Alistair Cook is relatively new to the England captaincy and came under fierce criticism at Headingley for his tactics in the second test against New Zealand. Cooks decision not to enforce the follow on and then the pace at which his side proceeded to bat at brought widespread confusion and almost lead to England drawing a game they totally dominated.
England ended up winning the series 2-0 almost wholly down to the performance of the bowling unit. Anderson and Broad hit form at Lords, while Finn and Swann were the stars at Headingley, baffling a poor New Zealand batting lineup and allowing the English batsmen to put in below par performances.
Headingley however displayed the negative and defensive attitude of new Captain Cook, the same attitude that was present in his predecessor Andrew Strauss. The constant there is coach Andy Flower who clearly wants his side to play a brand of cricket that is better safe than sorry. It has worked for them in recent years, winning back to back Ashes series, winning in India and winning home series against almost everyone.
However I would argue that England have only really played one top class test team in the last three or four years and that was South Africa last year, who came to England and embarrassed Strauss’ England side. This negativity of tactics has remained under Cook and are tactics that are perfectly fine in swinging, spinning English conditions against a mediocre New Zealand, but go abroad to New Zealand and it didn’t work and certainly would not work against South Africa away. If England have genuine aspirations of re-claiming that number one spot in the world, they need to stamp their authority on matches, get inside the head of the opposition and punish their opponents when they are on top.
What we saw at Headingley was Cook refusing to enforce the follow on, instead choosing to bat on and amass a wholly unnecessarily huge total for New Zealand to chase. Having batted solidly but slowly, England had a lead of 429 at lunch on Day 4. Heavy rain was forecast on Day 5. Despite this lead far more than the record run chase ever in test match cricket, Cook and Flower chose to bat on, taking more time out of the game and bringing that weather into play. Did they honestly expect New Zealand to be able to chase down 429 in five sessions of cricket, when they hadn’t hit over 300 in the series? It was baffling tactics from Cook who chose to set a target of 468.
Having done so, it was expected that England would set ultra attacking fields, men around the bat and piling pressure on the batsmen. Instead Cook had men out at deep point, only a couple of slips, a gully, a deep mid-wicket. It was the kind of field you would expect if you were defending a total of around 250, not 468. Cook justified these tactics, claiming that defensive fields can be as attacking as attacking fields. That’s nonsense. These were weak, timid tactics which ultimately nearly cost England the test match.
Day 5 was as poor weather-wise as predicted and in truth England were incredibly lucky to scrape the overs in that they needed to bowl New Zealand out. Had they drawn this match, Cook would have been to blame. He needs to learn fast on the job, become more positive and take the game to the opposition. If England are to climb to number one again, Cook must change his ways.