Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney

Cook faces second big challenge

George Dobell

January 1, 2014

Comments: 45 | Text size: A | A
'I love doing captain's job' - Cook

Just over a year ago, with the dressing room torn apart by bickering and the No. 1 ranking wrestled away by South Africa, Alastair Cook assumed the captaincy of the England Test side.

It was a tough time to take charge. The division between Kevin Pietersen and some of his colleagues was at its widest and England faced a daunting tour of India. By the time they lost the first Test of that series, it looked as if Cook may have inherited an impossible task.

But Cook found a way. At first he instigated a solution to the Pietersen issue. Then, through the example of his second-innings century in Ahmedabad, he showed his team how to score runs in India. He led from the front. Ten months into the role, England were unbeaten in a series, had reached the final of the ICC Champions Trophy and had retained the Ashes and won in India.

Now, however, Cook's leadership is under scrutiny. England have not only been beaten in Australia, but there is a perception that Cook is the sort of captain who follows the game. The sort of captain who is reactive rather than proactive. The sort of captain who operates by numbers rather than intuition.

But leadership comes in different forms. Cook may never be a great orator - David Bowie went through a period of cutting up words at random in magazines and forming song lyrics from them and sometimes it seems Cook takes the same approach with his press conferences - and he may never have the tactical imagination of Mike Brearley, but he is respected by his team, he is the youngest man in history to score 8,000 Test runs and, having taken on the job with very little experience, he is learning his trade in public.

He admits he has much to learn. But, as he takes his team into the final Test of an Ashes series trying to avoid a whitewash, he feels he is improving and that some of the criticism is based purely on the results.

"I do think I'm a better captain now because I've done the job for longer," Cook said. "You only really learn on this job no matter how many times you talk about it to people outside the game. The only way you really learn is when you're out there.

"You get flak when you lose games of cricket whatever you do and we've lost four in a row. You're going to get flak for that. Again, when you're winning in India that flak doesn't come and that is the nature of the thing.

"I do need to continually look to improve, without a doubt. It would be very wrong of me not to do so. There's never a fine art to captaincy; there are always people outside with different ideas as to what we should be doing. But Michael Clarke was getting a lot of stick when Australia were losing 4-0 in India, with people saying he wasn't a good captain, and suddenly he's winning games of cricket and he's the world's best captain. So that's the world we live in and we appreciate that."


Alastair Cook contemplates another defeat for England, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day, December 29, 2013
Alastair Cook faces the second big challenge of his fledgling captaincy © AFP
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Leading England over the next couple of years is likely to prove demanding. Cook accepts that an era is ending for the team that took England to the top of the world ratings and suggested as many as three new caps could be given for the Sydney Test. With such change to the team, he feels the importance and senior players and the current management structure become even more acute.

"I think it is the end of an era. If you go back eight or nine months, the England team picked itself and everyone was very solid in terms of results. What's happened over the last few months is that we know we can't solely rely on the 11 or 12 guys we picked constantly. But that gives opportunities to different faces and it's quite exciting to see whether those players can grab their chance.

"There's still a lot of cricket left in some of the more experienced guys. You only have to look at two players who have played very well for Australia here in Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin. They're delivering the goods at 36 years old. So experience can still be a good thing.

"We know what a good player Matt Prior has been over 75 Tests. He's had a lean year and he's the first to hold his hand up about that. His keeping has been pretty good for most of that time but we need him to be scoring runs too. He's nowhere near the end of his career. He's got to go back and prove that he's the best wicketkeeper batsman in the country if he wants his place back.

There was strong support too for Andy Flower, the coach who must help him reach fulfillment as a captain.

"He is a very good coach. I know the defeat has happened in a bad way here, but we are certainly evolving as a side and a lot of players are coming in. We do need strong leadership at this time. Andy is a strong man and a good leader."

If Cook is to prove an equally good leader, he can begin by rediscovering his batting form. A half-century in Melbourne - probably his most fluent innings of the series - hinted of a return to brighter times, but Cook's primary role in the side will always be as a batsman and his leadership will immediately appear more effective if he can return to the prolific form that played such a role in England's success in India

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2014, 22:47 GMT)

more Brearleyite revisionism. what tactics did he actually ever use? especially in 1979-80 when trounced by the only full strength Australian team he ever faced?

