Cap­tain Cook should de­cide own des­tiny

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - PETER HAYTER

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground And tell sad sto­ries of the death of kings

It’s that time again, when the air is heavy with talk of the im­pend­ing de­par­ture of an Eng­land cap­tain. On the day Alas­tair Cook took over from An­drew Strauss amid the hurly-burly of the Kevin Pi­etersen cri­sis back in 2012 (if only Shake­speare had been around then), I in­formed the Es­sex man he had be­come the ninth skip­per of my time in full-time cricket writ­ing to which he replied, with­out paus­ing: “And you’ll see me off as well.”

No plea­sure is taken when these things hap­pen, it is just the na­ture of things.

Many in his shoes have never had the choice, it is to Cook’s great credit that he is one of the few who have earned the right to de­cide the tim­ing and man­ner of their go­ing.

Now, whether he likes it or not, thanks to mount­ing spec­u­la­tion, some from his own lips, Eng­land’s long­est-serv­ing leader, in terms of Tests, will be get­ting more than enough in his ear on the is­sue from well­wish­ers as well as those who have never for­given him for their warped per­cep­tion of his part in the sack­ing of KP.

For what it’s worth, the view from this cor­ner is that Cook would be bet­ter off out of it and Eng­land would be bet­ter off with him out of it, too.

There are many rea­sons for giv­ing up the best and the worst job in world cricket and some are bet­ter than oth­ers, but in Cook’s case quit­ting with dig­nity and pur­pose could be one of the best de­ci­sions of his en­tire cap­taincy for him­self and his team.

An­drew Strauss, the Di­rec­tor of Eng­land cricket with whom Cook is due to have what could turn out to be his fi­nal de­brief as leader at the end of the In­dian se­ries, has first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the main rea­son why, for the in­di­vid­ual con­cerned, change is some­times for the bet­ter.

When Strauss him­self quit, he did so mainly be­cause he re­alised he had sim­ply done his bit; enough sleep­less nights, enough ag­o­nis­ing, enough care, enough of the cap­taincy be­ing a thief of his life and time. Mike Ather­ton, writ­ing in the Times this week, re­it­er­ated the point: “Ev­ery Eng­land cap­tain I have known has lived and breathed the job, their days and night dom­i­nated by thought of how to make things bet­ter. It takes its toll, more so in dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods of de­feat.”

And that took me back to when Ather­ton fell on own his bat, at the end of his sec­ond failed at­tempt to win a se­ries against West Indies in the Caribbean, in March 1998, the lat­est in a string of dis­ap­point­ments Eng­land sprin­kled lib­er­ally all over the decade, and to his team-mate Phil Tufnell’s de­scrip­tion of the mo­ment.

For in his tour di­ary Post­cards From The Beach, Tufnell wrote not only of the blow to self-es­teem that comes with giv­ing up the job, but also how it is a cap­tain’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to stop just hop­ing for the best and put the needs of the side first.

Tufnell wrote: “Only Athers knows how much the last four years have taken out of him.

“But, from a crick­et­ing point of view, what must re­ally hurt is com­ing to the con­clu­sion that it is in the best in­ter­ests of the side for you to give up the job. He has tried so hard to get things right and by stand­ing down he is con­ced­ing that it hasn’t worked out the way he wanted it to.”

In terms of his win-loss ra­tio, Cook has en­joyed more much suc­cess than fail­ure in his record-break­ing reign, far more than Ather­ton, for ex­am­ple, with two Ashes wins and rare vic­to­ries in In­dia and South Africa.

Over time, how­ever, both im­posters

Joe Root is ready, every­body thinks it. Cook has said it. And if the signs are be­ing read cor­rectly he will have to wait just one more Test

drain the spirit and the soul as much as each other and, in the end, the fuel sim­ply does run out.

The dif­fer­ence for Cook, and it could be glo­ri­ous and af­firm­ing, is that, if he were walk away now, Eng­land could be the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of thou­sands of Test runs he might still have to give were he free to con­cen­trate fully on bat­ting, the thing he does bet­ter than any­thing else, but which might be at risk should the cap­taincy re­ally start to wear him down.

On more than one oc­ca­sion, but most re­cently on the eve of this tour, Cook has made it abun­dantly clear that he rel­ishes the idea of a cou­ple of years back in the ranks, left to en­joy life at the top of the or­der and in the slips able to fo­cus wholly on the next ball rather than hav­ing to worry for the whole team, the com­men­ta­tors, the me­dia, Eng­land sup­port­ers and his crit­ics.

In the same breath he has made sure to stress how much of an hon­our he be­lieves the job to be.

But while, fleet­ingly, he might miss the kid’s dream of be­ing Eng­land cap­tain and his qual­i­ties as a leader are real, in his heart of hearts he has al­ways known he is not a nat­u­ral tac­ti­cian and one sus­pects he will let out a huge sigh of re­lief when he can fi­nally hand that re­spon­si­bil­ity to the next man.

Joe Root is ready. Every­body thinks it, save per­haps Graeme Swann, Cook has said it and if the signs are be­ing read cor­rectly the York­shire bats­man will have just one more Test to wait be­fore his ac­ces­sion is con­firmed. Fears that ask­ing him to lead the Test side and play­ing all three for­mats would be too much of a bur­den would need to be ad­dressed but are not in­sur­mount­able.

Cook has led us, and Eng­land, down this path be­fore and turned back be­fore.

What­ever his coach and team-mates have said pub­licly, one senses, how­ever, this time he may well keep on go­ing and, if so, should do so with­out a back­ward glance not just be­cause he has given so much, but be­cause he still has so much to give.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

The suc­ces­sion? Joe Root, left, of­fers ad­vice to Eng­land cap­tain Alas­tair Cook. In­set: former skip­per Michael Ather­ton

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