Cook (Finally) Resigns As Test Captain

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After being given the luxury of six weeks to decide his future, Alastair Cook has finally decided that he has no future … as captain at least. He announced today that he’s stepping down from the role. Giving in to his critics can’t have been easy but it’s undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Although the captaincy never really suited Cook – it always struck me that he was made skipper because of his background and squeaky clean image rather than an ability to lead and inspire – he ended up captaining England in more tests than any other player. It’s an odd statistic as I doubt even his greatest cheerleaders would describe him as anything other than an adequate field general.

In my humble opinion captaincy was a role Alastair never looked comfortable in. The often repeated cliche that he ‘leads from the front’ says it all. He was never one for inspirational speeches or tactical masterstrokes – all he could do was go out there, bat all day, set an example, and hope others followed. It’s the very minimum a test cricket captain should provide. In fact, it’s the minimum every single senior player should provide.

So how will history remember Cook? It’s no surprise that Andrew Strauss, his philosophical twin, today described him as ‘one of our country’s greatest captains’. This is pure hyperbole of course. Cook the captain might be lauded for his longevity but everyone knows he’s a long way short of being England’s greatest. Indeed, a big reason why Cook captained England for so long is because there simply wasn’t anyone else. Indeed, this is probably the slogan that should be etched upon his captaincy’s gravestone.

The truth is that Cook was both a success and a failure as England captain. He was successful because he kept scoring runs (albeit fewer centuries) in the role. This is no mean feat. His performances with the bat in India back in 2012 were nothing short of superhuman. He should also be remembered for leading England to Ashes wins at home in 2013 and 2015, plus that surprising (if a tad fortuitous) victory in South Africa a year ago.

However, Cook also endured humiliation at the hands of these foes. The recent tours to India and Bangladesh were a shambles that ended in embarrassment. Cook’s flaccid captaincy and poor form with bat played a big role in these capitulations. Meanwhile, although Alastair led England to some team successes against the Proteas, his form with the bat against South Africa’s fearsome pace attack has always been subpar – averaging 31 in eight tests away from home and just 35 overall.

What’s more, Cook’s Ashes record is also extremely mixed. Although he skippered the side to wins in the last two home Ashes series, and played brilliantly down under in 2010/11, he averages just 29.6 with the bat at home against the old enemy (with zero centuries). And as a captain, he’ll mostly be remembered for that horrific 0-5 whitewash in which England completely fell apart both on and off the pitch. We need no reminding that Alastair was the only person at the heart of that debacle who survived.

The fact Cook survived the fallout of that Ashes disaster made me simultaneously admire him and somewhat resent him. I really think that KP-gate would have buried most men. The fact that he weathered the storm, and kept plugging away, despite a huge amount of criticism, says a great deal about his resolve. The fact he survived, and briefly helped to turn the team’s fortunes around, is extremely impressive.

However, unfortunately I can’t forget the way the establishment rallied around him either – especially as there seemed no reason, other than favouritism, why they should do so. Having put Cook on a pedestal for the duration of his career – and who can forget Giles Clarke’s stomach-churning remark about Alastair coming from the right sort of family – the ECB seemed to portray him as a champion of virtue and an antidote to the evil Pietersen. Not for the first time in his career, Cook was afforded luxuries other players never get. Why? Well, perhaps we should take Giles Clarke at his word.

Although Cook survived this saga, which was surely one of the most embarrassing political fallouts in English cricket’s history, the end has finally come three years later. Once again he was given a rare luxury (the ability to choose his own fate over a lengthy six period) but I won’t let this cloud my assessment of Cook’s tenure. After all, the bare statistics speak for themselves:

Alastair Cook led England to the second (equal) most test wins ever

Alastair Cook led England to the most test defeats ever.

There is no escaping this legacy. Cook’s record is mixed. Was he a good captain? No. Was he a terrible one? No (although he was occasionally terrible). Should he be applauded for steering England through some difficult times? Both yes and no. After all, the storm after the Ashes whitewash was partly of his making.