Posted by YashMaster on (January 4, 2014, 9:43 GMT)

@Simon Pratt: Not the best captain - Graeme Smith? Where were you when people were hailing Ricky Ponting as the best captain - with Warnie, Gilchrist, McGrath, Hayden in the team? No matter who the resources are, it is how you captain them that makes the simple difference.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

@Ross_Co, this from Cook just further highlights his ineptitude. I do recall 'rumours' -- i.e., made up media speculation -- that it could be the end for Clarke, but his acumen as a captain was never in question. He'd do well to ask an older relative about Mike Brearley or Stephen Fleming and whether they were regarded as dunces when they were losing.

I guess Cook thinks that winning = captain do good and losing = captain do bad. Less that one-dimensional thinking.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 20:11 GMT)

@ Kepler22b Graeme Smith the best captain out there? I could captain SA with the resources at their disposal. Easy to say Smith is the best captain when is team are beating all and sundry. It's when they're up against it that a good captain makes the difference.

Not in a million years should Bell be made captain, he is not the right character and the pressure could clobber is batting ability. The only other choice for captain if Cook was to resign/be stood down is KP, maybe he should have another go. It would be interesting to see the team/dressing room dynamic after 12 months of KP as captain. Of course it might be utterly drastic but realistically he is the only other option as captain out there.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (January 2, 2014, 20:08 GMT)

This series has shown us that the primary ingredient to winning test matches is desire to win.

Overall there is not much difference in natural ability between these two teams - but there is a large difference in the tenacity, never give up attitude, team work etc.

England are a loose collection of self-interested rudderless players.

Australia are a cohesive group of team-oriented and goal-aligned players.

Thank you Boofmeister! May you stay at the helm for many more ashes series.

Posted by dabbadubba on (January 2, 2014, 16:25 GMT)

clarke is overrated... cook has good potential to be the all time greatest english captain. we should show patience and faith in him.

Posted by Jeeves_ on (January 2, 2014, 15:01 GMT)

Do the English selectors know the difference between Division 1 and 2 cricketers? Apparently not. Onions and Compton showed they were quality players, and what was their reward? England's selectors need to be fired and replaced with people who watch the game. Also, selecting second division players is questionable. Michael Carberry is no test bastman. Tremlett has turned into a medium pacer. Bad selections, bad selectors!

Posted by Ross_Co on (January 2, 2014, 13:57 GMT)

I must have missed people questioning the quality of Clarke's captaincy in India. Most acknowledged that it was positive and imaginative even in defeat. There are a lot more factors involved in winning and losing than the captaincy. Clarke's an excellent captain regardless of whether he wins or loses and likewise Cook is hopeless regardless of the result. That's the way it is.

Posted by mickjim on (January 2, 2014, 13:54 GMT)

Bell as captain!!!! No. No. No. I don't think Bell is ever going to be fulfill his potential as a batsman, There a have been times over the past few years when you think he's cracked it and then he reverts back into making really bad mistakes - it's been said he is a good player of spin, well he's an ok player of mediocre spin - and even then he gets himself out too often to awful shots. Bell needs to concentrate on his batting but does anyone seriously see him as a captain. The truth is there is no obvious candidate. Unfortunately Cook is in post and seems now to be heading down the same path worn by all the most recent captains, all batsmen whose form has worsened the longer they stay in the job.

Posted by AussiePhoenix on (January 2, 2014, 13:08 GMT)

For Cook to resign after this series would be a mistake, for ECB to sack him would be a huge mistake. He doesn't seem like the most ruthless tactician ever, but he will learn a lot from this series and deserves the opportunity to develop as a captain and continue. In the long run this experience will be good for the team, if the team are coached properly to deal with it. Accept mistakes, learn, move on. How many people, including Australians!, called for Clarke's head only six months ago? If that had occurred the Oz team would have gone backwards.

Posted by foeofdevil on (January 2, 2014, 12:25 GMT)

The last chance to prove his quality lies in his two innings of Sydney test. Loss is looking more and more inevitable.But if ECB has a supporting hand to a good player like Cook even in this time many new talents may bloom for the team in future.Attrition always pays may be the best message I can give to my respected English captain.

