End of an era as Alastair Cook steps down
- The former England captain surely will be pleased with himself for what he achieved in his 5-year spell as captain.
During Karun Nair’s destructive triple century innings against England in the 5th Test, came a moment when the Karnataka batsman was scoring runs at will.
England captain, Alastair Cook tried a few unorthodox field placings. He pushed fielders square of the wicket and asked the bowler to ball short-pitched balls, and also protected the third man region for the upper cut. To have more protection for pull shots, Cook sacrificed mid-on and kept it vacant.
Nair targeted that region and scored a four and then ran three runs by hammering the short ball with a horizontal bat. Joe Root, England’s vice-captain, who was watching all this, indicated to the England captain that instead of keeping mid-on vacant, he should keep mid-off vacant and move that fielder to mid-off as it is easy to hit a short ball towards leg side rather than hitting it on the off side.
Extra Cover: Five best moments from Alastair Cook's captaincy
This small incident reflected where Cook’s captaincy was headed and was a sign of things to come. When he decided to quit captaincy this week, it did not come as a shock.
Cook, during this age of instant cricket, remains one of the very few players of the solid old school cricketing foundations and follows these principles even today. However, the demands of today’s cricket have changed rapidly since he took over as captain in 2012 and it was evident, lately, that he was unable to cope up with this new cricketing approach.
In the past few years, his field placing was always a topic of criticism and several veteran cricketers thought he has a defensive mindset that hinders winning opportunities of England. Cook was probably not trained for this brand of cricket and didn’t have the flexibility to adapt to these changes.
However, he tried his best, and did try aggressive strategies; however, these efforts were too little and too inconsequential. It was obvious that he lacked the mindset of a street smart cricketer to deal with such issues.
With the traditional, old school style of cricket losing mass support and the rest of the cricketing world adapting to modern cricket, England, known for honouring traditional cricket, had to make a move. And the horrible performance in the 2015 World Cup, simply forced England to make a change without further delay.
The result was a complete makeover of England’s cricketing attitude. The ODI squad was filled with power hitters and cricketers who could do massive damage in little time. The way batsmen scored runs did not matter anymore and England soon had batsmen who could play with the horizontal bat effectively, too. This new brand of cricket got instant fan following and the results were more than impressive.
Soon, England’s ODI team became one of the most dominant sides in world cricket and it made this brand of cricket even more popular. On the other side, the Test team passed through some tough phases.
The winds of change started blowing in Test cricket as well – older legs were abandoned and were replaced by young and smart cricketers who believed in hitting hard and swinging for the mountains. Jos Butler, Alex Hales and others became part of the Test team and this was just the beginning of a slew of changes to the Test team.
To lead a side which includes such players, England needed a mind that understood dynamics of modern cricket and was ready to innovate. Cook certainly didn’t fit the bill; he for most parts is static and is hesitant to innovate.
This certainly is not a flaw but is a feature of Cook’s leadership and this trait made England pay heavily more than on one occasion. England’s leading run scorer was criticised for not going for the win and was also questioned for playing it safe.
To make matters worse for Cook, England did have a readymade replacement, who can innovate, understands the modern game and is comfortable in all three formats of the game – Joe Root. Root was more than a replacement and several former cricketers said in the past that the Yorkshireman is ready to take on the burden of captaincy. Root has also showed maturity on the field through his responsible batting. On the field, he was seen as someone who was constantly chatting with the skipper.
So, at some point, Cook had to pass over the baton and the stunning emergence of Root, simply added to that pressure. The Essex batsman did the smart thing and stepped down before it was too late. After the announcement of Cook’s departure, he was praised for his efforts and the victories that he masterminded.
The former England captain surely will be pleased with himself for what he achieved in his 5-year spell as captain, and importantly, for getting the timing perfect while stepping down.
Cook must have read this statement somewhere - You either die as a hero or live long enough to become the villain.Published 11 Feb 2017, 15:54 IST