My father, the late Sir Roly Fatt-Barstad, said that the best captain under whom he served was Douglas Jardine. Mr Jardine always had just the right phrase for each of his party in 1932-33 – usually “Gentleman or Player?” Of course, he’d share his tobacco with the enlisted men – on Sundays – and even defended Larwood when Gubby wanted him hanged in Melbourne. He got the best out of his men vs Australia – and balanced the expense accounts vs the players pool to ensure that MCC weren’t out of pocket – and he always saw to it that the families of Larwood, Bowes and Voce had a tangerine each on Christmas Day morning.
I met Mr Jardine just the once, as a toddler, when he had me birched for sneezing at The Parks during the toss – a lesson well learned and one that Mr Gove might consider reintroducing once the “Human Rights” Act is packed off on the same plane as Abu Qatada and Danish Kaneria. With so little experience of his captaincy, it would be foolish of me to pass judgment, but Mr Jardine was obviously the greatest of them all.
My captain on my only Ashes Tour (I was flown out via Paris, Vienna, Tehran, Bangkok, Hanoi, Something Something and Perth to replace Wally, whose trouble had flared up after celebrating an upcountry century vs Billanben in the only bar in town, the one he had been warned about). Len was captain on that trip and kept himself very much to himself and seemed to be under the impression that I was assistant kitman, until I was called upon to bat 8 in the decisive Fifth Test in Sydney.
By that time, Len was a veteran and had dropped down the order to 6 to allow him to enjoy his morning pipe after the toss in a bit of peace and quiet. Len wasn’t much for tactics – he wasn’t much for anything except batting and his pipe – but that was his genius. Every man walked to the wicket knowing it was his job to score as many runs as he could and, if the likes of Miller and Lindwall had a few choice words for me when I made 17 in three hours when we were 635-6 on Day Three, well Len had a few words back. Or he would have done, had he heard them – he was getting quite deaf by this time. When it rained for a couple of hours just after lunch on Monday and Johnny and Freddie skittled the Aussies on a drying strip for 63 and 36 and we won by an innings and 757, Len’s tactics were hailed as brilliant by every Englishman. I was at the Ways and Means Committee at Lord’s a few years later, when Len spoke up for the Australian Meteorological Office, which, as a result, received a healthy endowment from Percy, Past President of the MCC.
So my advice to young Cook is to say as little as possible to his team – they can obviously play (except maybe that chunky Yorkshire lad whose dobbers I think I could see off even today) otherwise they wouldn’t be picked. So let them get on with the game, enjoy your pipe in the dressing room and never let any of the party visit Madame JoJo’s during the tour match vs New South Wales IIs.