Posted by dunger.bob on (January 2, 2014, 11:35 GMT)

@ Marcus Stubbs : I think the coach at the time may have contributed to the Indian debacle as well. Sending players home because they didn't do their home work and the rest of that sorry tale. No doubt Clarke has to take his share of the blame for that but there is another way to look at it. How about the fact that the team has managed to put all that behind them in a matter of months and regroup to the point where they didn't just become competitive, they've pretty much kicked your sorry bums all the way back to England. .. Some people might call that an impressive turn around. .. If Clarke has to take the blame for India and the England leg of this mega series, it's only fair he takes the credit for this unreserved triumph on the return leg.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 10:50 GMT)

@dunger.bob - I totally agree with you, Aus have been too good for the England team who turned up on this tour, I have never once disputed that. But don't forget, It's only 6 months ago in India that the 'outfit' you talk about was nearly destroyed by MC and his inability to bond a team of players. For this sort of turn around in 6 months, Id say Bouff is your saving grace, not Clarke.

Posted by kepler22b on (January 2, 2014, 10:48 GMT)

Michael Clarke aint the world's best captain. That would be Graeme Smith with daylight second. Clarke is an excellent tactician and a great batsmen but he is a poor leader. If we we're on the end of this hiding (after the debacles of India and England) Clarke would be replaced by now.

Nonetheless; a good series in SA and he will stay captain until the end of his career.

KiwiPom on (January 2, 2014, 6:57 GMT) - jeez has technology allowed Cook to watch the TV while he's on the field. He wouldn't have a clue what those monkeys from channel nine have to say. just read this site and you will see a lot on English supporters are complaining about Cook's captaincy.

Posted by Pradeepmani007 on (January 2, 2014, 10:32 GMT)

Dhoni also came across this kind of situation after a debacle in Australia and England. We should give chances.Every team is there loss & win.Winning is not limited to particular captain.But series white hurts lot not only to captain also the team.

Posted by pragmatist on (January 2, 2014, 10:26 GMT)

The big downside of the period of success and stability where the players "picked themselves" is that there was little thought for the future. Now England find themselves rebuilding on-the-fly, hoping that one or two selections may form the basis of a new long-term team. Spin is a big concern, but also batsmen of the stature that can take on the real challenge of Test cricket. The England management knew that these were going to be issues (Swann's likely retirement and Trott's issues) but in spite of these being flagged as risks quite a while ago have found no solutions.The Compton/Carberry mess, Kerrigan/Panesar failing in the spin department, Bairstow/Taylor not standing up. Perhaps the only worthwhile punt of the past 12 months has been Stokes?

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 10:16 GMT)

Its simple,, who will take over if Cook resigns as skipper??? England has option of Cook after Strauss,,, This happens,, Noone is perfect,, no captain has won all series and all matches. Now he needs to enter into phase of a agressive captain,, a innovative and thinking skipper,,, he is not required to be replaced,,,

Posted by Uppercut07 on (January 2, 2014, 9:42 GMT)

the English players/commentators/fans keep talking about "END OF AN ERA". Please do explain how 2009-2013 makes an ERA???? as usual over rated stuff by the English

Posted by sachin_vvsfan on (January 2, 2014, 9:35 GMT)

The English will gain the confidence again after India's tour. Sure Ishant sharma will bring them back to their glory.

Posted by dunger.bob on (January 2, 2014, 8:12 GMT)

@ Marcus Stubbs : I'd be very surprised if Michael Clarke is anyone's puppet. Read the article on the Aussie site about "Mountains to Climb" and you might get a sense of what I mean. .. Warne and Clarke might be friends, but Clarke is the captain and while he might take on board some of the stuff Warne goes on about, it's very much an MC driven outfit that's proven itself to be far too good for your lot on this occasion.

Posted by Philippe on (January 2, 2014, 8:11 GMT)

My feeling after this series are like this... KP will be announcing his retirement & may be cook also. This is trend with ENG players. They have been doing such random things in past as well.. like wat happened with Swan recently. They just cannot handle defeats confidently.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 7:46 GMT)

@c.gull what am I kidding myself over with Cook? if you read my post again I'm saying he admits he has a lot to learn and needs a mentor?? And as for an ear piece, it's not needed when you are as close to Warne as Clarke is, as Warne regularly bleets on about on C9 commentary.

Posted by dunger.bob on (January 2, 2014, 7:42 GMT)

@ KiwiPom : Cook is an excellent batsman but a join the dots captain. No imagination and way too scared to lose. Nothing ventured, nothing gain is the story of this series from an English tactics point of view. .. btw, you'd have to have rocks in your head to not be scared of the runs we all know he's capable of making. It's a source of some pride that our bowlers have been able to suppress him. Clipping the top of his off stump on a semi-regular basis has certainly helped our cause.

