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Exclusive Interview with Alan Butcher: The end is probably nearing for Alastair Cook

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A one-time Test player for England.

A stylish left-handed opener during the 70s and 80s who, in his prime, was rated by Mike Brearley as one of the top players of fast bowling on the English county circuit.

Has the experience of coaching Essex (1993) and Surrey (2005-2008) at the first-class level and Zimbabwe (2010-2013) at the international level.

Father of former English batsman Mark Butcher who featured in 71 Tests for England between 1997 and 2004.

An author of an intriguing book that narrates the story of the sorry state of Zimbabwean cricket and how a group of disillusioned individuals finds itself languishing in its backwaters.

A family man to the core.

These are some of the diverse and salient roles that Alan Raymond Butcher has played over the years—roles that spread across different disciplines and demand distinct approaches. For someone who scored truckloads of runs at the first-class level season after season and faced some of the foremost bowlers of his generation during that period, the tag of a ‘one-Test wonder’ hardly helps one form a proper appraisal of his prolific career, both in terms of runs scored and experience gathered.

It’s only when you strike a conversation with him and allow his seasoned mind to sail freely and propound its views on the various developments taking place in contemporary cricket, does the true worth of this man come to the fore: a faithful observer of the game blessed with a fine cricketing acumen and an ability to discern things from both his playing and coaching experiences.

CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu had interviewed Alan Butcher prior to the third Test between England and India at Trent Bridge that began on 18th August, 2018.

Here are the excerpts:-

Q: India’s defeat in the second Test of the ongoing five-match series against England at Lord’s—by an innings and 159 runs—is it the most abject capitulation by a visiting side that you’ve seen in recent times?

Butcher: It wasn’t good, but I hesitate to be too harsh because I was the coach of Zimbabwe when we were beaten inside two days by New Zealand in Napier [in January 2012]. I expected a bit of fight from India though.

‘Like father, like son’. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mark Butcher plied his trade for Surrey in an illustrious career that spanned 17 seasons (1992-2009). His Test career was productive too, as he played 71 Tests for England and amassed over 4,000 runs including 8 hundreds between 1997 and 2004. © Getty Images

Q: The fact that India played a solitary three-day practice game against Essex prior to the Test series, has drawn a lot of flak from greats of yesteryear like Sunil Gavaskar and Clive Lloyd, whereas, England coach Trevor Bayliss has spoken in favour of the visitors saying that one also needs enough recovery time when as many as five Tests have been squeezed into just 42 days. Do you think the current FTP—which is loaded with a slew of limited-overs matches—leaves little breathing space for cricketers to switch from one format to another

Butcher: Visiting teams need more practice than they afford themselves all over the world these days. This has been an issue for probably twenty years now and worldwide T20 tournaments have only exacerbated the problem. And for the question relating to recovery time, if five Tests hadn’t been squeezed into 42 days then it would’ve been less of a problem. That said, both teams are getting plenty of unscheduled rest days at the moment! The party line from both players and the administrating bodies is that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, but actions and words are not matching up. Ultimately the world will get the cricket it wants…..it’s looking increasingly like white-ball cricket.

Q:  How would you sum up India’s abysmal batting performance in the series so far? Is it more a matter of technical deficiencies or has it more to do with the psychological aspect of players?

Butcher: I think it’s [a mixture of]  both….there are technical aspects borne out of the habit from learning the game in a hot and dry country where swing and seam don’t often come into play. Then there is a mental side to it as well which depends upon a player’s willingness to adapt to different conditions and I wonder if there is much incentive to adapt for cricketers who can earn more from T20 cricket than they can from Test cricket.

Q: You were hailed as one of the finest openers in England during your heyday. India have tinkered with their opening combination in the first two Tests without getting any fruitful start in either game. Murali Vijay—who had hitherto been touted as one of the finest technicians in the side—averages an unhealthy 12.80 in his last ten overseas Test innings, whereas, his opening partner at Lord’s, KL Rahul, has persistently fished outside off-stump and succumbed to Anderson’s away-swingers time and again in this series. Shikhar Dhawan, on the other hand, has perennially looked out-of-sorts on seaming wickets. For a touring side, how imperative is it that the opening pair provides a good start?

Butcher: Thanks for the compliment, but I wasn’t tested at the highest level! I go back to my last point …. do the players you just mentioned really ‘want’ to adapt to Test cricket in conditions other than those they’re familiar with?  

Q: The English batting doesn’t seem to be unerring either, as was evidenced by the second innings of the Edgbaston Test and also in the Lord’s Test, where Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes combined to bail the team out of deep waters after they were struggling at 131/5. How do you think the Indian bowlers can capitalise on the fragility of the English batting line-up in the games to come?

Butcher: Yes, England’s top order has been fallible too. India need to pick the right team for the conditions which they clearly failed to do at Lords. Then they need to give the bowlers a chance by piling up enough runs on the board.

Q: How would you rate Joe Root as a captain?

Butcher: I think these days the off-field analyses mean tactical captaincy is less important, and therefore, Joe Root scoring heavily is the most important thing for England at present.

© PA Photos/Getty Images

Q: Alastair Cook has looked only a pale shadow of his past glory, for his last ten innings have yielded only 174 runs. Where according to you is he struggling and what does he need to do to come out of this extended lean patch?

Butcher: Probably bat on a good pitch in good batting conditions. He’s not going to get any better now; he can only play as he plays. He’s been a great player for England, but the end is probably nearing for him.

Q: With such little recovery time available in between two matches, do you think the likes of Anderson and Broad will tire out by the time the series approaches its conclusion?

Butcher: Maybe, but they’re not bowling that many overs and getting regular wickets keeps you energised.

Q: A lot of questions were asked about the selection policy of the Indian team management when they decided to field an extra spinner at Lord’s despite the overcast conditions on the second day that demanded the inclusion of a seamer instead. There has been a lot of ambiguity about Ravi Shastri’s role in the side. A large section of the Indian media believes that unlike Kumble, who by virtue of his towering personality never hesitated to call a spade a spade, Shastri is more of a captain’s spokesperson. Having been a coach at the international level yourself in the past, what do you think should the primary job of a coach be in today’s game?

Butcher: It was bad selection at Lord’s and I don’t know who had the final say. My thought is always that the captain needs to go onto the field with the team he wants. However, as a coach, you need to try hard to convince him that your opinion is correct!

Q: You were quick to express your delight on Twitter after Imran Khan’s party attained majority in Pakistan’s general elections last month. Do you think his no-nonsense attitude that was so intrinsic to his playing days, will remain unchanged now that he has taken on such a big mantle and will have to deal with so many diplomatic issues?

Butcher: His current position is tougher than anything he had faced on the cricket pitch, but he has spent a long time preparing himself for it and I wish him well.

Q: James Anderson is just ten wickets away from becoming the highest wicket-taker amongst pace bowlers in Test history. An absolute champion in home conditions, Anderson’s bowling has always come under scrutiny whenever he has toured abroad. How would you describe Anderson’s fifteen-year-long-career and what has his influence on English cricket been like over the years?

Butcher:  As you say, his influence has been greater in England, but you can’t argue with his output and longevity, both of which have been phenomenal.  

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