COOK RETURNS TO THE RANKS
Alastair Cook has made a career out of being diligent, dogged, determined. Biding his time, picking his moments, playing every ball on merit.
Watch, leave, watch, leave, watch, leave, watch, cut away to the rope. Repeat.
Picking his moment to call it a day as England’s Test captain was going to be no different. Just like his batting, Cook was never going to be triggered into a false move. After 59 Tests in charge it was only right that he should take the time to decide whether there would be a 60th. After an energy sapping and chastening winter tour, Cook made sure to remove himself from the heat of battle before making a decision on his future. But in truth, the decision was already made.
“When I left India I was pretty clear [that I would not continue]. I really wanted to give myself time. I didn’t want it to be an emotive decision after what happened in Bangladesh and India, and being away from a young family for a long time. I didn’t want that to cloud my decision but it was clear when I got home that those thoughts didn’t change.
“It was a tough decision. The hard bit was giving it away because it is such an amazing job to do. There are tough moments but walking out as England captain is very special. Being at the forefront of it is an incredible honour. But unfortunately I felt that I was done. It is a job you need one hundred per cent commitment to drive the team forward and at the end of India I felt I couldn’t do that. Ninety-five per cent is not good enough. It is not a job you hang onto, you need a driving force. I felt the team needed a push in another direction.
“We have played some good cricket but we lost eight games [in 2016] and we have stagnated as a team to be brutally honest. Ultimately the captain is part of that. There is a lot of work to be done I felt and I didn’t have the energy to do that.
“The dressing room has been fantastic, the support from the players has been brilliant but hearing a new voice could help. There are a good group of strong, young cricketers in that team who will drive England forward and I hope to be part of it.”
Longevity and mental fortitude have been hallmarks of his tenure, but the time has come to pass the torch. To whom is yet to be confirmed but if it is, as expected, to be Joe Root, he will come highly recommended by the outgoing skipper.
“Strauss has obviously seen leadership in him [being vice-captain]. He has a very, very good cricket brain, he’s a bloody good cricketer and he demands respect in the changing room because of that. I think he will be an outstanding candidate.
“We all know in the way that he bats and competes every time he goes out there, you don’t average fifty-odd without having something special and thinking about things in slightly different ways.
“Slightly more left-field; Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and Jonny Bairstow will probably come into consideration because of their standing in the dressing room and the way the operate and drive things.”
What advice would Cook lend to his incoming replacement?
“I was always told you must have your strong beliefs of how to lead. Ultimately you don’t know until you are thrown into a leadership position what they are.
“Enjoy the challenge, be open to other people’s ideas, get a group of people around you that you can trust.”
Cook admits he is “excited to go back to the ranks” but knows that as a senior figure he will continue to have a duty to lead.
“You lead as a person naturally. You can offer opinions, set examples, support the guys and generally be a good egg without the pressure of making final decisions.”
As captain, Cook has enjoyed several peaks; the victory in India in 2012, and two Ashes series victories stand out. While, on the field, the 5-0 whitewash in Australia was a severe trough, and off it, the Kevin Pietersen saga, was a considerable nadir of his reign.
In regards to the latter, Cook clearly feels the episode marred his time in charge and that the ECB left to him to take the majority of criticism alone.
“I wish it was done differently. I was part of that team who made the decision, and the decision is what we thought was the best for English cricket. The fallout of it was not good. It wasn’t great to see it all over the front and back pages. The responsibility in one sense as a captain or player is to get cricket in the papers for the right reasons. There were certain times in 2014 where it did feel as though I was the only one that made that decision, I did bare the brunt of it. That was certainly the toughest moment off the field.”
The final verdict? Tough times, but no regrets.
“I’ve been true to myself along the way. Hindsight is the easiest thing as a captain or to sit miles away and talk about. I’ve given it my best shot, I don’t have any regrets.”
As the assembled press concluded questioning, over the hum of chatter Cook quipped: “It’s not an obituary, I’ll still be around!”
Cook the captain is no more, but Cook the opener goes on. In 2017, cricket will go on, as will Cook, only in a different guise. The world will continue to rotate on its axis, and you can bet Chef will continue to churn out runs.
“I hope I am still here in four or five years time. I genuinely love cricket, I love the challenge of batting and the challenge of captaincy. I couldn’t give the required level [as captain any longer] but I certainly can with my batting. I’ve churned out runs most of my career, 11,000 of them hopefully means I can continue to do so.”
Whatever you think of Cook’s captaincy, whether you think his leadership has lacked ‘funk’, declarations were too conservative, maybe that a tattoo sleeve or having a man permanently stationed a fly slip might have spiced things up a bit, one thing that cannot be denied is his status as a world-class batsman.
England are lucky to have him at the top of the order. Let’s hope to see him stationed there for years to come, marshalling the new breed and chiseling out runs like a wise old owl on a one-man mission.
What will that mission be exactly?
“Everyone has goals, I’m never going to make them public.”
Cards remain close to the chest with Cook, but somewhere just beyond the line of horizon there is a man called Sachin with 15,921 Test runs nestled under his belt. When Cook eventually walks off into the sunset, he might just pass him on the way.