@Nutcutlet: That could be the answer. Just let the lad bat. I also agree 100% that Cooks confidence levels are directly proportional to the number of runs he makes. So is his fielding prowess I'd say. He's pre-occupied with his own batting at the moment.

Posted by Protears on (January 2, 2014, 7:03 GMT)

As a non English supporter, the concern is the quality of replacements coming through.

Posted by KiwiPom on (January 2, 2014, 6:57 GMT)

Is Cook really this bad as England captain? Just pretend that the Ozzie commentators haven't opened their mouths (yes - I KNOW) and unlearn everything they've said. Ask yourself the question again. The truth is they are scared of his run making ability at the top of the order and they'll do anything in their power to destabilise him.

Posted by Pradeepmani007 on (January 2, 2014, 6:42 GMT)

Cook's captaincy is been tested.Even Clarke have the toughest time last year.Captaincy is part of work.We cannot appoint a person who doesnt know batting or bowling,only as a captain to get rid of pressure.Find a cool person and appoint as captain.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 4:49 GMT)

England are not short of talent or capacity to tussle with Aussies and win, but are sadly short of mental strength. You cannot develop mental strength purely through physical strength but by developing one pointed concentration. Time and again on field one can see that the English are way short of the inner strength. Of course, now for the 5th test it is too late to develop the kind of mind process strength needed, but such can be achieved through interaction and talking to players and gauging the mental skill levels. Even the case of Swan is directly linked to the mental process. It was not that he lost out because Aussies were attacking him as Lehman said but due to his paucity in inner strength. In these days players are basically well adopted for the 5 day game in terms of skill and capacity, but in England they lacked the inner skill level which seen to have shrunk to the lowest ebb. Result is large sphere of concern and a very small sphere of influence.

Posted by C.Gull on (January 2, 2014, 4:46 GMT)

Thank you @Marcus Stubbs for immediately proving my point. Not only are you kidding yourself over Cook, you clearly don't have a clue about Clarke's captaincy. You think he wears an earpiece on the field so he can have Shane Warne ringing the changes?

I agree with those who say this is as good a captain as Cook will ever be and it isn't good enough. I actually think he's a worse on-field captain than Ponting was, and that's saying something. I can't observe the off-field stuff so I'm not going to speculate.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 4:10 GMT)

Prior is badly out of form with both gloves and bat, but Bairstow is not the answer. If he is the only alternate option then Prior must play in Sydney. As I say, Prior is badly out of form but at least he isn't scared. I am an Aussie and yet I was even embarrassed watching Bairstow step away to square leg when batting in Melbourne, so I can only imagine the pain English supporters would have felt watching that. Surely the English supporters have been through enough this series without having to also watch a player who makes the English batsmen look more and more scared.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 4:09 GMT)

common England. ...

Posted by Jagger on (January 2, 2014, 3:22 GMT)

I remember the years following 2005 the English scribes said Ponting was an average captain in a team of champions. Even when he was making runs himself they attacked 'the head' relentlessly.

Yet now we get this: "He admits he has much to learn." ""I do think I'm a better captain now because I've done the job for longer," Cook said."

Posted by HenryPorter on (January 2, 2014, 3:15 GMT)

Hopefully, umm, he can also, err, learn how to, ermm, make his press conferences, ahhh, less excruciating to, um, listen to. Moving forward.

Posted by Matt.au on (January 2, 2014, 2:39 GMT)

Cook was groomed for the Captaincy for a long time, from not long after he made is debut.

If he can't captain now - after standing in slips alongside some decent captains for somewhere around 100 tests - he'll never be a good captain.

Throw in the fact he has had ample opportunity to speak to some brilliant captains and he has played against some pretty good captains in his 100 tests - Holy Vey.

Posted by ajetti on (January 2, 2014, 1:43 GMT)

Some can show Cook in a positive way but the truth is England will not do well under such a passive captain. Can anyone imagine Cook firing up his troops with an inspirational talk? No. Cook believes he can lead by performing at a high standard and he is not entirely wrong. But what does he do when he is temporarily (I hope) bereft of that form? He cannot lead England out of this rut. I hear some people proposing Broad as captain and I can only shudder at such a thought. England will not only lose this series 5-0 but will struggle to stay in the top 4 over the next few years. One of the positive things they can do is get rid of bits-and-pieces cricketers like Bresnan for good. And say goodbye to Matt prior. I'd have added Swann to this list but he jumped ship before being pushed (smart guy, although a disgrace as a team man).

