England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge July 8, 2014

Cook's captaincy future on the line

Alastair Cook's qualities as England captain have been widely debated. England's five-Test series against India is about to determine his future

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Chappell: Difficult for Cook to improve in some areas

Amid all the advice and criticism heaped towards Alastair Cook in recent weeks, one truism has shone out: he needs to score more runs if he is to be an effective captain of England.

Cook may never be a Churchillian orator or a Napoleonic strategist. He may never shock or inspire with his words or his tactics.

But leadership comes in many forms. And the Cook who scored back-to-back centuries in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, the Cook who insisted that Kevin Pietersen was recalled at the end of 2012, the Cook who made seven centuries in his first 11 Tests as captain and the Cook who won nine and lost only one of his first 15 Tests as captain, did inspire and lift his team.

He might not offer genius, but he does offer hard work, commitment and determination. He led by example.

Whether such qualities are enough to succeed at this level remains to be seen. Indeed, the next seven weeks may define Cook's rein as captain; if England lose, it is hard to see how he can continue in the role.

But Cook's successes as captain seem to have been air-brushed out of history in recent times. To win in India, particularly having been a Test down, is a fine achievement. And, less than a year ago, he led England to a 3-0 Ashes victory. The complacency with which that result was greeted now seems incredible.

He has obvious limitations. His inability to find a solution to the Pietersen dilemma has not only weakened his side, but instigated a saga that continues to weigh him down. Equally he has struggled to integrate some characters - the likes of Nick Compton, Simon Kerrigan and Boyd Rankin - into a set-up that, if it were a little more hospitable, might coax the best out of more players.

But most of the criticism he has attracted has been for more mundane factors. It has been for his conservative field placings and safety-first declarations. It has been for a continuation of the tactics employed by Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower in taking England to No. 1 in the Test rankings and factors that constitute a relatively small fraction of the role of captain.

He knows he has to improve. He knows that his seamers will have to be utilised in shorter spells if they are to remain effective. He knows he has to find a way to cope without Graeme Swann's control and he knows there may be times when he has to be more inventive in the field.

But many of his faults have been exaggerated. While England certainly did not cover themselves in glory at Leeds, Shane Warne's suggestion that Cook's leadership was the worst he had seen in 25 years was hyperbole. In that period, we have seen captains urge players to underperform for money and to manipulate games for a leather jacket. In the grand scheme of things, Cook's decision to persist with a deep extra cover rather than a third slip does not amount to much.

Cook does not necessarily have to change his attritional style. It worked for Strauss and, if it comes naturally to Cook, it is better he sticks with it rather than trying to reinvent himself as an aggressive, risk-taker. It is just not his way and, in truth, it has rarely been the England way.

Besides, Cook was let down by his senior players as much as his own decision making against Sri Lanka. Many of the tactical failings for which he has been blamed would have been masked if his seamers had bowled fuller and his wicketkeeper taken a couple of chances. The fact that four players have registered centuries in their second Tests in recent months might even suggest that the team environment is improving.

It is hard to recall a time when England have had a captain that has not attracted an almost unbearable amount of criticism. Certainly Andrew Strauss, who even with his team at No. 1 in the Test ratings, faced calls to step down, knows how Cook is feeling. So does Mike Gatting, whose side won none of his final 14 Test in charge.

Even the best of recent vintage such as Mike Brearley, whose Test batting average of 22.88 would have seen him under immense pressure in the modern era, and Michael Vaughan, who was captain when England lost the 2007 series against India, had to deal with similar issues at one stage or another. Like the manager of the England football team, it is becoming a job in which it is impossible to please.

But, in the short term, the fact remains that many of the problems Cook currently faces will fade away if he can only rediscover his form with the bat. Without a century in 24 innings and averaging only 25.04 in that time, Cook knows he is not pulling his weight at a batsman. With little tactical acumen to compensate, that weakness is exacerbated.

There is no reason to suspect his dip in form - prolonged though it is - should be terminal. Anyone capable of making 25 Test centuries by the age of 28 has proved they are an exceptional player and, aged 29 now, the best may be ahead of him. The suggestion that bowlers have only just started testing him outside off stump seems naïve; it was always the default angle of attack.

"I'm desperately keen to lead from the front," Cook said on the eve of the Trent Bridge Test. "I know how important it is at the top of the order to do that.

"I'm in there because I'm one of the top six batters in the country. My job is to score the runs and set up the game for England. It doesn't matter whether you're captain or not.

"I haven't been doing that over the last year or so and no one is keener than me to put that right. I've worked very hard over the last 10 days. I've just got to make sure my mind is totally clear so that when I go out there I can concentrate on the most important thing, which is that ball coming down."

The India management, to their immense credit, have not sought to capitalise on Cook's difficulties. After the coach, Duncan Fletcher, backed him to recover his form at the start of tour media conference, their captain, MS Dhoni, utilised his pre-series media conference to urge Cook to ignore the criticism.

