Alastair Cook, England captain, obviously

cookI have heard it said that the turning point for George Bush (the father) as US President was marked by the New York Times publishing his quotations verbatim: every stumble, stutter and malapropism [1].

George Bush Senior is the United States’ most recent single term president. A politician who failed to capitalise on the advantage of incumbency. Nine of the other 44 US Presidents served a term (or less in Gerald Ford’s case) but were defeated when running to retain office.

The significance of the New York Times’ treatment of Bush lies in its unusual failure to extend to Bush the exaggerated respect mainstream American media affords to its heads of state – past and present. The leader’s flawed diction, his struggles to articulate his position on matters of state were laid bare. Nobody speaks in the pristine sentences of newspaper reports, but journalists polish up what they hear: removing redundancies and false starts, adding punctuation and ignoring fillers and non-lexical vocables (uhhh, um, etc).

Alastair Cook is another leader who, in public, is not a fluent speaker. He doesn’t trip over his words in the manner of Bush. Cook’s shortcomings as interviewee are mundanity, cliche and evasion. ‘Obviously’ is the verbal equivalent of his clip off his pads, sprinkled through his pronouncements in the way that legside stroke is found with high frequency in his innings. Cook doesn’t think what he is saying is self-evident; uttering ‘obviously’ just gives him a moment to think, a ‘noisy pause’ and a way of acknowledging the sense of the question he answers.

Just how much polishing do the media give the England captain when reporting on his interviews? On 1 May, Cook was interviewed on Sky Sports News about the decision to remove his mentor, Graham Gooch, from the post of England batting coach. Cook says:

Y’know, it’s obviously been a very tough decision for eh me, personally ehh when you’re discussing such a great man, and a guy who’s given obviously me so much in terms of my career. We started working together at at 17, ehhm all the way through Essex and obviously in the last 4 or 5, 4 and a half years is it for England. So it’s been an incredibly tough decision to be ehh to be to ehh make, to be part of that decision process ehmm but we just felt it was time that we just needed a bit of freshening up ehm yes it’s certainly it’s happened on the playing staff playing side of it and obviously the coaches as well. Y’know I think we’ve got to remember the good stuff with Goochy and thank him for all his hard work. I’ve never been, I’ve never been part of ehh anyone, sorry any coach who’s worked as hard as him, y’know, not only with the England players but also when he went back to Essex as well.

The Sky Sports News website carried a piece that reported Cook saying to their reporter the following:

Firstly, we need to thank Goochie. Obviously he’s been an absolute legend, not only for my game but for all of our games over the last five years.

“We all hold him in such high regard, have a huge amount of respect for him and what he’s done for English cricket over a huge amount of time not only as a player but as a coach. We just felt it’s time to freshen things up and move on.

It reads like an extract of an interview, but it’s quite different to the words Cook used in the Sky video. That’s probably because Cook read or issued a press release separate to the interview. Just possibly, it’s journalistic license, condensing and smoothing out Cook’s comments.

An England cricket captain is unlike a US President on so many counts. He doesn’t get the exaggerated respect of his domestic media, for a start. Nor is there the expectation of longevity or advantage of incumbency, particularly when judged by England cricket’s highest honour: being selected as the Ashes tour captain. A cricketer is appointed to that role once every four years (with some exceptions) – the same frequency as US presidential elections. 43 full tours of Australia have been undertaken by England. Only four captains have served a second term: Arthur Shrewsbury (1884/85 and 1886/87), AE Stoddart (1894/95 and 1897/98), JWHT Douglas (1911/12 and 1920/21) and Mike Brearley (1978/79 and 1979/80); Douglas being the only captain to do so with four or more years separating his assignments – nine years in his case! So Cook leading a second Ashes touring team in 2017/18 would be a rare achievement.

At the moment, it appears that Cook, despite the heavy defeat in Australia, the post-tour shedding of coaches and star players, and his own rigid approach to captaincy, is accepted as skipper by the England cricket media. Should England struggle to defeat Sri Lanka and India this summer and Cook not score heavily, it might be worth checking how literally the press is covering his quotes as an early indicator that faith in his leadership is ebbing away.

Bush lost the 1992 election to the silver tongued Bill Clinton. It wasn’t, however, the President’s opponent’s greater facility for public speaking that won him the election. Clinton’s winning strategy was summed up in the phrase, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ He based his campaign on telling people relentlessly what his research told him was important to them. Here, perhaps there is a lesson for Cook. Team ethics and new eras mean little unless the team’s ‘economy’ is functioning – taking wickets and scoring runs. The leader who focuses on the changing room ambiance, and appears to be making decisions that compromise the performance on the field, has the hallmark of a single-term President.


Footnote 1: I cannot evidence the New York Times’ treatment of Bush. I was a graduate in communication studies in the US at the time and I remember my classmates discussing the significance of the newspaper’s move. It was the sort of ‘communication’ story we would have picked over with delight.


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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

8 responses to “Alastair Cook, England captain, obviously”

  1. backwatersman says :

    Wasn’t the all-time classic “obviously” Gatt’s “I hurt my thumb and then obviously the mother-in-law died”?

    I do wonder who benefits from all these interviews and – worse – press conferences. The players “obviously” hate them, the press never get anything out of them, unless they can trick the players into making a “gaffe” and they don’t do much to improve the England set-up’s image in the eyes of the public.

    Presumably the sponsors get something out of it (cf today’s fairly lengthy report in The Times on Broad’s press conference in support of Royal London, spiced up with bits and pieces about Pietersen and Giles).


  2. ged says :

    Individual press conferences are dull but taken in series they are a useful guide to the levels of (self?) deception at play. Prior’s tone during the winter a case in point…One week it was “we’re all working hard, not for want of trying “…The next week it was: “we started to let our standards slip” So which is it, Matt?

    I find it less than obvious why Cook’s judgement has been supported to such a degree. I would have taken the other option if confronted with his ‘back me or sack me’ power-play

  3. Cricinfo says :

    Nice cricket info about An England cricket captain.
    Keep sharing cricket news. i like this blog as well

  4. Brian Carpenter says :

    I find Cook interesting.

    He is poor with the media – personable, but, as you highlight, inarticulate, and a prisoner of his media training, as most modern players are. I feel that he’s basically an introvert, and you can see (or even feel) that he’s generally pretty uncomfortable in the spotlight (which was what led me to write that piece about his return from the Ashes tour).

    He also gives the impression of being someone who has always been able to do one thing in life very well – bat – but whose social development has perhaps been hampered by a life spent being very good at cricket and not doing, or having to do, very much else.

    These are all, of course, judgements from afar and may be both unfair and wrong. As with many people in the public eye, he may well be a very different, or certainly more nuanced, personality in private.

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I’m not uninterested in Cook (definitely not disinterested) but the draw I normally find to quiet leaders doesn’t hold with him. He’s made two bold steps as leader: restoring KP to the team and now banishing him. I wonder if he can define himself as England captain other than in those terms? Chris

  5. ged says :

    I did chuckle a little at the post lords interview when he made reference to his inner steel. Your ‘Inner steel’ is something you usually let someone else talk about.

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