Posted by Little_Aussie_Battler on (January 2, 2014, 1:31 GMT)

If England is serious about getting back on top, Cook needs to be removed from captaincy duties. For a pro cricketer he does not know how to set fields and struggles with his batting with the extra duties. You see Cook out there in virtually a committee setting fields to teams. He should have this all in his head. That is what preparation is about.

Make Pieterson the skipper. People like him rise to the extra challenge and you can guarentee a mate of Shane Warne will be setting attacking fields and taking the whip hand to opponents.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the bleeding obvious. England needs to make changes and now.

Posted by jb633 on (January 2, 2014, 1:17 GMT)

These articles are becoming so repetitive. Please just accept the 5-0 drubbing and then start writing after we as a nation have had the opportunities to try and figure out just where things have gone so wrong. We have been subject to numerous articles on a daily basis about how the guard is changing and then we are told Flower and Cook are staying on etc. This surely equates to poorly researched journalism as we are reading contradicting articles within the space of 3 days.

Posted by   on (January 2, 2014, 1:10 GMT)

Great article that highlights just how strong the difference of opinion of captains is when they are winning or losing. "Michael Clarke was getting a lot of stick when Australia were losing 4-0 in India, with people saying he wasn't a good captain, and suddenly he's winning games of cricket and he's the world's best captain"... so true. However, I'd like to see Cook take a leaf out of Clarke's book by utlising previous England players/ captains more in his own development as a captain. He admits he's still learning his trade, but there are plenty of better tacticians who he could turn to for help (Vaughn for example). We all know Clarke is Warne's puppet and does what ever he says or suggests - Cook would benefit from a similar mentor.

Posted by C.Gull on (January 2, 2014, 0:38 GMT)

Disappointed to see Cook taking the same approach as many English fans and commentators this series: try to suggest your opposite number isn't really that good, as if that can in some way mask your own failings.

Posted by   on (January 1, 2014, 23:56 GMT)

I have been reading in so many articles reference to England's win in India. Agree that cook did as a batsmen in India but he did not do anything as a Captain for the winning side. The defeat of India was more due to non-performing players such as Gambhir, Sehwag, Harbhajan who are now even a liability to the domestic side in Ranji Trophy Games. We need to analyse the components of his captaincy which has been pretty average so far. A captain is as good as the team and Clarke and Dhoni have been the best captains in Test Cricket despite India's 0-8 loss overseas and Australia's 0-4 in India.

Posted by   on (January 1, 2014, 23:51 GMT)

This constant talk of Cook's great accomplishment in India. India had come off a resounding defeat in Australia, were in transition with a changing of the old guard. England then beat an Australian team with two major retirements , doctored wickets, coach sacked, poor selections and in fact a series that could have gone the other way! Please look at what is in front of you!!!!

Posted by ShutTheGate on (January 1, 2014, 23:30 GMT)

I think the English will likely loose the ashes 5 nil, but they should bounce back when they play Sri Lanka at home.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (January 1, 2014, 22:47 GMT)

The problem for Cook is... he is a good leader when things are going well and a bit iffy when the pressure is on, On this tour England seem to have team meetings every 20 minutes, Bowlers at times are setting there on own fields, He sets a field for a perceived weakness then changes it if they get 1 to the boundary, picks Panesar then bowls Root, with the batting, obviously tactics depend on a lot of variables, first Innings, saving the game etc etc but they do not seem to have plans, some play extravagantly when being conservative is warranted and vica versra. so be a good leader, take charge, be the boss, have confidence in the tactics and plans, implement them, drop players who do not follow, and then if that fails, grab the coach and fall on your sword.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (January 1, 2014, 22:25 GMT)

In many ways Cook is a lucky man. His record as a barsman is so uniquely commanding that he has an unquestioned right to a place in the side for ages to come. He is young too. So his raison d'etre does not depend on his captaincy too much. If he can do it well and good. If not,so be it. he also has a bit of leeway with the results, as there are personnel changes going on,one or two quite hard. compared to most people also cricketers have this amazing job in life-hard,yes, but fulfilling and terribly rewarding. Within that context Cook is having a toughtime though with his team.The team cannot buy a run. The catching is schoolboyish. And his captaincy is under grave examination. He needs answers fast,real answers.not flapping about in the wind going hither and thither. He and the management need to decide one or two things. They need to aggressive in their approach.They need to choose players who can do this and play with a grin. A big grin. Really they need to stop looking miserable

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