Replacing Alastair Cook…the words on the minds of all England fans, players and most important, selectors. There’s something mythical about Cook. He is too perfect to be true. Not just his old-fashioned opening batting style that seems to be a dying art, but his whole demeanor. He has never put a foot out of place on or off the pitch, he married his childhood sweetheart, he has sung in a choir for the queen, and guess what? He was born on Christmas Day.
“Alastair is a legend not only because of his performances, but, because of his attitude, his sacrifices, the way he has carried himself and the example he has set. Alastair is a perfect role model and is the image of the game we want to project. He is a great ambassador for his sport, he is a great person as well as a great cricketer” said Graham Gooch, also an England cricket legend.
England are now tasked with replacing not just Cook the batsman, but Cook the mythical man.
Why is it so hard to open the batting?
Opening the batting is hard on the body and mind, let alone the batsman’s technique. They face the new ball, which swings and bounces more, coming out of the best bowler’s hands who are fresh as a daisy. It is a very different business to batting in the middle order. They have a specific role to bat for as long as possible and protect the middle order from that pesky new ball and those scary opening bowlers.
Was Cook that good?
Yes. It is easy to forget how good he has been. Cook’s stats as an opening batsman are incredible. He played for England for nearly 13 years and 160 test matches, of which he was captain for 59 of them. Cook has faced more balls and scored more runs as an opener than anyone else in the history of cricket. Of the 13 men to make over 10,000 test runs, only Sunil Gavaskar was a regular opener, the others bat in the middle order.
He has performed brilliantly all over the world too. For example, he has 650 more test runs in Asia than any other batsman not from that continent.
His ability to concentrate and bat for long periods of time are unparalleled. He is the only player to appear twice in the top 10 list of longest test innings.
Replacing Alastair Cook
England have struggled to replace Andrew Strauss so finding a replacement for Cook could be England’s biggest headache yet. The six-year, 12-man (and counting) search for a Strauss replacement highlights the flailing art of the traditional opening batsman. The one potential starlet, cut from a similar mould to Cook, was Haseeb Hameed but he is struggling to make the Lancashire side.
The other contenders thrown into the hat range from younger options Rory Burns at Surrey or Phil Salt at Sussex, or recalling players like Hameed, James Vince or even Ian Bell, or promoting a current player like Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, or even Joe Root. There have even been murmurings of going for an experienced county player like Daryl Mitchell or Joe Denley. There’s no straightforward solution and any of those selections would raise eyebrows. Whoever is picked, they need to be given time and support to cement their place. Test opening is one of the hardest disciplines in the sport.
The dying art
But why is the art of opening the batting dying we ask ourselves. A range of factors could be to blame but the go-to short answer is the rise of Twenty20 cricket. Leaving the ball has no place in t20 cricket and the players are taught to play shots to every ball. A youngster growing up in love with cricket now will be exposed to the bright lights of the IPL, Big Bash and Vitality Blast. Far more appealing than the hum drum of the County Championship.
In terms of English cricket, the structure of the County Championship is flawed. Very few batsmen get to bat during the summer months. The first games are in April when the pitches are green and well suited to the bowlers. The final games then take place at the end of August and throughout September when the weather is variable and the pitches again can be more conducive to bowlers. Is it any wonder England are struggling to find an opening pair? Thankfully, the problem appears to be a worldwide issue.
Cook will still be appearing in the final test match against India. You can find the best odds for betting on this at Bet365.
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