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March 24, 2010
In the final analysis, Alastair Cook's tenure as England captain has been a job well done. With due respect to a Bangladesh opposition that, he admitted, "surprised us all", the weightiest burden coming into this series was the fear of failure. After four Test wins out of four dating back to October 2003, and eight ODI victories without reply, anything less than a England clean sweep was destined to attract opprobrium.
But now, despite more than a few scares along the way - and notwithstanding a sizeable umpiring rumpus - Cook can proudly present a 100% record in his debut series as skipper. Come the return series in May, he will slip quietly back into the role of Andrew Strauss's sidekick, and feel that little bit older, wiser, and better prepared for whatever challenges are put his way in the future.
"The captaincy had its moments," said Cook. "I now know how I need to get better as a captain, especially my leadership in the dressing-room, and other areas like that. But I couldn't ask for anything more. We were expected to win 3-0 and 2-0, and it's been a lot of hard work and a lot of credit goes to Bangladesh for the way they've made us work, especially in the last 10 days. But it's a very satisfying feeling."
There were times in his debut series when Cook looked horribly out of his depth, not least on the first two mornings of the Dhaka Test, firstly when Tamim Iqbal was smashing his way to 85 from 71 balls, and then during that grizzly hour on day two, when the tail belted Bangladesh past 400 against a field that resembled a series of flapping stable doors. But to his immense credit, Cook kept his composure when it came to his day-job - and two centuries in four innings was the reward for his focus.
"One aspect that's really pleased me is how I've dealt with batting. When I've batted, I've been able to concentrate on that," said Cook. "But in that first hour [at Dhaka], I've never experienced anything like it. Full credit to the way Tamim batted - we didn't have much option there - but thankfully he got out and everything calmed down. But bowling them out for 400 on that wicket was actually a really good effort. We knew that, however long it took, we had to get up past them. Once we did that, we knew we were in with a shout in the game.
"Bangladesh have got some very talented players, and they showed that," he added. "What surprised us most was how flat the pitches were. We knew there wouldn't be much for the seamers, but there was not much spin at all, the wickets stayed together very well and it was hard in the field. We deserve a lot of credit for the way we stuck at it. We couldn't roll sides out on that wicket, any sides, so a lot of patience was required, and we got our rewards at the end of it."
|They are not a pushover anymore. You have to play good hard cricket, you have to have a strong leader, and you have to have a cohesive unit. I think Cookie has been an exceptional leader under those circumstances Graeme Swann credits Bangladesh for making it a tough tour|
England's Man of the Series was their star spinner, Graeme Swann. His 16-wicket haul included a career-best 10 for 217 at Chittagong, with which he was elevated to the No. 2 bowler in the world, and though he was critical of the surfaces on which the Test matches were played, he was more than content with the results he had extracted from them.
"For Test cricket to survive it needs pitches that deteriorate as they go on," said Swann, "but you can only bowl on the pitches you are given, and it's been a source of pride for me that I've managed to take wickets out here. And the seam bowlers [should be proud] as well. Apart from a brief glimpse in the 2005 Ashes, we've not been great at reverse swing, but the young seamers really bought into it on this tour and worked on the ball, and that stands us in good stead.
"I think Cookie's done an exceptional job," he added. "Coming here to Bangladesh, there is a pressure to win every match, and win convincingly. I think that's something that goes back over the last decade, from playing against teams that were weaker in the past. They are not a pushover anymore. You have to play good hard cricket, you have to have a strong leader, and you have to have a cohesive unit. I think Cookie has been an exceptional leader under those circumstances."
The team now fly to England for a month-long break, and then it's straight into home series against Bangladesh and Pakistan. But already the side's focus is shifting towards next winter, when Australia await with the Ashes at stake once again. The contrast between Mirpur and the Gabba could hardly be more stark, but Cook is confident that important lessons have been gleaned from this trip.
"I think it's done us a world of good," he said. "We've had to work for results here, and while bowling on the subcontinent will be different to bowling in Australia, for this side to come here, under expectation to win, and deliver when it matters in hard conditions in terms of the heat and flat wickets, can only bode well when it comes to playing in Australia."
Cook's final comment was perhaps the best compliment that Bangladesh could have been offered at the end of a tour in which their margins of defeat in the two Tests - 181 runs and nine wickets - gave no indication whatsoever of the challenge they were able to pose, particularly in the middle five days of the series, from their fightback in Chittagong to their flyer at Mirpur.
After all, when England routed Bangladesh in the build-up to the 2005 Ashes, Michael Vaughan declared that it had all been "too easy". Nothing about this trip has been remotely simple, regardless of the scoreline.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.Feeds: Andrew Miller
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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