The two ways of looking at Alastair Cook’s captaincy

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Alastair Cook

There are two ways of looking upon the England captaincy. You can see it as an important position where the incumbent can have a major positive influence on how the side performs, or you can see it as one more thing that could go horribly wrong.

Rated according to the former, Alastair Cook is not an especially good captain. He is diligent and well-meaning, but ultimately far too insipid to have any significant impact. It’s hard to imagine that he is the author of England’s strategy. He will have a say, but the blueprint is not his. As much as anything he is the guy who flicks the switches and pulls the levers and operates the machine.

Tactically, he has learned to be inoffensively nondescript.

That sounds like a fairly damning report card, but we’re equally inclined to adopt the second perspective expressed in the opening paragraph of this piece. Captaincy can go wrong. You can do a lot of damage as a captain.

Ironically, considering he doesn’t himself possess them, Alastair Cook is a safe pair of hands. Although his captaincy will forever be remembered for one massive world championship title-taking dressing room bust-up, the team does generally function fairly smoothly.

No-one’s lobbying to become the next captain. No-one’s hitting anyone else with a cricket bat. To momentarily indulge in cliché, everyone’s pulling in the same direction. More impressively, when they find they’re getting dragged in the opposite direction, they don’t stop pulling and start arguing, they just sort of press on, refusing to accept the apparent futility of their efforts. That’s actually quite an achievement.

Despite some real low points, England no longer seem liable to completely implode under Cook. That isn’t so bad. Given a bit more talent in a few key areas, nondescript captaincy could take the team a long way.

The answer to the question “should Alastair Cook continue as England captain?” may to some extent depend on which of those perspectives you are inclined to take. However, both views may well be irrelevant.

Alastair Cook has, of late, appeared completely fed up with his job. Getting battered on an away tour will do that to a man, but it’s quite possible the enthusiasm won’t gush back in when he gets home.

If that’s the case, he’ll correctly resign because a man who really, really cannot be arsed is not going to do an especially good job. Trust us on this.


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  1. I think you’re being unnecessarily fair on Cook. His safe hands have taken England from being a settled and strong squad into a mess of who what when and why. He has overseen the loss of Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, the latter exclusively Cook’s fault, two players who formed part of the core of the best England team most of us have seen. And because of the KP sacking, he has created an atmosphere where new players are expected to conform before anything else, and in which they are like England new boys of the past – rabbits in headlights scared to succeed for fear of failure.

    The best teams accommodate people, get the best out of a disparate bunch. Cook is not that. Take Anderson and Broad out, and this would be the worst test team in the world. If anything, Cook manages to find mediocrity where previously there was genius.

    1. Easy to characterise the current lot as conformist yes-men, but we can’t really know that.

      Well Moeen Ali’s a yes-man, obviously. But beyond that it’s hard to say.

      1. Do I detect an editorial position along the lines of “indifference to the question of Cook’s captaincy”?

        I find it hard to disagree with such a fence-sitting line.

        Daisy is all for Cook to retire from the captaincy and indeed from cricket. But that’s this week and the run up to Christmas is always a stressy week. Daisy should be feeling and reasoning much better by Tuesday, all being well.

    2. “He has overseen the loss of Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, the latter exclusively Cook’s fault”

      Guff. Cook’s first tour as captain was to India in 2012 which involved the recalling of Pietersen after his axing under a previous captain. You’d have thought KP would remember this incident, but it interferes with the narrative that sells his ‘brand’ right now, so KP doesn’t consider it important.

      Cook is at least the third captain that Pietersen has annoyed enough to find himself kicked out of the team if the stories of him at Notts are to be believed. Good teams accommodate, true. Pietersen is clearly someone who took a shitload of accommodating and that is entirely his fault.

      1. If KP was the destabilising influence he has been made out to be, just imagine how good England would have been without him. His career coincides with the most successful period of English cricket in the last 50 years, and throughout all this period he supposedly had a negative effect on the team.

        International captains are not paid to make things lovely for the players. They are paid to maximise the chances of a team winning. Clearly KP was not the only reason for England’s success, but to argue that he was so detrimental to performance that he had to go seems a huge stretch. I am quite sure he was an egotistical tosser, but he was a winning tosser, which is the only thing that matters.

    3. On the basis that Cook is one of the worst England captains for decades, having overseen the retirement of Swann who was their outstanding spinner for a generation, the award for “worst captain in the history of cricket” must go to D. G. Bradman*, who oversaw the retirement from test cricket of the closest-to-undisputed-as-it-gets-outside-cricinfo-comments best cricketer in history “The Don”.

