Ditching the long-term captain six weeks away from a World Cup is bold and decisive. It is also desperate, harsh and romantic. England confirmed yesterday that Eoin Morgan will lead the side in place of Alastair Cook, who has been sacked after a record 69 matches.
Having appointed Cook three and a half years ago with the specific task in mind of being in charge for the tournament starting in Australia in February, and having stuck with him through thick and so thin that it was making gossamer seem like cast iron, it was both unpredictable and inevitable. Cook had presided over an England side which had lost five consecutive series under his stewardship, while his own batting performances had become unacceptable.
The choice of replacement was hardly surprising since Morgan has been Cook’s official deputy, but his own form this year has been quite as moderate as his predecessor’s. The selectors are pinning their reputations on the leadership re-energising him, though history suggests it often has the opposite effect on captains with so much else on their mind.
Cook’s place as a batsman in the World Cup squad, and the triangular series in Australia which precedes it, will be taken by Gary Ballance. Two other players from the party which toured Sri Lanka in the past month have been omitted. Harry Gurney and Ben Stokes are making way for the return of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
The sacking was leaked on Friday, though it did not become official until yesterday, which did not reflect well on the organisation or probity of the selection panel. Only days earlier, Cook had been given the backing of both Peter Moores, the coach, and Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket. But a review of the series in Sri Lanka, which England lost 5-2, seems to have persuaded them to change their minds.
Plenty of critics had been telling them that for more than three years, since the day Cook was appointed. What is difficult to understand and what was not fully explained yesterday was why they should have been so loyal for so long and acted with so little time to spare.
Cook said: “I am gutted to be left out of the World Cup squad and it is likely to take me a while to get over the disappointment. That said I wish Peter, Eoin and the lads all the best for the World Cup. I would also like to thank all the players and fans who have supported me during my time as one-day captain.” Since that was in the official statement issued by the ECB, the depth of his private feelings can only be guessed.
Both Downton and James Whitaker, the chairman of selectors, went to see Cook at his home after their discussions on Friday. By the time they arrived the news was out.
“He’s very raw and of course it’s a blow to have the captaincy taken away from you,” said Downton. “He’s hugely, hugely disappointed. Hopefully in time he will reflect that he wasn’t scoring runs and he was putting himself under an awful lot of pressure. Embarrassment doesn’t come into this. This is not about personalities. It is always about what’s best for English cricket.”
Morgan will have to hit the ground running, otherwise everyone will be embarrassed. He said he would lead a young side that would surprise people, a declaration which precisely echoed Cook’s words in Colombo on Tuesday night after his side’s fifth defeat in the series when he thought his dream of playing in a World Cup would still be fulfilled.
There was a suggestion that Morgan’s presence at the helm may lead to a recall for Kevin Pietersen since the pair are friends. When this was put to Whitaker, he said: “No, no, no. The ECB management made this decision in January and it is the same decision now. There is no way that Kevin Pietersen will ever get back into an England team.”
It may be different for Jonathan Trott. The batsman who left the Ashes tour last winter with a stress related illness was named as captain of the England Lions Test squad in South Africa early next year.
ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP
Eoin Morgan (Middx, capt) age: 28; caps: 130
Moeen Ali (Worcs) 27; 12
James Anderson (Lancs) 32; 184
Gary Ballance (Yorks) 25; 12
Ian Bell (Warks) 32; 150
Ravi Bopara (Essex) 29; 114
Stuart Broad (Notts) 28; 108
Jos Buttler (Lancs) 24; 44
Steven Finn (Middx) 25; 47
Alex Hales (Notts) 25; 7
Chris Jordan (Sussex) 26; 19
Joe Root (Yorks) 23; 43
James Taylor (Notts) 24; 6
James Tredwell (Kent) 32; 44
Chris Woakes (Warks) 25; 24Reuse content