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October 11, 2013
By any standards, Alastair Cook has enjoyed a fine first year as captain of the England Test and ODI teams. In a role which is largely defined by Ashes success, England's 3-0 victory over Australia stands out, though the Test series victory in India might well, in the long-term, be rated as the greater achievement. Either way, to have lost only one Test in 14 and won seven more is a fine record.
Yet it is a reflection of Cook's high standards and expectations that, when asked to reflect on his first year in charge, it is a failure that stands out.
Failing to win the Champions Trophy final still hurts. England, with the game in their grasp, surrendered their chance to win a first global ODI trophy. With 16 balls to go and six wickets in hand, they required only 20 to win. In the end, though, India won by five runs.
It is the first thing Cook mentions when reflecting on his year in charge.
"We should have won that game," Cook sighs. "We should have won that game of cricket chasing 130.
"As a team we are always going to be disappointed by the Champions Trophy final. It took quite a long time to get over it. It was the same for me personally. The game was in our grasp. That was a tough day and I think it took us a long time to get over.
"They were unique circumstances. To have a Champions Trophy and go straight into an Ashes within 10 days was tough. Losing knocked us down a bit more than we thought. We already started the Ashes a little bit jaded."
Cook's comments underline the high-priority England invested in the tournament. While the focus of the media and most spectators was upon the Ashes, England realised that the event presented an opportunity to win a global ODI trophy and reiterated the impression that, after years when Test cricket was the priority for England, showpiece, global limited-overs events are now held in equally high esteem. The 2015 World Cup is the next such target.
"It was certainly a good tournament," Cook said. "To have it in two weeks, with every game having meaning was sensational. Past World Cups haven't felt like that. But we had an opportunity to win the Champions Trophy and the Ashes in a short space of time and we didn't quite take it."
Cook also admitted that his relative struggles with the bat during the Ashes series - he averaged 27.70 - did "not sit easy with him."
"It's frustrating because I feel my game is in good order," he said. "You don't look at any career and see a constant upward curve. That's what being a batsmen is. But it doesn't sit easy with me to say that and accept it to be fine.
"As a captain you want to lead from the front and score runs; that is your primary job. Particularly when you play your first Ashes series as captain.
"But until you've gone through it you don't really know what to expect. It is more intense, it is more heightened.
"I don't think that has affected my batting. It's more of a bone of frustration. I still felt I contributed with three fifties and if you change fifties into hundreds it changes the complexion. I'm looking forward to putting that right."
When pushed, however, Cook did admit that England's success in India was a considerable source of pride. Cook had assumed control of a divided team reeling from the Kevin Pietersen episode and facing one of its long-established fears: spinning wickets in Asia. Yet, despite considerable odds, Cook somehow untied the dressing room and led his side from one-down after the first Test to an admirable victory.
"When you achieve something as special as that, it does reignite the side and squad," Cook said. "That will be the series that, when I stop playing cricket and look back, I will think was special.
"The next time we go to India, too, we will realise what we achieved. If you look where we were at the end of the second or third day of that first Test, I think it was an even greater achievement.
"I can't fault the lads - there is always going to be a bit or turmoil when a new captain comes in that - that is natural. I'd been captain of the ODI side, but when you lose someone like Andrew Strauss with the credit he's got and the respect he's got, there's always going to be time to get used to it. But the lads responded to me and the way we've gone on, we can't fault that. We need to draw on that in the next three months."
Alastair Cook was supporting the Chance to Shine Annual Awards. Chance to Shine is keeping cricket alive in schools and just £15 pays for a year's coaching for one child. Donate at chancetoshine.org
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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