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Struggling under the weight of England demands, Alastair Cook has considered given up the one-day captaincy - but he remains the right man for the job
January 20, 2014
Features : Jordan swings into contention
Report : Australia stroll to series win
News : Cook may quit one-day captaincy
Players/Officials: Alastair Cook | Jonathan Trott | Eoin Morgan | Paul Collingwood | Ian Bell | Kevin Pietersen | Stuart Broad
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
They say that mountaineers, having been caught in an avalanche, are sometimes so disorientated that they dig down rather than up in a bid to free themselves.
So it seems with Alastair Cook in the aftermath of another defeat in Australia. Struggling for equilibrium after another series had been snatched away from him by the avalanche that is Australian cricket at present, Cook admitted for the first time that he was considering his position as captain. Six months after leading England to the brink of their first global ODI trophy and 12 months before a World Cup that England have been planning towards for years, Cook must decide whether to stick or twist.
Much of this could have been avoided. Had the England management been just a little more flexible and a little more sensitive, Cook would have been sent home with other senior members of the squad at the end of the Test series. While his voice said all the right words about "challenge" and "excitement" ahead of the ODI series, his eyes said something quite different. He was obviously drained.
But instead of being given a rest, he was asked to lead a side lacking five of the players - James Anderson, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann - who had helped it to No. 1 in the ODI rankings, against a resurgent Australia. It was an impossible task. This was an accident waiting to happen.
Some respite may be at hand. Cook will not tour the Caribbean in February and March and will not feature in the World Twenty20 squad. But it would be wrong to think he is about to put his feet up. Not only will he be scheduled to have meetings with the likes of Andy Flower and Paul Downton, but he is also due to become a father in March. That is a wonderful event that will enrich his life beyond measure. But parenting is anything but restful.
Leaders among the pack
Besides, in Cook's absence, other players will be given a chance to fight for his ODI place. The ODIs against West Indies, ridiculously scheduled as they are right before a World T20, will be utilised mainly to give the T20 squad a chance to find form. So the likes of Michael Lumb and Alex Hales will have the chance to show what they can do in the longer format. Bearing in mind Cook's wretched form in Australia, he could do without such a challenge.
Cook's decline may come to be seen as the latest example of burnout undermining the team's performance. And perhaps, in time, there will be little cross-over between Test and limited-overs players. The demands may simply be too great. For if Trott's breakdown represented the final stop on a journey of mental exhaustion, there are several other members of the squad a long way further down the road than should be the case. It is telling that, upon his return from Australia, one of the Test squad was met by the question from their young child: "Is daddy staying the night?" It is hard to avoid the conclusion that too much has been asked of too few for too long.
The administrators have much to explain. While they have been busy plotting the meritless carve-up of world cricket, they have allowed their most precious assets to be exploited to breaking point in the short-sighted search for a few dollars more. And yet, they take little responsibility for the debacle. Both Flower and Cook have said they will consider their positions in their own time: it seems remarkable that, for the plethora of highly paid managers filling offices at Lord's, players and coaches are still left to decide their own futures.
The shame of all this is that England were on the right track before this tour. While their ODI tactics continue to infuriate those who would like to conjure a Sehwag or Jayasuriya from the shires, all the signs were that they were building a team that could challenge at a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Their method, conservative though it may seem, saw them rated No. 1 as recently as August 2012 and took them to the brink of the Champions Trophy in June 2013. Had Pietersen or even Swann been available for the final, perhaps England might have gone the extra step.
England's ODI tactics do not need re-visiting. They simply need to play better. With Finn - rated the No. 2 ODI bowler only six months ago - Pietersen and co fit and firing (yes, that is a leap of faith) they still have a method that can challenge against the best.
But the man who Cook has missed most is the man who perhaps best represents England's controversial ODI tactics better than anyone. Trott's ODI record will continue to vex some but the fact he is averages nearly 20% more than anyone who has ever represented England in the format (having played a minimum of 20 innings) and, with him in the side, England have won 19 of their last 26 matches. Without him they have lost eight out of 10.
Without these men, Cook was sent into battle without ammunition. What he requires now is time to rest and reflect on the impossible task he was given. If Cook was the right man to lead England's ODI side in June 2013 - and all the evidence suggests he was - then there is little reason to believe he is not the right man to lead them in June 2014.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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