Crisis, as we all know, is one of the driving factors in any significant change. It is very unlikely that anyone is going to rip up what they have been doing and start again while it is all trucking along smoothly. It is only when a steaming pile of excrement is heading towards a rotating arrangement of blades that someone decides to do mix things up. Scoring 400 in the first innings and still losing by a humiliating margin is a pretty big dollop of sh*t.
So it is inevitable that the position of Alastair Cook as captain of England’s Test team should come under scrutiny. In terms of eyeballs watching, this is England’s biggest series. For all the storied history of the Ashes, the real home of cricket is at the Wankhede Stadium, not Lord’s or the MCG. Beating India at home while they are the number one ranked side in Test cricket is as big an achievement as an England cricketer can put together. Being battered in the same circumstances is one of the biggest humiliations. Winning in India may have been beyond this team, that does not mean they should be getting embarrassed.
Cook as a captain has never been something that gets people gushing with excitement. He has never declared too early, set a target and panicked when a team went for it like Michael Clarke at the Oval in 2013. He has never declared nine down and then lost the match like Faf du Plessis at Adelaide 2016. He isn’t going to give a rousing speech or pull of an audacious bowling change. Instead, he is the epitome of a safe pair of hands. Calm, measured, assured, dull.
It is those qualities that has seen Cook win half of the Test series that he has captained, including England’s brilliant win in India the last time they toured in 2012, losing just four series as captain in more than four years in the job. While he has few flashy aspects to his captaincy, it is functional. It is like a family car that has served you well for years. It doesn’t have a spoiler or stripes down the roof, but more often than not it gets you where you are meant to be. The issue for Cook, and that ageing family car, is that when things go wrong it can be spectacularly bad and there isn’t those brilliant moments that make you forgive the absolute dross.
The problem for those that are thirsting for change – and there are those amongst the plethora of cricketing opinion that the digital world has given us, who have never forgiven Cook for surviving the aftermath of the 2013/14 Ashes while Kevin Pietersen didn’t – is that it is unclear as to whether England see this is a crisis. Everyone expected England to struggle on this tour, the fact they have shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
England coach, Trevor Bayliss, has said that Cook can have the job as long as he wants it as far as he is concerned. Cook sounded less convinced when the inevitable questions about his leadership were asked of in the post match press conference.
“Yes, of course you have questions,” Cook said. “Naturally you look at stuff. I will sit down with [Andrew Strauss, Director of England Cricket] at the end of the year like we have made the pact to … talk honestly and openly about stuff.”
That Cook is even admitting he is thinking about calling it a day says a lot about where he is. He has certainly appeared world weary and jaded this tour. If he is giving credence to the idea of quitting as captain, then you would think it was the beginning of the end for him. But he and England have time to decide what is the best thing to do, there are seven months before the next Test squad will be announced. Cook can go home, spend some time on the farm with his children, and ask himself if he has the stomach to continue.
After sober reflection the decision that England fans should hope that Cook reaches is that it is time for someone else to have a go. He is of so much more value to England as the man who has the ability to become the leading run-scorer in the history of Test cricket than as a captain who has a decreasing interest in doing the job. England aren’t going to sack him, but a change would be no bad thing.
Cook has said that he thinks Joe Root is capable of doing the job, so in his mind there is a ready replacement. Another indication that he may be wavering on whether he still fancies the job.
“I think Joe Root is ready to captain England. You never know until you actually experience it,” Cook said after the close of play in Mumbai on Monday. “The whole thing that comes with the England captaincy. You are thrown in at the deep end and you kind of sink or swim. It is as simple as that. Nothing can prepare you for it. He is ready because he is a clued-up guy, he has the respect of everyone in the changing room. He has not got much captaincy experience but that does not mean everything.”
England have lost to a better team, and Alastair Cook’s captaincy didn’t help things, but it wasn’t the reason his team was defeated in this series against India. They lost because of runs that weren’t scored, wickets that weren’t taken and catches that were dropped. But that is not to say it isn’t time for Cook just to do what he does best, scoring thousands and thousands of ugly runs.
First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 10:04 IST