Famous and not so famous Brits – Alastair Cook
Alastair Cook, cricketer; not a “flannelled fool”
Cricketers were once referred to by Rudyard Kipling as “flannelled fools”, and later George Orwell observed that the sport was far less popular with the public than its high status in English cultural life might lead one to assume. However, top cricketers, like other sports stars, nowadays enjoy celebrity status – not that they always welcome the media frenzy that goes with it.
Alastair Nathan Cook, MBE (born 25 December 1984) is an example. He is currently captain of the England test and one-day international teams. A left-handed opening batsman, he plays county cricket for Essex. He comes from a professional family – his father was an engineer, his mother a teacher – and he was educated at St Paul’s Cathedral School in London, where he was a boy chorister from the age of eight. His musical talent won him a scholarship to Bedford School, another independent school for boys, but during his time there, his skills as a batsman also developed. He credits his musical training for providing him with the discipline he shows in his cricket; his batting style is based on the patient accumulation of runs rather than spectacular big hitting. From the start of his cricketing career, he made steady and impressive progress, from schoolboy prodigy to the England youth team and eventually to the full England team, in which he made a successful debut in 2006, at the age of 21.
In subsequent years, he broke many batting records, scoring runs heavily against all international sides. It therefore seemed unsurprising when he was appointed captain of the England team in 2012. Yet, if his career up to this point had resembled that of an oldfashioned sporting hero from early twentiethcentury schoolboy fiction, he now found himself confronted with serious problems. For cricket fans in England and Australia, the biggest event in the calendar is the international series between the two countries, known as “The Ashes” and contested with a level of physical and verbal aggression which might startle anyone who still thinks of cricket as a sleepy game played in a gentlemanly, sporting manner. In the Ashes series of 2013, England, under Cook’s captaincy, defeated Australia comfortably, but Cook was criticised for what some saw as his excessively cautious tactics.
Expectations were high for the return series in Australia, with hordes of journalists and satellite TV coverage ensuring that every ball of every game would be analysed thoroughly; but it all turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for England, and for Alastair Cook. Australia won the series 5-0, one of England’s key players suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be sent home, another retired from all cricket midway through the tour, and one bowler suffered such a catastrophic loss of confidence that he was unable even to contribute to practice sessions, let alone formal games. Cook too suffered a loss of form, and in the aftermath of the series, there were numerous calls for him to relinquish the captaincy. Yet, although the England coach resigned, Cook resolved to continue, to rebuild a new England side and to introduce some talented young players. In 2014, this policy seemed to be paying off, with the England team winning a Test series against India after an unimpressive start. Alastair Cook is less confident in dealing with the media than his predecessors in the role, but in the British tabloid press, cricketers tend to be regarded as more intelligent than footballers. So his position as England captain looks safe – for now.
NOTE: Even if you’re not interested in sport, you might like the journalist Mihir Bose’s essay on the connections between cricket and English literature: http://www.mihirbose.com/index.php/ the-curious-case-of-cricket-and-english/