Shane Warne’s latest criticism of Alastair Cook is both unfair and out of order. The England captain would be well advised to now keep his counsel and simply let his bat do his talking, rather than respond again in public to the former Australia leg-spinner.
Warne used his column in the Daily Telegraph on Friday to launch yet another stinging attack on Cook following England’s dramatic last-over loss to Sri Lanka in the second and deciding Test at Headingley on Tuesday.
“His captaincy at Lord’s was terrible, then on Monday at Headingley I witnessed the worst day of captaincy I have ever seen at international level in almost 25 years in the game,” said Warne.
“It was horrific, and I am not the only one singing that tune.”
Ouch. Very ouch, although the first point that should be made is that according to the BBC Cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew, who was speaking about the matter on Radio 5 Live on Friday morning, Warne was not even in Leeds on the day in question, but was instead holidaying off the coast of Greece with his family.
And as for the actual criticism itself, it is nothing Cook has not heard before from Warne, not only about himself, but also his predecessor Andrew Strauss, one of England’s most respected and successful captains ever.
Strauss was, like his one-time opening partner, too “conservative” as well when it came to leading his country according to Warne, and while the so-called greatest Test captain that Australia never had should of course be listened to, it is important to also remember that skippering a team is always less hazardous from the safety of the commentary box than the field of play.
And so while Warne may have had a point when he wrote: “At Lord’s he had the chance to declare earlier, and if that had happened, England would have won,” the reason Cook was unable to carry out his initial plans to have half an hour at Sri Lanka’s openers at the end of day four was because the home side had earlier slumped to a perilous position of 121 for six in their second innings, necessitating an unscheduled rebuilding job.
However, no one can really take issue either when the Australian said: “We saw at Headingley that he let the game drift because he just did not know what to do, which led to the whole team not having a plan. He continued with the same tactics for so long.”
It should be noted that there are plenty of current international captains who, given the same predicament that Cook found himself in at Leeds on Monday, would have also reverted to the very same tactics of giving Angelo Mathews the strike and then trying to dismiss tail-ender Rangana Herath towards the end of the over.
And Warne’s comment that: “Everyone watching could see the game needed a change of pace; bowl the spinner”, also failed to take into account the fact that the only tweaker Cook had at his disposal was a part-timer playing in just his second Test who had bowled three innocuous overs in Sri Lanka’s first innings. This was Headingley after all, a graveyard for spin bowlers.
Of course, any Warne attack on Cook would not be complete without a reference to his great mate and the current Australia skipper Michael Clarke.
“Just look at how well Mathews handled and juggled his bowlers. The same goes for Clarke in Australia and the way he used Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon,” said Warne.
Frankly, though, anyone could have captained the rampant Aussies last winter against England with Johnson in that kind of frightening form with the ball. However, it was not so easy for Pup only a few short months earlier after his side had just lost their sixth Test in a row on their way to a 3-0 Ashes reverse at the hands of an England team led by Cook.
Meanwhile, it was revealing that Warne also felt the need to make reference to his close friend Kevin Pietersen, while at the same time attempting to underplay Cook’s role in England’s memorable series win in India in what was the captain’s debut campaign in charge of his country.
“Some observers use the series win in India as a defence of Cook,” wrote Warne. “Yes, it was a great victory to come back from one Test down. But it was not built on tactical brilliance. It was on the back of some magnificent individual performances by Kevin Pietersen, who you sacked.”
In fact, the only time one actually agreed with the King of Spin is when he said: “Sorry, we are there to give our opinion. Agree or disagree but it is our opinion,” and to be fair to Warne, the Aussie has always been prepared to offer forthright views on the game, even if that meant criticising his former team-mates.
And that is why Cook should not take Warne's latest comments to heart, as he clearly did last time when inadvisably calling for “something to be done” about the Australian.
In fact, the opener could do worse than following Graeme Swann’s recent words on Test Match Special by simply refraining from getting involved in a public slanging match with Warne, and instead focus all his energies on England’s forthcoming series with India and trying to bring about an end to his own poor form with the bat.
Let’s face it: Nine times out of 10 England would have won the second Test against Sri Lanka from the utterly dominant position that they found themselves in nearing the end of day two at Headingley.
So is it really all Cook’s fault that his batsmen and then his bowlers both proceeded to self-combust in such spectacular fashion thereafter, as when skippering your country at this level—as even his Aussie counterpart will attest too—you really are only as good as the players you have at your disposal?
And at present, Cook has very little to work with sadly.