a restraining order against the 51allout collective would somehow stop our relentless campaign of camping just outside her house in the hope of catching just a glimpse of those splendid legs. Or her boobs.
In these post-Pietersen times, England are suddenly lacking experience across their top order. Sam Robson, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali are all just taking their first steps into international cricket, with Joe Root only 18 months or so ahead of them. That leaves just two senior cogs in that particular wheel, the Cook and Bell of our oh-so-clever title. Swapping the roles of the two would in theory ease the burden on the former, perhaps giving him the opportunity to just concentrate on hitting the ball to somewhere outside the slip region, while cementing the latter’s status as the elder statesman of the batting order.
Of course, things are never quite that simple. Bell’s captaincy experience is itself fairly limited – he’s performed the role for Warwickshire on just a few occasions in the past couple of seasons (four times this year, three times in 2013 and four times in 2012 according to our finally-coming-in-useful county cricket database) – while Cook at least had a proper run with the England ODI side before landing the big job. Plus, while there’s the general idea that Bell has more of a ‘feel’ for the game, it’s easier to speculate about that than actually prove it.
So in terms of Ian Bell, it’s not exactly an obvious choice but cometh the hour, cometh the man and all that stuff. But this particular story isn’t really about Ian Bell – he’s merely the nearest spectator to Alastair Cook and his descent into madness. Lashing out at Shane Warne was just another sign that Cook is crumbling under the pressure. Actually paying attention to anything Warne says is an obvious mistake but publicly complaining about it is far worse, an obvious show of weakness. Add to that a series loss at home to Sri Lanka for which the blame could clearly be placed at Cook’s feet – England were too ponderous in the first Test, tactically abysmal in the second and Cook failed with the bat throughout- and it was obvious how the narrative would now play out. People are now literally queuing up to have a pop in public.
The problem for Cook is that it’s almost certainly not as easy as him giving up the captaincy and moving on. It would be an admission of failure and mean that England could never ever go back to him. At the moment he’s struggling to justify his place in the Test side as a batsman; giving up the captaincy certainly wouldn’t guarantee that his form will miraculously turn around in the style of Ian Botham back in 1981. It’s perfectly possible that it could make things worse.
Meanwhile the ODI side is also struggling for an identity, the top order clogged up with too many accumulators, leading to calls for Alex Hales to take one of the spots. Guess who would be most likely to give up a spot if he wasn’t captain?
England’s real problem is that they risk cutting Cook adrift completely by taking the captaincy away from him. For all his current batting problems, he at least has experience, which is something drastically lacking elsewhere in the top six. As well as this, the main thing in Cook’s favour is the fact that those above him sought to distribute the blame for the Ashes debacle upon everyone but the captain, creating an uneasy peace that can’t last forever. England will presumably continue with the sort of uncertain negative cricket that makes a poor side look even worse and set themselves up for what will be five pretty tough Tests against India. When the dust settles on those, there will at least be some time for all concerned to consider where England go next. If they decide a change is needed then Lord Ian Ronald MBE may be the only option. Unless they do what we suggest and give it to Plunkers.