      1. Fair enough, but at the very least Cook was unable to create an environment in which players could thrive. That tour was by far the most chaotic in recent times. It ended the careers of Swann, Trott and KP.

        Maybe no captain could have held it together, but the reports of the players meeting, at which Cook suggested more physical training as the solution, suggest a captain completely bereft of all ideas and only able to fall back on imposing what works for him on everybody. That’s middle management of the worst type, and is the exact opposite of leadership.

    4. In years to come will Cook with his average in the mid 40s be looked on better or worse as a captain than Mike Brearley with his average in the low 20s?
      Whilst it is entirely fair to judge him on whether the dressing room is a safe space (after all he sets the tone), there are worse captains around. You could find yourself in the predicament of Australia where the captain and vice captain are the only undroppable players based on form but their on field decision making, rather than have an inconsequential effect on the game as Cook does, at times unintentionally hinders the teams progress.

  2. In the old days, this kind of crisis happened to the one day team. The answer to that usually was let the next Test captain take over for a bit.

    As a purely hypothetical thought – If things had worked out a little differently, I wonder how this Test team would react to Eoin Morgan being captain?

    I don’t think Cook was/is a good captain, but nor is he necessarily a bad one. He’s felt more like a curator of the team – happy to let it tick along and do all the stuff nobody else wants to, but not really sure what to do when anything out of the ordinary happens. Or a good captain of a good team, but a bad one of a shonky one.

  3. Changing the captain is the Test Cricket equivalent of sacking the manager in football – it may not improve the team – Something Must Be Done, and this is the easiest/most obvious Something that there is.

  4. Cook has been the wrong man for the job since the day he was made captain. Just because a player is a brilliant bat (and Cook is that) doesn’t mean he’s the right person to be captain (India tried Sachin Tendulkar about 15 years ago and it didn’t work).
    The problem is that England don’t have anyone else at the moment. Well, they do, but I think it will be very unfair to make Joe Root captain. He’s one of the best batsmen in the world at the moment. Let him be just that for now.

    tl;dr, Cook *has to* continue as captain because TINA

  5. This is very much an outsider’s view, but there seems a lot to like of the current regime. Many young players have come through and come good under Cook’s captaincy. There’s competition for seam bowling and all rounder places. This squad is more multicultural than it’s predecessors and that indicates, to some extent at least, a healthy openness. Outside of Asia, England should be a match for anyone and since it’s a young squad, they should only get better irrespective of who is captain.

    All that said, Im not trying to make a case for Cook’s continuation as captain. There are some clear structural weaknesses when it comes to bowling or playing spin. There seemed to be some confusion in team selection and batting approach during the India tour. Change can bring new drive and a fresh approach, as Kohli is perhaps demonstrating with India.

    The question really is (and one I am genuinely curious about as someone who knows a lot less about the state of English cricket than many here), is the current state of affairs by and large satisfactory, or could England benefit from changes in team ethos, culture and selection (i.e. the things which a captain can actually influence)?

  6. One of the worst captaincies in county cricket has to be Major Nigel Bennett of Surrey in 1947. Apparently, having difficulty after the war in finding a captain, Surrey gave the captaincy to Bennett on the mistaken identity that he was a Major Leo Bennett. Surrey slumped to their worst ever finish at the end of the season. Wisden said, “N. H. Bennett, without previous experience in first class cricket, stepped into the breach; but want of knowledge of county cricket on the field presented an unconquerable hindrance to the satisfactory accomplishment of ardous duties.” Nicely put.

  7. No-one’s lobbying to become the next captain (they tell the media). No-one’s hitting anyone else with a cricket bat (they tell the media). To momentarily indulge in cliché, everyone’s pulling in the same direction (they tell the media). More impressively, when they find they’re getting dragged in the opposite direction, they don’t stop pulling and start arguing, they just sort of press on, refusing to accept the apparent futility of their efforts (they tell the media).

  8. The question is whether there is anyone else currently in the team who would do a better job. Root is the name that keeps getting mentioned, but is he really a good option? Looking at the team there isn’t much else, you can’t give it to a bowler (can’t find KC’s link for the list captaincy preferences but I remember Northern Bowler was near the bottom). Can’t give it to someone like stokes because of the “Beffy” effect. Moeen is a yes man. Bairstow? Don’t think so, and everyone else is still establishing themselves. So Root’s the only option, but he hasn’t captained almost anything ever. Hooray!

    1. Ged, you should know that the ICC captain, never needs to demonstrate his skills in a Real match. It is just like picking a team in a video game.

      1. Point is though, Marees, that “experts” deemed Cook more worthy than any of the other extant test captains for that award.


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