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His captaincy may never be associated with tactical genius or stirring words but Alastair Cook's style of leadership is appreciated by his players
George Dobell in Manchester
August 5, 2014
Cook praises Finn revival
Leadership comes in many forms. While some leaders, in a cricket context, might inspire with their tactics, others will use oratory.
Alastair Cook will probably never be either sort of captain. Instead, Cook has been, at his best, the type of captain to lead by example. The sort of leader who, in India towards the end of 2012, inspired his team with excellent individual batting that showed his colleagues how the spinners could be combated.
But while Cook continues to be judged by his on-field tactics and field placings - a key part of captaincy, it is true, but far from the only area of relevance - there is growing evidence to suggest that he demonstrates admirable leadership qualities - less obvious qualities, perhaps, but just as valuable - in other facets of the game.
There were two examples of this as England warmed-up for the fourth Investec Test at Old Trafford. While neither example would be apparent to those in the stands or the media boxes, both could be argued to have contributed to England's victory in Southampton.
The first came as Gary Ballance reflected on his brush with the down side of celebrity. Ballance admitted he was "embarrassed" and "nervous" as he joined up with the England squad ahead of the Lord's Test just as details of a drunken night out in Nottingham emerged. Ballance, clearly a little the worse for wear in a club, was pictured with his shirt off along with the quote: "I'm not a cricketer tonight, I'm a drunken bastard."
But Cook, recognising that Ballance was simply a young man enjoying a rare night off, took him for dinner with a couple of other team-mates and ensured he immediately felt welcome back.
"Cooky took me out for some food with Joe Root and Matt Prior," Ballance said. "I felt disappointed that I had let the lads down the night before a Test match, which was embarrassing and not what you want.
"But Cooky just said 'these things happen' and that in a few days time you would be laughing about it. It will all be forgotten about. It wasn't really a serious telling off. It was more a suggestion that I should learn from it and not do it again."
As a consequence, Ballance immediately felt comfortable again in the England environment - while being gently reminded of his responsibilities as an international sportsman - and was in a frame of mind to contribute with centuries at Lord's and the Ageas Bowl. A less sensitive captain might have ranted, raved or even ignored a young player in such circumstances. If you consider the treatment of Darren Pattinson, who was not welcomed into the dressing room as he might have been by Michael Vaughan, or Mike Smith, who suffered similarly under Mike Atherton, it is not hard to understand the value of more benevolent captaincy.
Moeen progress 'encouraging' - Bell
Yet Vaughan and Atherton are rated as fine tactical captains, and Cook is seen as the novice.
A short while after Ballance recounted his experiences, Ian Bell reflected on the mood in the England camp ahead of the Southampton Test. Again, he highlighted the contribution of Cook in focusing the minds of the batting unit.
"Cook spoke really well, as he always does to the team," Bell said. "It was in a meeting of the batters at Southampton. He said that, over the last 12 months, we haven't given our bowlers the opportunity to win Test matches. We've got 400 a few times, but again that's been helped by a good lower order.
"What he challenged us to do was for the top six to do the bulk of that. He challenged us as a batting unit to take that opportunity and get a big score. He really wanted one to seven to get the bulk of the runs and it happened that way. In terms of first-innings batting, that was as good as you can get."
While Cook's period in charge is likely to be defined by his success as a batsman, and he will have to sustain the improved form shown in Southampton if he is to survive, it might be considered encouraging, from an England perspective, that he is contributing as a captain, even if it is not in the ways deemed "funky" by some observers.
To read many of the reports of recent days, you might be forgiven for thinking England landed a knockout blow against India in Southampton. Impressive though the victory was from an England perspective and valuable though the on-going participation of James Anderson undoubtedly is, it might be remembered that this series is still level at 1-1 with two Tests to play. It might also be remembered that the England side beaten at Lord's contained Anderson.
Yet a sense remains that India may have let their best opportunity slip. With England reeling after Lord's, India allowed them back into the series with an insipid display.
The pitch at Old Trafford might also present the toughest challenge to India's batsman. If one accepts the theory that India's batsmen are uncomfortable against pace and bounce - and the current line-up suggest such a theory is somewhat out of date - then Manchester could present a significant challenge. Certainly the groundsman, Matt Merchant, believes he has produced the quickest and bounciest surface of the summer and, after the driest summer he has experienced, also expects assistance for spinners as the game progresses.
With that in mind, you might conclude that England would be tempted to draft Steven Finn back into their side. Finn remains, at his best, probably the quickest of this squad and is said to be returning to something approaching that after more than a year out of Test cricket.
A return is far from certain, though. After a difficult few months, England will want to ensure Finn's confidence is restored before thrusting him back into the limelight. This recall may be an attempt to reintroduce him into the environment with a view to the longer term.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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