If one was to judge captaincy purely based on tactical nouse, inspired team-talks and eloquence in dealing with media outlets, Alastair Cook’s legacy would be at best quickly forgotten.
If we factor Cook’s ability to lead by example, however, and in being instrumental in the creation of a relaxed and positive dressing room environment and continuing on during the utmost adversity, he will be fondly remembered as one of England’s great captains.
In 2012, captain Cook led England to one of their greatest ever Test wins, a 2-1 victory against the mighty India – in India. A feat not many teams throughout the history of the game have achieved, and something even the great Australian sides of yesteryear often tried and failed to achieve. It was a win of serious magnitude, and something the anti-Cook brigade, of which there are seemingly many, can never take away from him.
This, coupled with a rare victory away in South Africa and two Ashes wins, mean Cook’s record certainly makes good reading.
“Cook calmly vowed to fight on and right the wrongs from that fateful tour”
Cook’s reign also included draws and defeats to teams that England, on paper, should have been taken to the cleaners. A loss at home to Sri Lanka, a draw in the West Indies and, most recently, collapsing to a first ever Test loss to lowly Bangladesh; such misdemeanours must be taken into consideration when assessing the quality of Cook’s leadership.
Worst of the lot, though, was the mauling they took at the hands of the Aussies in the 2013/14 Ashes tour. They were pummelled in every game, a 5-0 defeat which was as heavy as you could ever have imagined. It signalled the end of one of England’s best Test match teams, with the likes of Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen never seen again in an England shirt. Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Ian Bell never quite recovered, either.
It was that defeat, however, or more how Cook reacted to it, that gives me unbridled amounts of admiration for Cook the man, never mind Cook the captain.
After the 5-0 whitewash down under, there were calls from every direction for Cook’s immediate resignation. Cook calmly vowed to fight on and right the wrongs from that fateful tour.
In the next summer, a 1-0 series defeat at home to Sri Lanka brought with it fresh tirades of abuse of Cook and mounting pressure on his position as Test captain. A defeat in the second test against the touring India seemed like the end was nigh.
In the first morning of the third Test, Cook walked out to bat at the Ageas Bowl with the world closing in all around him, with fewer runs in the summer than James Anderson, and facing the prospect of leading England to their third straight series loss. He subsequently played an innings which typified his enormous levels of mental strength.
Though he was to miss out on a century, falling five runs short, it was an innings that was to mark a change of fortune for both Cook and his team. Such innings are why I think Cook deserves so much admiration: his ability to perform under pressure of the highest order. We all saw how our beloved footballers dealt with pressure against the mighty Iceland in the summer. That is what sets Cook apart from many sportsmen: his mental toughness.
“Seemingly as class a bloke as a batsman, a trait too often forgotten in the sporting arena”
After that, England won the series convincingly and went on to play some fantastic Test cricket over the next couple of years, with shock wins over both Australia and South Africa while playing an aggressive and attacking style in the process.
As England were just one result away from going top of the rankings in the summer, Cook could have been forgiven for having a jibe at those who had criticised him so profusely, but he didn’t, remaining dignified throughout. Seemingly as class a bloke as a batsman, a trait too often forgotten in the sporting arena.
With a poor couple of months at the back end of 2016, Cook finally seriously questioned his will to carry on as skipper, and who could blame him? He had led the most Tests out of any England captain, 59, and had to deal with criticism and pressure none of his could even imagine.
His resignation came after a month or so of mulling it over, and although ideally, Cook could have continued on for another year, especially with the burden which will now be on Joe Root, if he didn’t want to do it anymore, he definitely made the right decision to step aside. You need your captain to be 100% in the zone; that is the nature of Test captaincy.
Much is made of the relaxed dressing-room environment in the England camp, something Cook would have been pivotal in installing. I am sure the recent success of rookies such as Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings owed at least a part to the smoothness of transition to a comfortable dressing room environment to be a part of.
Cook is the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test runs and has captained in the most Test matches. Similar to Wayne Rooney, he has faced a lot of criticism but you simply can’t argue with is CV.
Alistair Cook: batsman, captain, leader – legend.