This England cricket team is under attack, and it’s the visitors’ fault. England is bleeding and spiralling out of control on and off the ground. If it ever wanted hard and tough leadership, it is now. Captain Alastair Cook needs to quickly regain control or its Ashes campaign will be over next week.
England is in Alice Springs and there could not be a better place for Cook and his team to regroup, re-assess and re-organise before the Adelaide Test.
It must be said that England is very fortunate that its next Test match is in Adelaide and not Perth. These new drop-in pitches should suit the English team as they are dry and will turn on days four and five. If the second Test was to be played in Perth, then this Ashes series would be over, as the WACA Ground, due to its pace and bounce, would have killed any hope of an English comeback.
This whole Ashes campaign comes down to how Cook manages and leads his boys before Adelaide. The stress-related illness to Jonathan Trott has not helped their cause, nor has the media ban placed on certain Australian outlets. Cook cannot change the past, but he can change the future. Captains are judged when things are tough and tense, not when everything is running smoothly. England needs a strong leader. Cook has some great people around him such as Andy Flower and Graham Gooch, but he needs to stand strong, be firm and show the squad who is boss.
Traditionally, England plays poorly in its first Test. I do not like hearing from players that ‘‘we were a bit rusty and things will change for the next Test’’. That attitude of turning it on like a tap doesn’t cut it. It’s their attitude that has got them in this mess and it will be their attitude that will decide how they can get out of it. Cook needs to read his team the riot act and let them know he wants his boys to toughen up and not get distracted.
First, Cook must speak to his senior players. No doubt their pride has been hurt. Sometimes, when you win a lot, you have a tendency to have a high opinion of yourself. Cook needs his senior boys to lift and to lead by example. Cook, in particular, needs to point the bone at Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson. They need to find an edge and toughen up, because if they don’t, they will be belted up again by this confident Australian team and the Ashes lost.
If I was Cook, I would organise sessions that would get everyone out of their comfort zones. Morning boxing classes would be a nice start. I would schedule half-hour video sessions daily, reliving their insipid performances at the Gabba. I would be making sure that my senior management would kill off any negative locker-room talk. It has got to be all about being positive and how they will win the Ashes. They need to organise activities to improve mateship and boost spirits.
Cook needs to ban guys listening to music while on planes and buses. It is time the team started to talk and communicate with each other. They need to show an interest in each others’ thoughts and preparations. Cook also needs to ask Gooch to organise net bowlers to go after his batsmen with new balls at practice. Let them bowl off 18 yards if they have to. Give money for any kid who is able to ‘‘pin’’ one of the batsmen. This team needs some tough love. Cook would no doubt be worried about his team’s soft performance in the first Test at the Gabba. England had Australia right where it wanted on day one when Australia was 6-132 – and it took the foot off the pedal. It was the way it lost that would have upset Cook and English fans. England lacked the killer instinct and by the end of the match it seemed it didn’t want to compete.
Players were quite happy to engage in words with Australia rather than engaging with bat and ball.
England now knows it has a formidable opponent. Australia was more desperate and determined and made England look like it was on a Contiki tour. If England loses in Adelaide, then this series is done.
Great captains handle adversity well. It defines them. They seem to relish the challenge. Great captains who I enjoyed watching were Allan Border, Ian Chappell, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Imran Khan, Sourav Ganguly and Michael Vaughan. They always seemed to have an answer.
They always had great strategies and knew their teams inside out.
In the West Indies, the fans constantly yell out and berate opposition captains with comments such as, ‘‘Skipper, your ship is sinking!’’
Cook’s boat is fast filling up with water and he better quickly find some mates to stop the leak, or his tour is done.