Cricket has always been a sport gloriously appealing to the senses. The cliche’s of the smell of freshly cut grass, the delight of hearing leather on willow, are both well worn and unerringly accurate.
When I think back to the moments that I hold most dear, I can recall the sounds that accompanied them so vividly. 2005, when the gentleman’s game became the sport of gladiators. Freddie, pounding in towards the crease, roared on by an unprecedented wave of passion and emotion. 2010, the total silence and stillness of the Gabba, as Cook and Trott shuffled and nurdled their way to dizzying new heights.
What then, will be the sound of the summer of 2014? Will it be Piers Morgan calling England’s greatest ever Test batsman a ‘repulsive little weasel?’ Or Jimmy Anderson abusing Ravi Jadeja? Or Indian crowds booing Mooen Ali, England’s exemplary new British Asian all-rounder of Pakistani origin. Or Dominic Cork exploding in the Sky studios, reeling off a conveyor belt of names who should be dropped and replaced? Or perhaps it will be the sound of Andrew Strauss, calling Kevin Pietersen an ‘absolute c*nt.’ This has, for all sorts of reasons, been one of the grimmest and darkest summers in English cricket.
The England team, still carrying a hangover from the winter’s Ashes even heavier than Gary Ballance after his infamous night out, have become the focus of an ire, discontent and venom arguably never seen before. The lion’s share of this, has, of course, fallen at the feet of Alistair Cook, he of 25 Test Match centuries, three Ashes conquests, and a Test Series victory away in India.
Bizarrely, having actively pushed for the return of Kevin Pietersen upon his ascent to the captaincy, he is now being seen as the architect of the divisive batman’s downfall. Pietersen, meanwhile, has spent the summer speaking of his despair at being frozen out of the set up, all the while throwing grenades into the team camp from the comfort of his various lucrative T20 deals.
Of course, there is obvious reason to criticise Alistair Cook. At the helm for that disastrous Ashes tour, he has struggled to assert himself at the top of the scorecard in all formats. He was also labelled as the right man for the job by ECB chairman Giles Clarke due to ‘having the right sort of family,’ a comment that showed that sometimes, those who hold power in the English game can be unbelievably and almost comically out of touch.
None of this, however, justifies or warrants the torrent of vitriol that has come his way. Cook often comes across as a man from another era, completely out of kilter with many now playing the game. (Though he is evidently loved and admired by all he plays with). When he retires, he will probably retreat to his wife’s farm, rejecting the opportunity to join the stream of pundits who have subjected him to unprecedented scrutiny this summer. He has been hurt and stung by the treatment he has received, and rightly so. A dignified man, and an outstanding batsman, he deserves better. In football, coverage is spread across leagues and divisions. With cricket, however, only the national side receive regular scrutiny. With the increase in the number of games they are playing, we are arriving at a situation where eleven blokes are having every single decision they make scrutinised almost every day. Then, we have the audacity to deride them for not being ‘fearless’ enough.
Add to this the likes of Piers Morgan, who have used social media to park their tanks on Alistair Cook’s front lawn, and we have a Captain who is facing severe scrutiny from the mainstream media (which is, of course, fair and natural) but is also facing a stream of ignorance and imbecilic abuse elsewhere. You suspect it could soon become intolerable for him, and indeed many cricket lovers.
Somewhere, a balance needs to be found. Whilst the media are right to scrutinise a well-funded, well-resourced international team, there must be recognition that a corner has been turned, in the Test Arena at least. The disastrous Ashes Tour claimed the career of many of the side’s best players, to then lose Alistair Cook just as signs of rebirth are afoot would be a disaster. Cook, meanwhile, must learn to filter out the vitriol from genuine advice and constructive criticism. He might well benefit from leaving the One Day arena, take some time out and get back to plundering Test runs.
The beauty of all this, however, is among the storm, shoots of hope have emerged. The sound of the summer of 2014 may well be crowds all over the country chanting ‘Rooot,’ or roaring on Jos Buttler, or that fabled, gentle sound of leather on willow, as Gary Ballance eased his way to another century.
Hopefully, the sound of the summer of 2014 will turn out to be the extraordinary support and goodwill Cook received from grounds up and down the country. Showing that across the board, the English cricketing public and media value good cricket above all, and reject the ignorance seen on some social media forums. In Cook, they recognise an exceptional cricketer and a thoroughly decent bloke. Amen to that.