Ashes 2015 - Ian Herbert: Despite victory in Cardiff, Alastair Cook would be unwise to change his natural game

COMMENT: Cook knows from experience there’s no shame in taking three hours to compile a century

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The reasons to be cheerful about the Ashes summer keep flowing – next on that list being the memory of what happened when Mitchell Johnson last left an opening Test in Cardiff behind him and went to Lord’s to face England.

Some of Johnson’s most wayward bowling on the first morning helped Andrew Strauss towards the first-innings 161 he has always cherished as his most precious international knock. But while it’s not the time to float clouds over the new England and their flawless blue sky, a little circumspection cannot do any harm, because some of the factors which explain last week’s events in Cardiff may only coincide once in quite such sublime fashion across the course of the next two months.

Good fortune is one of them. It so often favours the brave in sport but can be elusive, too. The Midas touch which belonged to Alastair Cook on the turf of south Glamorgan – perhaps most emblematically in Saturday’s endgame as he spilled Mitchell Starc’s deflected shot into the hands of Adam Lyth, waiting behind him – can vanish in the mist.

The impact of a new coach is another. You strongly suspect the effects of Trevor Bayliss won’t be vanishing anywhere, though such an impression is rarely felt quite so acutely in any sport as in those honeymoon first days when new ideas carry such force. It is the same dynamic which leads football teams to anticipate an eight-point swing by changing manager, when the novelty seems to matter as much as the personality. When Andy Flower took on the England job six years ago, the sheer intellectual power he delivered was blinding. Many still remember his part in one of the debates that was organised for the team-bonding trip to Germany before the 2010-11 Ashes series. It was Flower’s unenviable task to have to defend Adolf Hitler’s virtues as a leader. Strauss says Hitler could have been confused for a saint by the time Flower sat down after five minutes. To watch the players laughing through the latest of their new-found kickabouts before play on Saturday – Cook being twice floored, Stuart Broad doing his best impression of Cristiano Ronaldo’s mock indignation – revealed how the smallest new touches can flood the environment with light.

But it is with an awareness that the Australians are not going anywhere in a hurry that Cook would be wise to review his suggestion, made in the first afterglow of victory on Saturday, that this team intend to display even more of the new-found attacking philosophy when hostilities resume at St John’s Wood on Thursday morning. To “show off our skills”, as the captain put it.

It has become a felony to celebrate the belief in defensive, attritional batting in cricket, as Test matches have evolved – almost beyond belief – into what feels like the one-day game played across four or five days if you’re very lucky. But there were moments in Cardiff when an attachment to defence would not have been something so pejoratively old school and when grinding runs out would have been wise.

England’s wild and intemperate batting on the Test’s third day, with four wickets lost in quick time, turned a score of 207 for 4 into 245 for 8. The lead of 367 was considerable but it did not put them out of sight. It took Mark Wood and Moeen Ali at the crease to guide England on and away.

Cook, an emblem of the more defensive game, wants to seize the new world too, and his batting suffered because of it last week. He forced a shot from a Nathan Lyon ball which offered no width to attack, chased a drive Starc offered him in the bowlers’ footholds and that was that: 20 and 12.

When Cook was asked on Tuesday if he was capable of embracing the new world at the age of 30, by changing his way of batting, he said yes. “I have to be able to get on that front foot as well, as a captain,” he replied, painting a picture of the “methodical” England he joined nine years ago which belonged in a different age.

Strauss, for one, has his doubts about whether a 30-year-old batsman can or should change his ways. When his own game briefly deserted him in 2007 and he was dropped from the England team, he set about building an attacking front-foot game into his repertoire, hitting thousands of drives. He was trying to repair the impression that international bowlers had found out a perceived weakness and had stopped feeding him back-of-a-length balls which he could cut or pull away. The consequences for Strauss were disastrous. He found himself looking subconsciously for front-foot attacking shots when they were just not there and neglected the more productive back-foot shots that were his bread and butter.

Strauss later reflected on the importance of accepting the limitations in your game. “If a player came to me for advice, I would counsel against making wholesale changes,” he said. “If you have reached international level, your technique, which has evolved over a long number of years, has got you to where you are.”

Where Australia are concerned, England must, of course, always be on the front foot, fighting the good fight, not flinching, offering no cracks to exploit. But there’s no shame in taking three hours to compile a century. Cook needed a little longer than that to score 95 alongside Strauss in that Lord’s Test, six years back. It might look a little old school now but it did the job. England won by 115 runs and didn’t look back.

Good news for wheelchair tennis, but too late for Esther

Amid the euphoria of another sublime Centre Court occasion, it passed almost without notice yesterday that Wimbledon will feature wheelchair tennis singles events for men and women from next year.

It has been a long and frustrating struggle, especially for those British players who have seen wheelchair tennis become a fixture at the Australian Open for more than a decade, at the US Open since 2005 and the French since 2007. The grass surface has been cited as a problem and the All England Club has also claimed it does not have the courts for an extra tournament. It seems the campaigners were right to fight their case all along.

It would have been some spectacle to see Dutchwoman Esther Vergeer play singles at Wimbledon. She is arguably the most dominant force in any sport, having won 42 Grand Slams and five Paralympics titles in singles and doubles and winning her last 470 matches during a decade unbeaten. The struggle took too long. She has now retired.

Comments