From Nass to Captain Cook to Smokin’ Joe

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Cook passes the baton to Root

            Alastair Cook after a long stint as the English captain has finally thrown the towel after an embarrassing but quite expected demolition at the hands of the Indians in their den. To be honest most were predicting a whitewash, but against all expectations infact England played very well at times and were undoubtedly the favourites in the first Test and had they had some more time on their hands, Indians would have been surely beaten. The next four were just cakewalks for the hosts and Virat Kohli’s majestic form continued and carried Indians to victory in relative ease. But should we judge Cook on his last tour as captain. True it hasn’t been an easy ride all the way but we should never forget about the two Ashes victories against arch rivals and a great performance last time around in India.

         History won’t consider Cook as one of the finest captains no doubt but a great batsman indeed, destined to beat many a record if not already broken. He is the all-time highest English scorer of Test runs as well as most Test centuries; no mean feat considering he is an opener primarily. Though the opposition bowling and the pitches these days are more than conducive to batting exploits in this day and age. It doesn’t take away the fact that one has remained injury free and fit as well as the hunger for runs remained all these years despite hectic schedules and playing 10-12 Tests an year on average which the older generation could only dream of. It helped a lot that he concentrated more on the longer format and was dropped from the shorter format though a reasonably handy batsman in ODIs as he had shown his mettle and scoring at reasonable pace in the recent past. While players like Virat Kohli and Joe Root who are adept equally in all three formats and would play a lot more and in the long run their Test careers might suffer consequently. Cook still being young has plenty to look forward to when the burden of captaincy is off his shoulders, he can have a record which can survive for a long time if not till eternity, having the opportunity to play so much each year, could easily end up with more than 200 Matches and more than 17-18000 Test Runs.

             Now a quick look at the English captains before Cook….Starting from the disastrous side which Nasser Hussain inherited when England was being defeated left right and centre and with ease. He was the one who changed the mentality of the team. The highlight was the win in the dark and gloomy sunset of Karachi against Pakistan at their strongest home venue. Vaughan was the more impressive of them in terms of record, leading to the famous Ashes victory against the powerful Australian side. Flintoff came and went and had an Ashes thrashing to his credit. Kevin Pieterson, never the establishment guy, stayed for only 3 matches before the rebellion and the ECB clipping his wings and eventually out of the team too, Strauss followed having easily defeated a weakened Australian team with 24 victories to his name eventually and a 48% win record was an envy for the next coming captain Cook, who managed to win the Ashes twice and cementing his name in folklore. Cook’s win percentage of 40% is in no way close to Strauss or Vaughan’s 50.98 and the most successful of them all Brearley’s hefty 58% but very impressive in view of the performances given in India, though the heavy defeats by Pakistan in the Emirates and bad performances in the subcontinent would remain a blot for the team at their very best when playing at home. He has captained in more matches for England than any other player. He is still going strong at 11,057 Test runs in 140 Tests at a healthy average of 46.45 with 30 Hundreds to his name, all British records, apart from the average.

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Majestic Root

            Joe Root has just been appointed as the 80th English Test captain, though the always the overwhelming favourite; others like Stokes, Bairstow and Broad were in the frame too… Where will he carry the team in the years to come, how much it would it affect his own performance as the premier English batsman is open to discussion. Currently alongside Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson he is probably the only one who is equally good in all three formats of the game and can easily go into any International side without a doubt. His Test record speaks volumes already at such a young age, he has shown his mettle against the best bowling attacks already whether spin or premier pace or swing. He is still very young at 26 years of age, having already scored 4594 Test runs at an average of 52.8 with 11 centuries and 27 half centuries, and he has shown his stamina and will to stay for long by making big hundreds, having a highest score of 254. His ODI average of 46 is also very impressive. He is quite a handy spinner and a jolly good fielder and safe pair of hands. I am sure as his Yorkshire colleagues testify he has a good cricketing brain and would lead England to much more attacking cricket like their T20 Captain Morgan, who would probably still continue as their captain in the shorter format. Who would have thought that the young kid who made his debut with a solid 73 at Nagpur only 5 years back will be the future Lions captain. He can be most stylish as well as dogged when needed with an artistic flair unmatched in English Cricket. Together with Stokes and Bairstow, he is the future of English cricket no doubt!

