Should Cook stay on as England Captain?

cookLet’s start with some obvious points. When England captain Alastair Cook is in form he makes beating England in a Test Match a very difficult proposition.

He may not be a cricketer like Gayle, Sehwag or (he who must not be named) Pietersen who can single-handedly take the game away from the opposition in a session but his ability to occupy the crease and score ‘daddy’ hundreds makes him a great Test Match cricketer.

Cook’s centuries against India in 2012 guided England from 1-0 down in the series to an improbable 2-1 win.  Plus, last summer he guided England to a 3-0 victory in the Ashes. These things shouldn’t be forgotten.

An equally obvious point however, is that he is out of form and a rather poor Captain. Cook hasn’t scored a test match century since his 130 against New Zealand in May 2013.

Since then Cook has failed to make a century in 24 attempts. Even more worryingly Cook has only failed to get a start (less than 15 runs) on 9 occasions. It’s not that Cook is getting out before he can get in. He is getting set at the wicket and losing his wicket cheaply time and time again.

Now most Captain’s struggle with form at some point during their tenure and it is clear that Cook’s form is suffering due to his captaincy responsibilities. Vaughan and Strauss both had long runs of poor form during the time in which they were Captain. Vaughan in particular though offered lots of leadership and nouse on the pitch.

With respect to Cook, who seems like a nice guy, his captaincy skills are truly sub-par. He fails to motivate players to play for him. Pietersen has been kicked off the team because, he apparently wasn’t bothered. Well, isn’t the role of the Captain to make players care? Swann similarly, couldn’t find the motivation to continue to play for Cook after he left mid Ashes.

If you watched the game against Sri Lanka today this pattern of poor leadership continued. The England players didn’t seem to care. They were supposedly trying to bowl a team out to win a test match and a series but there was no energy on the pitch and the field layouts were poor. Anderson for instance was bowling to fields which allowed Sri Lanka’s number 9 batsman Herath to smack for boundaries at will.

England now haven’t won a Test Match in 7, losing 6 and drawing one. In this time England have spent more time looking clueless than an amnesiac trying to do algebra whilst remembering their birthday.

This brings us to the obvious question then Can Cook stay on as England captain?

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Review of Skin Game by Jim Butcher (SPOILER KLAXON!!!)

skingameOn May 27th the entertainment event of the year (until England win the World Cup [side note I’m not delusional I know England have about as much chance of winning the World Cup as Harry Dresden does of inviting Nicodemus to his daughter’s next birthday party]) touched down onto planet Earth. I am of course referring to the latest Harry Dresden adventure thriller “Skin Game”.

In case you haven’t read it yet or are unaware of the Dresden series then things are briefly as follows. Harry Dresden is a powerful wizard/ private detective who is sucked into an increasingly dangerous, high stakes world. Skin Game is book 15 in the series. Whilst I recommend the series I would not recommend starting with Skin Game. To avoid confusion you would at least need to go back to book four or five.

The plot of “Skin Game” revolves around one very reluctant Winter Knight Harry Dresden being forced to into a heist under the leadership of the noose wearing, independent shadow having, coin collecting Nicodemus Archleone. The location of the target. The bowels of the ancient Greek underworld. The target who the Hades knows what.

It’s a great set up for a novel and Skin Game certainly deserves its place in the Pantheon of the always exciting Dresden Files. To flesh this out a bit I will briefly explain the snake-like manner in which I consumed Skin Game.

Skin Game hit my Kindle at one minute past midnight on the 27th and I had finished it by around 3pm the next day. I took my time in getting the review up however, because I felt I needed to continue my reread of the earlier Dresden Files and then read Skin Game again in order to offer an opinion that moved behind it’s great.

You see as much as I enjoyed Skin Game I feel it’s parts don’t quite hang together structurally. Butcher doesn’t quite pull off the perfect heist. For starters it is painfully obvious that Harry has set the trap up in the opening hours of the novel. As such Butcher never managed to convince me that Harry was in real danger in the way he has in the past. Although to give Butcher his due I didn’t work out what Harry’s ace in the hole was.

The problem then is that the heist idea and the emotional character stuff don’t suit each other. I thought the way that the crew broke into Baron Marcone’s vault was a bit too simple. Instead of using the equivalent of a frontal charge to break in it would have been better if they had been forced to creep in via stealthy means. This could have really ratcheted up the tension and played off the very justifiable lack of trust that the heist crew have with each other. However, this set up would have made doing the necessary character stuff near impossible narratively speaking.

The heist plot then wasn’t as tight and taut as it could have been. To prove my point here is a spoilerific list of some of the important stuff that occurred in Skin Game (in no particular order. Oh SPOILER WARNING).

A new Knight of the Cross was found, a holy sword was broken and then lightsaberised, Harry became a proper dad, Karrin and Harry admitted their love, the “parasite” turned out to be a spirit of intellect conceived by Harry and the shadow Lash (which meant Harry was pregnant), Harry took a holy sword back into his safekeeping, Harry picked up four incredibly power holy weapons/artifacts, worryingly Nicomedius got the Holy Grail, the corruption of elements of the church was all but confirmed, it was revealed that Harry is able to hold conversations with the prisoners in Demonreach and Mouse is learning stuff in school.

I think it is fair to say that Skin Game moved important pieces to where they need to be for the series conclusion. Whether it was wise to do this whilst running a complex heist plot is open to question and for me the answer is that it was not the best choice.

Plus I’m now very worried for the safety and happiness of all of Harry’s friends. I know things have been rough for the last few books but everything seems to be coming together too early for a happy ending.

These criticisms/worries aside I really enjoyed Skin Game. The emotional character payoffs were done brilliantly. The Karim duel against Nicky in particular was exceptional. There were also some great one liners like Harry saying “come with me if you want to live” and Hades revealing that Socrates punishment/fate is that people question him in the Underworld (I kind of feel he deserves it but then so did the ancient Athenians).

Overall, then Skin Game was good to very good but it didn’t scale new heights for the series in the way that I felt it had the potential to do. Still the best book of the year though.