I guess I’d summarise Alastair’s tenure like this: over the last ten years Cook has become a fact of life of English cricket. He was anointed as England’s latest FEC (future England captain) at an early age – despite showing no particular aptitude or desire for the job – and he got the chance to fulfil his destiny when Andrew Strauss stepped down. As far as I’m concerned he did his stint in charge and now he’s gone. It’s that simple. I won’t remember him fondly but I won’t say ‘good riddance’ either.

My ambivalence might seem strange for someone who has written extensively about Cook over the years. And yes, it does seem a bit odd. The truth is that I’m too conflicted to write either a eulogy or something less flattering.

As an England supporter I’ll always be grateful for Cook’s runs. We’d have been lost without him (especially in recent times). However, I’ve always found English cricket’s infatuation and hero worship of Cook extremely cringeworthy. And I don’t think it’s always been deserved – although ‘deserved’ is the wrong word because Cook never asked for any of this adulation. I guess the exaggerations and the hyperbole just irritate me.

The bottom line is that Cook has always been a good but not great batsman. And he’s always been a very average captain. But in the coming days I fully expect to read reams of tripe comparing him to Mike Brearley and WG Grace. And therein lies the problem. The hype around him – an adulation I’ve always found a touch bizarre and a little nauseating – has ruined Alastair Cook for me.

And am I the only one who finds it weird that they haven’t named Cook’s successor? They’ve only had six weeks to make a decision. It’s almost like the country needs a period of national mourning before we can gradually, reluctantly, and with heavy hearts, finally move on.

Anyway, at least Alastair can now go back to doing what he does best – opening the batting. And at least we can put this debate about his leadership qualities, and the precise amount of iron in his rod, to bed. At last.

It’s not before time. Anyone else would’ve been asked to resign immediately after Chennai.

James Morgan

146 Comments

  1. This news was expected and is completely the right decision.
    The results of the last 12 months made his position untenable.
    It’s been a rollercoaster ride under cook, I will leave it to others to dwell on the negatives, for know on the day he stepped down I’d rather remember the positives.
    Being called one of our greatest ever captains does seem a little OTT, but not many have series wins in India and South Africa under the belt.
    Also the small matter of 2 home Ashes wins.
    He (and many other) may never better his first series in charge, leading from the front by scoring runs in the series win in India.
    That first innings ton in a losing cause was instrumental in showing the others that there was nothing to fear.
    His critics always point out he was poor tactically, but England always out a strategy to follow. That doesn’t encourage out of the box thinking whether capable or not.

    I think Cook has held on for 12 months too long, but now he has gone it’s time to look forward. I think Root will make a cracking captain, and I hope he has his former captain back in good form helping him set up test match victories.

  2. How about this for an interesting idea? Bring back Ian Bell as stand in captain until Root is ready. Bell now has captaincy experience for his county; has much more test experience than any of the potential others in the top eight; and would hopefully sure up the middle order a bit.

  3. Cook was an ordinary captain, great bat and a better than average slip fieldsman. Putting the captaincy behind him, he now has the rest of his career to see where he fits in history, which will be kind.

    Australia are sad that he has resigned…..

    Fancy being an England captain and compared to WG disGrace – WG was a cheat and a disgrace, yet weirdly many people stick him up on some mighty pedestal. Unless that pedestal is longer than it appears…….

    • There is a great tale about Grace, Doug. It seems he was batting on a very windy day. He was bowled by one that just kissed the top of the off stump and the bail after a second or so fell out. Grace turned to the umpire and said “Very windy today isn’t it” To which the Umpire replied “indeed it is, watch it doesn’t blow your hat off on the way back to the pavilion “

    • That’s because WG Grace has the finest test record in the game. 22 tests – no dismissals. Not even Bradman can boast that

      • He was a one. I do find it quite strange, the Victorian attitude regards cricket. You know, play up and play the game, walking, all that cricket is meant to represent, the essence of sportsmanship and all that. Yet old W.G. who was meant to epitomise all of that, cheated like it was going out of fashion.

