Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day December 14, 2013

Cook proves his worth as a leader

Forcing heart and nerve and sinew, Alastair Cook showed a precious ability to fight even when hope was fading, providing an example of the character and courage required in his team

England may well relinquish the Ashes in the next couple of days but they will, metaphorically at least, have to be prised from Alastair Cook's grasp.

He failed in the end, but Cook produced a gallant performance on the second day in Perth. His struggle was obvious: like a runner with a limp or a boat with a leak, he was never secure and often painfully uncomfortable. He was battling not just the heat - at one stage a spectator fried an egg on the top of an advertising hoarding - but a disciplined bowling attack and, most of all, his own technique.

Like most batsmen, when Cook is in form, the runs flow and batting appears a simple business. But here, unsure where his off stump was and struggling with his balance, it felt as if each run had to be carved out of granite.

Yet, through grim determination and a surfeit of obduracy, he recorded his highest Test score since May and his highest score in eight successive Ashes Tests. When he couldn't run he walked; when he couldn't walk he crawled. It was an innings as low in style and as high in substance as Cook has played for some time.

Those watching the highlights - and from a batting perspective there really weren't many - may see only a somewhat loose cut to end his innings. Cook will spend much of the night - perhaps much of the next few weeks and months - regretting the thick, top edge that ended his resistance. It wasn't beautiful and it was the second time this series he has fallen in such fashion.

But what the highlights will not convey is the struggle that led up to the false stroke. They will not convey the three-and-a-half hours of fight that preceded it, the wonderfully consistent bowling that induced the false shot, the burden of a situation in which Cook knew that his team were desperately in need of a performance to sustain any hope in this series and that, sans Jonathan Trott, they are horribly overly reliant upon a few senior players for their scores. Somehow, over recent weeks, England seem to have gained the tail of a Diplodocus.

There will be those who suggest that Ashes defeat should spell the end of Cook's time as captain. Those, presumably, who have forgotten Cook's achievement in reintegrating Kevin Pietersen into his side and leading them to success in India little more than a year ago. Those who when pressed can't think of a better option as captain.

But you might equally argue that Cook proved his worth as a leader in this innings. That he forced heart and nerve and sinew to serve long after they had gone. That he showed a precious ability to fight even when hope was fading. That, with men wilting around him and worn out tools, he provided an example of the character and courage required in his team. Anyone can lead a winning side. It takes courage to lead a struggling one.

Whether Cook has the same durability as captain as he does as a batsman remains to be seen. But here, despite being beaten more often than a punch bag in a boxer's gym, he survived through a mixture of grit and that phlegmatic attitude that enables him to shrug off setbacks that would make others lose their composure. It was not, perhaps, quite as dramatic as Brian Close taking blow after blow from the West Indies fast bowlers on his body, but there was an inherent bravery on display in the face of an unequal battle, nevertheless.

It has been stated before that there is something of the cockroach in Cook's batting and the suspicion remains that, the morning after a nuclear holocaust, Cook would be there, quietly marking his guard and waiting for the bowler, as the first survivors peeked around their curtains.

Certainly he shrugged off several near-misses here. He was drawn into a push outside off stump before he had scored - a result of his current insecurity around off stump - he was dropped on 3 - a desperately tough chance, but the result of playing across his front pad having fallen to the off side - and was later lured into an attempted hook off Mitchell Johnson that he was lucky to miss.

It is sometimes overlooked, but Cook is often the man who provides the foundations upon which others build more eye-catching innings of their own. So it was Cook who was at the other end when Pietersen played that remarkable innings in Mumbai, Cook who laid the platform ahead of Pietersen's remarkable innings in Colombo and Cook who contributed the century in Ahmedabad that showed his team how to prosper in such conditions. While he is at the crease England always have hope.

But once he departed, England's resistance creaked. Pietersen soon followed, having played with uncharacteristic restraint, taking 15 balls to get off the mark - a record for Pietersen in Tests - and 44 balls to hit his first boundary. Again, the shot that brought his departure will not flatter him taken out of context, but Pietersen showed no lack of fight or application. Like his long-serving colleagues - the likes of Trott, Cook, Graeme Swann and James Anderson - Pietersen looks jaded and weary.

But the effort and passion shouldn't be questioned when a lack of fight from England has been most galling at times this series. On this occasion, they fought and came second. There's no disgrace in that.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2013, 0:04 GMT

    What the England cricket team needs at present in my view are as follows: I. England requires a very positive and aggressive captain who attacks as the first form of defence, rather than thinks defensively to curtail or save runs. II. All the batsmen adopting a wider stance so that in quick fast wickets in Australia they are able to get forward and back very quickly depending on the line and length of a given delivery. This also allows the batsman to play the pull, cut and hook stroke as he is lower to the ground with the wider stance in Australia where the bounce of the ball is pronounced in comparison with English wickets. III. Play the vertical and horizontal stokes regularly without fear as the bounce of the ball is consistent in Australia.

