Today we have a guest spot from Jack Jenkins, who feels that England’s cricket captain is generally under-appreciated by both fans and the media. It’s a passionate argument not everyone will agree with. I imagine some of the old arguments Jack mentions might even resurface!
Jack makes some good points. For example, why isn’t Cook a leading contender for the BBC’s sports personality of the year award? I must say I’m slightly flummoxed by this one, especially as Cook gets a lot of good press too. Anyway, it’s over to you Jack …
The last year has been excellent for England captain Alastair Cook, both individually and as a leader of his team. He surpassed Graham Gooch to become England’s highest ever Test run scorer, regained The Ashes in fine style, and hit a fine 265 against Pakistan to go beyond 1300 runs for the year. Yet Cook’s critics are often much louder than his proponents. This leaves him very much in the wilderness in terms of the country’s celebrated sporting stars.
Of course this is perhaps to be expected for a man who has always maintained a stern level of understatement – which is typically not endearing to the headline-hunting tabloids who prefer eccentric characters. Yet, beyond this, there appears a great deal of under-appreciation for the Gloucester-born opener.
A reliable way to gauge inter-sport popularity in Britain is the odds for BBC’s Sport’s Personality of the Year award. Now it may and probably should be expected that Cook, a man who is the leading Test-run scorer in the world this year, should be relatively well-backed to win the top prize. This, however, could not be further from the truth.
Cook is a meagre 50/1 to win the prize. He’s deemed less likely to win than people such as Kevin Sinfield and even his own team-mate Joe Root. It’s extremely hard to justify this situation, especially as it would be difficult to expect much more from him over the past year. He’s continued to clock up quite extraordinary numbers.
Perhaps this can be somewhat explained by the Kevin Pietersen saga that has plagued English cricket for years. The Piers Morgan-backed media furore created a divide right through the very centre of English cricket. On certain occasions this transcended the sport itself, ludicrously venturing into the world of class and education.
Of course the privately educated Cook was largely painted as the snotty-nosed, posh boy by Pietersen and his allies, which had a dramatically adverse effect on Cook’s popularity. He was adjudged to be at the centre to some upper-class alliance against the South-African – born batsman which turned a large proportion of the public against him.
It is at this point that the opener would’ve been well justified in staging a viciously defensive media campaign of his own. Though, rather commendably, he has persistently batted away any malicious questions aimed at him – much like he would facing an Australian seamer – in the diplomatic way that has come to define his career. This might not have helped his public image but it has most certainly maintained his integrity, something which should be given much greater respect by the public.
Meanwhile, all of this unwarranted controversy and attention has arguably over-shadowed what a fine Test opener Cook really is. He is the youngest Englishman to reach 1500, 2000, 3000, 4000 and 5000 Test runs and in 2013 he eclipsed Sachin Tendulkar’s record of becoming the youngest ever player to reach 8000. He is also currently just 220 runs shy of his 10,000th and with the away series against South Africa beginning on Boxing Day, he could feasibly pass that milestone just days after his 31st birthday. These are quite stunning figures and one can only predict that the England captain will go on to become one of the game’s greatest ever run scorers.
The under-appreciation of Cook becomes even more astounding considering the difficulty selectors have had in finding a replacement opener for Andrew Strauss. Compton, Carberry, Robson, Trott and Lyth have all come and gone, whilst Moeen Ali looks set to move back down the order in a similar fashion to Joe Root. This should have highlighted just how difficult a task opening the batting is, and what a great asset England have in Cook. Instead the criticisms continue, even after his fine performance in the UAE.
It is not often that this country has a genuine sporting legend in the making, and now when it does have one, he is lamented and criticised while perennial under-achievers and nearly-men are lauded as heroes. Perhaps it will only be once Cook has retired that English cricket will realise what a truly great cricketer they once had.