  4. A true Vic ‘Splinters’ of a post, without even the ‘Marks’ of a ghost
    The annointing of Cook and his all disappointing Craptaincy
    Held our team as it evolved back once ,twice, thrice, muddled mediocrity, the score
    But decisions he was involved in, revolved in derision, Comma Cnut, MSM bores
    Should have been sacked for the lack of leadership in 13/14 Aus
    Wasn’t because, because, because?
    Should have been sacked after this winter’s patheticity
    Wasn’t, because, Comma, MSM, complicity
    Nice family, never a leader (should have picked Alice)
    She’d have shot the elephant in the room, no malice 🙂

  5. James, you don’t mind if I call you James. Can you imagine what blogs like this one would be like if they were around at the time of the start of World Series Cricket. The Grieg issue alone would have made the KP issue pale into insignificance. As for rebel tours. Well I think you would have run out of space

  6. If Eoin Morgan was on the test team he could be a good captain. Root seems well equipped for the job but will the captaincy affect his batting?

  7. Pete Cresswell on

    Cook won 41% of tests in charge, lost 37% – By comparison
    Strauss won 48%, lost 22%
    Vaughan won 51%, lost 22%
    Hussain won 38%, lost 33%
    Brearley won 58%, lost 13%!

    Filtering out England captains with <10 tests in charge (leaving 31 captains), Cook has the 10th best win %, and the 10th worst loss % #stats

    And if you filter out draws (since they've become much less common in the last 20 years), his win:loss ratio is 52.1% – 17th out of 31, 1 behind Nasser Hussain (granted, ahead of all of the poor sods who lead England through the 80's and 90's slumps – Gower, Gatting, Gooch, Stewart, Atherton). Vaughan and Strauss are 7th and 8th,

    Speaking as a New Zealand fan, I'd have loved it if Cook was a Kiwi batsman. As a captain, not so much.

  8. Great to see those captains’ stats from Patrick above. Oh for an England captain with Cook’s powers of concentration at the crease and Mike Brearley’s emotional intelligence, man management skills and tactical nouse. Obviously, Brearley had some great players to captain, but I agree with Patrick above. Cook has been a solid, good opening batsman over many years but he hasn’t been a great captain. I think Neil was right too about Cook staying on for a year too long, it has been a bit dismal these last 12 months. England are in a bit of a mess, too many batting collapses and poor performances, it will not be easy against the talented South Africans later this year. I think the ECB will go for Root and I wish him well and hope that he will rise to the challenge, not suffering a loss of form. Cook will need to make lots of runs too, if he has a terrible series against SA then he shouldn’t go to Australia for 2017-18 Ashes.

  9. Amazing how lacking in cricketing knowledge some of these posts are ….. A captain is very often only as good as the tools at his disposal …… nobody takes into account that when Cook took over the reins he did so not only as Strauss retired but more crucially Swann also, and despite the commendable efforts of Moin trying to step up, the lack of an international class spinner makes it impossible to compete in the sub-continent …. couple that with the constant failure to adequately replace Strauss at the top order and the failing at no 3 of Ballance and others plus the loss of Pietersen due to his own constant petulance and adverse affect on the changing room that left no option but for his sacking ….. often left England recovering from 3 down for not very many …… at the end of the day Cook never sought the Captaincy but there was nobody else more suitable, he made the best of what he had and should be commended for not only seeing the team through a tough transitional period but also (& another fact easily overlooked on here) captained the team to an ashes win against ALL odds when nobody gave them a prayer ….. I hope Root does well and his batting is not adversely affected by the burdens of responsibility and that Cook helps him with a mountain of runs over the next few years …… as to when Cook should step down from the test team for good well the answer is easy …… when England have 2 openers as good or better than he is

    • Madaboutcricket on

      Agree a skipper is only as good as the players but when said skipper can’t lead enough to even have said best players on th pitch….

      England now have a test team full of white ball players and a few over rated players.. hardly through transition

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