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The Master Blaster!

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The swagger, the aura, the swinging of those powerful Antiguan arms, the invincibility , the sheer power and timing……was never to be forgotten, whosoever has witnessed amongst the ardent of the cricket lovers.  The man you had never seen with a helmut or guards, no matter whom he was facing, whether the likes of Thomson, Lillee and Imran or his own Holding, Roberts and Marshall. Whatever the situation was, he was as cool as a cucumber. I have never seen that disdain for the opposition from even the likes of Tendulkars, Laras or Pontings, they have all been dancing at some point of their lives to the tune of bouncers and yorkers by great fast bowlers of their era. There was no respite for the opposition once Greenidge was gone, the gum chewing Viv’s arrival was dreaded by everyone. He had the eye of a hawk, his reflexes supreme and it seemed he had all the time in the world to wait for the ball, whether to play on the backfoot or front, hitting through the covers or over the bowler’s head or hooking it out of the park. True the numbers don’t tell us the exact story to the statistician cricket fans especially the younger generation who might think, he was just another swashbuckler in the long line of West Indian greats. Just another is quite an understatement!

Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards was one of a kind, a rare breed. He came to a West Indian side, made up of small Islands, full of greats but not always fulfilling their potential. The bigger islands of the likes of Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados ruled roost in the cricketing hierarchy, similar to the dominance Lahore and Karachi held over the rest of the cities in Pakistan. Richards along with Andy Roberts was the first notable Antiguan to play for the West Indian team. It is no doubt difficult to unite people from so many different islands. The overwhelming defeat of the West Indies by the Australians orchestrated by Thomson and Lillee turned the tide in the cricketing world. The Windies were humiliated but they came back with a vengeance under the leadership of Clive Lloyd and there was no looking back. They gained strength from strength and after Lloyd’s retirement, Richards took over the reins and West Indies never lost a series under him. Only Pakistan genuinely posed a threat to their dominance in the decade that followed. There are so many innings which are worth mentioning; the last wicket partnership with Holding scoring 189*, hitting England all over the park, scoring the fastest hundred in test matches when no one played aka Gilchrist, Hayden or Afridi and the bats were not as light as these days. We can certainly remember the 181 scored versus the hapless Sri Lankans, also Thomson and the Australians being smashed all over in the 1983 world cup. Not only his batting, but his useful off spin was quite handy especially in one dayers. He was a great leader too, uniting the Caribbean islands, also promoting the smaller islands which produced great players in years to come. Richie Richardson, Curtly Ambrose to name a few of prominent Antiguans who put Antigua on the World map. Viv has been a great ambassador of sport, a vocal supporter of human rights and anti racism and respected world over for his views. In fact I was proud to see his photograph and remarks when I visited the Slavery museum with a special exhibit on West Indian Cricket in Liverpool.

West Indies had come a long way from the slaves brought over in ships from West Africa in subhuman conditions via the slave traders at the Albert Docks at Merseyside. The plantation owners were defeated by the capable strong slaves in their own game, the supremacy shifted from the untainted white to the brash dark skinned! The pendulum was shifted and the downtrodden ‘Jamaicans’ in UK could once again own an Antiguan as one of their own kind who made them proud. I have seen no one from that era who had watched the great Viv, whichever country he belonged to, not to have adored this cricketing legend. Never before, any cricketer was so admired universally and idolized perhaps after Bradman and Sobers, children copied his style and swagger, the way he entered the cricketing field, looking up at the heavens, chewing a gum always swinging his arms, giving a warning shot to the opponents; here comes Viv, the fear was instantly instilled and the crowd expectant with enthusiasm for strokeplay mastery never seen before.

And boy were they ever disappointed…Seldom!

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