  • Mark on December 15, 2013, 1:33 GMT

    When Captain Cook 's priorities are

    1) play to draw 2) play to win 3) play to lose.

    It reminds me of some good soccer teams that never quite make it. You never respect these teams because they are predictable and boring.

    This is the difference between Australia and England.

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2013, 1:17 GMT

    I did not believe when some of the ex-Australian players like Shane Warne and Ian Chappel kept praising Michael Clarke for his captaincy and complaining how poor Cook's captaincy is despite the fact the former was losing and the latter was winning. Until this test. Cook starts of without a bat-pad on a bouncy Perth wicket. if he had one, Dave Warner would have been out the very first ball. Right deoim Day 1, Ian Chappell kept impressing upon the need for a 4th slip. In the morning of th 2nd day, not only a few edges would have gone straight to the 4th slip but also a lot of runs were scored off edges through that area.

  • Peter on December 14, 2013, 23:31 GMT

    Whatever else, Cook IMHO is a class act as both a human being & a cricketer. He has the nous to overturn reviews from senior player requests when he feels strongly & to date been right. He is also open to communicating with senior players. I have a lot of time for him.

  • S on December 14, 2013, 23:13 GMT

    @Nutcutlet - well said. As an Aussie, I have my heart in mouth until Cook goes. And again he has gone well short of his traumatic (to us) best. Now for Bell.

  • Samir on December 14, 2013, 22:47 GMT

    I'm sorry, but as gutsy as this innings was, England need more than a 60 or a 70 from their captain to have any serious chance of winning a test. With Trott gone, either Cook, Pieterson, or Bell (or better still at least 2 of them) have to stay out there and make the big hundred. With the tail being as fragile as it has been, I'm afraid the ashes will change hands within the next 72 hours.

  • rob on December 14, 2013, 22:19 GMT

    Sometimes when England is in the field it's a bit of a mystery as to who the captain actually is. .. the other day we saw about 25 separate conferences where 3 or 4 players seemed to be giving lots of advice and to top it all off it looked like Prior was moving the field around, not Cook. .. I know it's good management to consult with your troops at times but sometimes a leader just needs to lead. .. Too many meetings makes you appear indecisive and weak. .. A visitor from outer space might be excused for thinking that England has a captaincy committee, not a captain.

    I'm not saying Cook is a bad captain and he does lead by example but it's certainly a consultative style and does tend to look a bit unsure at times. Having said that, everyone's different and if it works, that's fine.

  • Michael on December 14, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    Is there really a serious alternative to Cook for the captaincy? He played well today in that adhesive manner of his but the manner of his demise had one wondering about his wisdom sometimes. The only person I could think of for the captaincy is not playing Tests at the moment having led the ODI side last summer. There may be others. Maybe Prior could do it. Or Bell. But Cook has many games ahead of him and plenty of time to engineer payback for the Aussies. Kp I think played almost too defensively for him so when his eyes lit up at Siddle's offering his eyes lit up and he was too keen on the shot. Siddle's secret is that he is a boring bowler and just right to appeal to KP's need for self expression rather than caution.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2013, 19:26 GMT

    This article does Cook a disservice and highlights the great difference in the public and media's standards regarding their side. Never would an Aus journalists write up a 70 chasing nearly 400 like it's a great innings. They need to win the game, and a 70 is never going to do it. The English side has been much stronger than the Aussies for 5 years, and now they're celebrating futile resistance? Cook is a champion and world class batsmen with 25 tons in all conditions and situations. India last year, Aus 2010/11. A 70 is well below his ability and his own standards in this situation, and writing up this innings like its one of his greatest is really selling such a great player very short

  • ian on December 14, 2013, 18:30 GMT

    I think this article has made me realise an important, perhaps defining, factor about Cook that hadn't struck me before. As GD has made clear in this article, Cook leads from the front. Like his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, he enjoys or endures the twin burdens of opening the batting & captaining the side -- a heavy workload from which there is no shirking. He sets a tone for the side in batting first in a Test match, or as has been true on this tour so far, setting the note on which the response is made to the Australian total. His wicket is prized as much as - perhaps more than, any other - not only because he's Eng's most dependable bat of recent years - but because his dismissal has a symbolic value - such are the cares of captaincy. And generally, he does it well, selling his wicket at a very high price. As a leader, I have no major quibbles, but as a Captain, he comes second to Clarke, IMO. He has much to learn, & his field settings can undo much good work done with the bat.

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