But other critics will be relentless and Cook admitted that he had required a "thick skin" in recent weeks. But he also reiterated his determination not to step down from the role whatever happens in the next 42 days.

"You have to be determined and stick to your guns. We all know you are judged on results and results have not been good enough. If we turn it round and win games of cricket things will be different.

"I'm incredibly proud to be England captain. I have thrown everything into it and continue to. Until that day the selectors decide I'm not the right man for the job I will continue to. It is a huge honour to do this and I can go to sleep knowing that I've thrown everything I've got into it."

Cook's hard work and determination have never been in doubt. The next seven weeks may well determine whether they are enough.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2014, 5:31 GMT

    Much ado about nothing. When Cook was on a phenomenal 'run', it would have been obvious to any long time follower of the game that such scoring rates are unsustainable over a long stretch unless one is a Don Bradman. The law of averages has caught up and he is in a trough to compensate for the peaks he was in for quite a while. In time he will re-emerge as a good bat. By imagining and imputing technical weaknesses one is only aggravating the mental stress he must be undergoing which also makes for poor decisions as a captain. One thing is leading to another. The 'experts' have just kept themselves in the media focus and nothing else. This is not hindsight but if you check your records you will find I have forewarned about Cook starting to hit a trough while he was still at his peak. As an Indian fan, my only worry is that he should regain his normal touch against India!

  • Jason on July 10, 2014, 4:56 GMT

    @Mahboob Ahmad, KP's future wasnt destroyed by Cook, all through the Ashes in Aus he was having Cortizone injections to his knee. This suggests a deeper medical problem. Also surely a player who wants back in the Test side would be chomping at the bit to play as many CC games as he could in order to state the case and put pressure on the selectors. So Far this season KP has played ZERO FC games, despite the opportunity to play in at least the last 3.

    AS for Cok destroying English cricket, please top using hyperbole, there are other reasons cricket is being 'destroyed', like flat pitches, a lack of quality front line spinner.

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2014, 2:50 GMT

    Cook is not doing terribly badly as captain, because he never was anything special as a captain in the first place. When he first took over he inherited a team which was playing well, and he didn't have to do a hell of a lot to ensure it kept performing well. But,. as was shown in Australia, and against Sri Lanka, Cook has neither the intellect nor the strength of character to be a captain. Put simply, he just is not captaincy material. And although he has a pretty good test record, he has also endured longer run droughts than most test batsmen, and his incredible vulnerability outside off stump is something which i think will seriously limit just how many runs he scores in his career. And another thing,every time he bats his brain looks utterly scrambled by his captaincy responsibilities.

  • Android on July 9, 2014, 22:45 GMT

    It appears this document was translated from another language. A spell check would be useful rein and reign are not synonyms and or and nor are not are more obviously used differently..Correct use of grammer is important in communication.

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 15:08 GMT

    I wrote from months ENGLAND prolem is cook how destroy ENGLAND CRICKET and PETERSON future and also GILES coach main problem in australia last visit I ALWAYS wrote LAST Ten YEAR england SUCCESS iS BECOUsE GREAT PETERSON

  • Vinod on July 9, 2014, 13:54 GMT

    Dunno about the inspired captaincy bit....but you are always one india series away from regaining your form and doing a makeover job on ur averages. Am sure Cook, Bell, root must be thinking this is happy hour looking @ the indian bowling attack.....and india left out the one guy who could have made adifference - Yadav......pathetic.....

  • Peter on July 9, 2014, 13:30 GMT

    Cook does not seem to have the character - the toughness - the slight arrogance/confidence often seen in top leaders.

    England need a change and they need it now - they are 'going through the motions' because they are shell-shocked after the Ashes massacre. Someone in authority needs to take action

  • RAJARAMAN on July 9, 2014, 12:27 GMT

    @csr11 ... if you are going to equate A-tours with test-level and replace a proven talent, God save Indian cricket ... Naman Oja has to do it consistently across competitions to even merit an entry into probables, leave alone 18or17 member squad ... MSD's change in approach to tests is already visible with 5-bowler strategy ... have patientce with this young Indian team

  • Jason on July 9, 2014, 11:50 GMT

    @Emanuel Cummings, who do you give the captaincy to if you relieve Cook of the job?

    I agree about getting him away from ODI cricket it seems that's spoilt his trigger movement, as he can be looser outside off due to the lack of slips.

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2014, 11:44 GMT

    I said many years ago that the captaincy and one day cricket will destroy Alastair Cook's batting and by extension England's overall performance. . Bell and company do well when Cook at the top of the order does well, hence the only remedy is for him to be relieved of the captaincy and one day cricket . Some batsman were made for only Test Cricket such as Cook the new Braithwaite form the West Indies, Pujara from India . Selectors please do your job and save Alastair Cook and English Cricket

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