As England’s highest test scorer with just over 11,000 runs, most test centuries with 30 and the 6th highest individual score in a test match of 294 in that famous innings against India in 2011, Alastair Cook has cemented himself as a true England great. However since stepping down as captain over five weeks ago, has his captaincy been too harshly criticised? Despite plaudits from players past and present, has his unfavourable moments as captain defined his record long tenure?
Since taking over the reins from current ECB Managing Director Andrew Strauss in 2012, Cook’s record long 59 test leadership was mostly successful, with an historic test series win in India in his first test match as captain, matched with 3 test centuries that year, the Gloucester-born player looked as if he glided through settling in period. After being Strauss’s number 2, Cook looked as if he’d seamlessly settled into the role with his debut Ashes series win as captain in 2013 saw England complete 3 consecutive series wins. The 2013 series was the first in back-to-back Ashes series which were in complete contrast with each other. The 13/14 series saw Australia play host to an England side looking to match their performance earlier in the year. However a somewhat surprising 5-0 series whitewash by Australia saw England, and more specifically Alastair Cook, come under intense scrutiny by the media and as a result, the ECB appointed Peter Moores at the expense of Andy Flower as head coach in an effort to remould an embarrassed England side with Cook still as captain.
Despite a poor overall performance and questionable on field decisions, people were very quick to point the finger at Cook. Of course, it’s part and parcel to take criticism when it’s due, and as a captain, it’s important to take more responsibility than most when you lose, but many players in the team let him down. It’s crucial to point out that Cook doesn’t pick the team, that’s the role of the team’s selectors that I feel didn’t take the criticism they deserved. Questionable inclusions like Michael Carberry, who had made one half-decent score in the ODI series beforehand, at the expense of Nick Compton who had an impressive season for Somerset scoring more than 800 hundred test runs in the first division and with test centuries in New Zealand, he looked like a great inclusion to the squad and in an opening batsman role that, at the time, weren’t performing. When it goes wrong in team sports, blame must be put across the board and in this case, it was unbalanced in Alastair’s favour.
Cook knew more than anyone that a quick turnaround was needed in time for the summer in which england faced tricky test series’ against Sri Lanka and India respectively. After losing the two match series against Sri Lanka 1-0, with Cook far from his best, all eyes were on him when India came to England for a pivotal test series in the summer of 2014. Despite the immense pressure from the media and the ECB, Cook’s future as England captain was in the balance going into the series.
After a tricky start in a dull-drawn first test which saw him score only 5 runs and a second test defeat, and trailing the tourists 1-0, England knew anything other than a win would see another series defeat. With the pressure on, Cook and England produced a team performance that outclassed that Indian side for the rest of the series. With decent scores of 95 and 70 in respective innings in the next match, Cook inspired a great reaction from his teammates which saw England win the 3rd test. The momentum carried through the remainder of the series, taking it 3-1 and was remarked as one of Cook’s finest moments as captain; showing a prime example of fine leadership.
With no test cricket in the latter months of 2014, England and Cook had time to reflect on a disappointing year for English cricket, with Alastair being at the forefront of the blame, what followed in 2015/16 however was undoubtedly Cook’s best period as England captain. A year and half after the humiliation in the last Ashes series, Cook earned his redemption by helping England deliver a humiliation of their own to the touring Aussies by famously bowling them out for an incredible 60 in the morning of the 4th test at Trent Bridge. This bounce-back ability was a common theme during his captaincy, something he did very well. After wrapping up the 2015 Ashes series 3-2, Cook was only the 3rd captain in England’s history to win two Ashes series, a player who is so often reserved, a rare release of emotion was admired and it showed how much it meant to him after all the negative press after the defeat in Australia.
After the Ashes, it was clear that the bounce and confidence was back in England and their captain. In the Autumn of 2016, Cook displayed an extraordinary effort of fitness, concentration and patience with a monumental innings of 263 against Pakistan. His innings was recorded as the 3rd longest in history, racking up a mindblowing 13 hours and 56 minutes at the crease. This piece of individual brilliance was a class example for world class batting and proved how important he was to England.
England’s and Cook’s resurgence in 2015 carried through into 2016 when they faced the world leading test side South Africa away from home Despite Alastair’s mediocre individual display with a series high score of only 76, he inspired a memorable 1-2 series win to knock the Proteas off top spot and Cook’s side looked like a force yet again in test cricket. This series win put England on an unbeaten run which lasted almost the whole year, until the 4-0 hammering in India just over a month ago. England hadn’t been beaten in a similar manner since that Ashes series battering down under in 2014 and the defeat was the catalyst towards Cook’s resignation as captain. His leadership was again put into question and despite giving it the cold shoulder, the decision had already made between him and Andrew Strauss to step down. His eventual resignation was met with pride and admiration from players and the ECB with tributes flooding from the world of cricket. However you still get that sense that throughout his reign, rarely did you get the feeling that he was fully back by the ECB; progression and success was expected and presumed, set backs and defeat was treated as a crisis.
When you look back over his 5-year tenure, Cook established himself as a leader of great empathy and integrity despite not achieving the accolades to make him one of the finest skippers of his age. He was a great people person, he could rally a whole team while at the same time support the individuals by setting a class role model for future England players.
Cook’s leadership, in many ways, was like his record-breaking batting; unyielding, deliberate, determined, while also lacking the tactical nous which prevented him overall approval. But his rock-like commitment to the cause, and high personal standards were credible cause for respect and gratitude. Despite his resignation and at 32 with no signs of retirement, Cook’s appetite for the game hasn’t diminished and is looking to cement himself further as one of the greatest batsman of his age, if he hasn’t done so already.
What do you think? Do you think Cook was rightly or wrongly criticised for his captaincy? Have your say in the comments section below, or over on Twitter @SpiceUKOnline