England are heading for Ashes defeat this winter unless they change their approach and their batting order – according to Australia legend Shane Warne. Although England won this summer’s series 3-0 – and were minutes away from 4-0 – Warne said that Australia, by the end of the series, were “not far away” from them. Warne predicted that his old team, back on Australian soil this winter, would regain the urn, unless the England captain, Alastair Cook, rethought his conservative tactics.
Warne was a fierce critic of Cook all summer but denied any accusations of bias, insisting that he just “called it as I saw it”. Regardless of the summer scoreline, Warne saw England’s success as being in spite of Cook’s captaincy, not because of him, and advised him to change his approach.
“Alastair Cook needs to be more imaginative,” Warne said. “If Australia play well, and Cook continues to captain the way he does, I think he will lose the series. I don’t think he can captain like that. I am not trying to trash-talk anyone, I tell it how I see it. If Michael Clarke did the same things I would say he was negative.
“I am not the only one who thinks Cook is a negative captain. He lets the game drift. He waits for the game to come to him. I look at the best captains, like Stephen Fleming from New Zealand, who was a wonderful, proactive captain. He got the best out of his team, the brand of cricket they played always challenged the best sides and they always gave you a close series. Even the current New Zealand side under Brendon McCullum does well because he is a good captain, he is imaginative, he sets funky fields, he makes you think and he is ahead of the game.
“Michael Clarke, to me, is the best captain in the world at the moment. He’s got a lot of imagination, the fields he comes up with to Jonathan Trott or Cook. Cook would never have a leg-slip, bat-pad or leg-gully. He’s not proactive. He’s not aggressive.”
England’s successes, Warne believes, are thanks to their excellent bowlers, not their tactics. “Because England have got quality bowlers, they will take wickets. If they have a good day, it is not through brilliant captaincy – field settings, bowling changes – it is through quality bowling. You can stand there and let the bowlers bowl. I don’t like that style of captaincy, and when you’re playing against the best sides in the world, under pressure, it won’t hold up. You need to be proactive, imaginative, you need to challenge your team. I don’t think Cook does that.”
While full of praise for their bowlers, Warne does not think England’s batting, which underperformed this summer, is as strong. He believes the experiment with Joe Root opening has not worked.
“The No 6 spot is a bit of a weak link,” Warne said. “I’d open with [Michael] Carberry and put Root down to six. That looks better than Root at the top and then [Jonny] Bairstow, or one of the other guys, at six. If [Matt] Prior doesn’t bat well, and they lose three wickets, and Ian Bell is in and you have Bairstow and Prior to come, it is not a confident position. If you have Root to come, it’s better.
“Root played well at Lord’s, but I don’t think he is an opener because of his technique. Australia found him out and especially in Australian conditions he would get found out more. You cannot hang back and get stuck on the crease in Australia because of the pace of the wickets. He has come through that system of Twenty20 and one-day cricket, which makes innovative batsmen but not openers. His technique is not tight enough at letting the ball go, he likes to hit through gully and point. He is a good player of spinners, a manipulator of the field and a good worker. He is perfectly suited to six, and in time could move up to four. But it could be crucifying him having him face Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson on fast, bouncy pitches. I think he would nick off a lot. Aside from Lord’s, Australia did have his number with how they bowled to him. Carberry is set up for Test cricket; he is so strong through point, if you give him width, and he plays the short ball well.”
Warne is confident about Australia’s improving form, and would have George Bailey – captain of Australia’s one-day series and scorer of a brilliant 114-ball 156 last week – in the Test team. “I think he has to be in that top six, through pure numbers,” he said.
Warne was less positive about former captain Ricky Ponting and his recent book, which included criticisms of Clarke. Captains, in Warne’s eyes, should not write tell-all books.
“I’ve got nothing mean to say, or a bad word about Ricky,” Warne said. “I know he beats himself up mercilessly about being the only captain ever in Australian history to lose three Ashes series. And I know he regrets and beats himself up about the fact that he – like Nasser Hussain – is the brunt of jokes whenever someone puts the opposition in, after that horrific decision at Edgbaston in 2005. So I don’t particularly want to be mean about Ricky because he’s a good guy and tried to do the best he could.
“But bringing up the stuff about Pup [Clarke], maybe it was a bit of jealousy because Pup was batting so well and Ricky was at the end of his career, not really making so many runs and just hanging in there the last few years,” he added. “The best captains I played under – Mark Taylor, Allan Border – it stayed in the dressing room. No one finds out about it. That’s how it should be. So to air all this in a book is pretty ordinary.”
The Ashes are part of an unrivalled winter of live sport on Sky Sports, including the ATP World Tour Finals, Premier League, Champions League, autumn internationals and the finale of the Formula One season.
Straight from Shane: Warne’s words
Warne on Alastair Cook
“Cook needs to be more imaginative. If Australia play well, and Cook continues to captain the way he does, I think he will lose the series.”
Warne on Michael Clarke
“Michael Clarke, to me, is the best captain in the world at the moment. He’s got a lot of imagination, the fields he comes up with to Jonathan Trott or Cook. Cook would never have a leg-slip, bat-pad or leg-gully.”
Warne on Joe Root
“Root played well at Lord’s, but I don’t think he is an opener because of his technique. It is not tight enough at letting the ball go, he likes to hit through gully and point. He is a good player of spinners, a manipulator of the field and a good worker. He is perfectly suited to six, and in time could move up to four.”
Warne on Ricky Ponting
“Bringing up the stuff about Pup, maybe it was a bit of jealousy because Pup was batting so well, and Ricky was at the end of his career, not really making so many runs and just hanging in there the last few years.”