Rather like the question about whether newspapers can change the outcome of a general election (probably not), the debate over the media’s impact on sporting performance is of long-standing interest.
The ferocity of the greeting from the Australian press last winter certainly appeared to catch England off guard. The former South Africa wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has described how questions in the media about the wisdom of his selection negatively affected his performance in 2011-12. Yet when South Africa departed for a tour of New Zealand shortly afterwards, local journalists there appeared united in their belief that Boucher was at his best under pressure. Buoyed by their comments, Boucher rediscovered his form.
Alastair Cook appears to have ignored all the sharp-edged punditry after the Lord’s defeat in July and instead listened to the wise words of his wife. For public figures, media brickbats are a professional hazard. Cook’s good sense in simply taking the advice of the person who knows him best is an even greater marker of his fundamental qualities than the on-field grit which finally got him back in the runs in Southampton.
Anderson and Broad just part of equation
The brilliance of James Anderson and Stuart Broad this summer has given the impression they have carried an impossible share of the bowling burden. But they took more or less the same proportion of Indian wickets (excluding run-outs), 47 per cent, as they did of Aussie scalps last summer. They also bowled a smaller portion of the total overs (45 per cent against 48 per cent).
The return to a five-man attack has been crucial to the summer’s success. It has worked because Moeen Ali has developed so quickly and Jos Buttler has made a bright start to his Test career. When the selectors settle on their preferred fourth and fifth bowlers England will be a real force.
Plenty to play for this autumn – and winter
With the Test series over, some may start to think that cricket is pretty much done for the year. More fool them. Quite aside from the one-day internationals, the domestic season is again heading towards a thrilling climax. The competitions all remain open: with the T20 Blast perhaps to be lit up by Flintoff’s final fling; the Royal London One-Day Cup surely about to catch fire; and the Championship perhaps to be decided by September’s meeting of the top two, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.
There is also plenty to play for in terms of winter tour selection. Tom Smith has been more responsible than most for keeping Lancashire afloat while there is a second spinner’s slot going begging. Simon Kerrigan is the obvious choice but Monty Panesar is showing signs of a personal renaissance at just the right time.