By Will Jennings
It’s time for Alastair Cook to go. After 59 Tests in charge, 24 victories and two Ashes series wins, English cricket requires fresh leadership. It requires a renewed sense of direction, consolidating the success that Cook has so admirably pioneered and ensuring that progress continues to be made with a trip down under looming.
I’ve enjoyed Captain Cook. I’ve enjoyed his measured, detached and often anonymous approach, functioning as a calming influence at times whilst the carnage unfolds around him. As Virat Kohli went about his business so unerringly in Mumbai in the construction of 235 sparkling runs, Cook held his nerve, refusing to submit and sustaining his expression of indelible solidarity. In many respects he has been the perfect England captain, embodying the idiosyncratically British values of the stiff upper lip and perpetual defiance.
But his time is up. Cook has taken England to the end of the road with him as the driver, and the time has come for him to relinquish control. With Joe Root so readily poised in the passenger seat, never has there been a better time for transition.
England have three Test matches scheduled before they depart for another gruelling tour. While the moustachioed menace of Mitchell Johnson may be absent this time, understudies Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood will be primed and ready to inflict further damage onto already scarred English mentalities. Those who were in Australia in 2013/14 – Cook, Root, Broad, Anderson – will not have forgotten the chaos of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
If England are to have any chance down under, they require a leader who possesses the requisite flair and boldness to confront their opponents. While Cook is an effective leader and has a good cricket brain, his anonymity on the field is not what achieves away triumphs in such a hostile setting. In India, Cook represented the fundamental antithesis of his counterpart Kohli: England’s captain was static and passive, India’s talisman animated, constantly hunting, and ruthless.
Root is naturally a more emotive character than Cook. He will be a more pro-active captain, retaining a continual influence on the field and constantly ensuring opposition batsmen are aware of his presence. He will be bolder, taking more risks and encouraging his team to employ a more exciting brand of cricket. In short, he will translate what Eoin Morgan has done so impressively with the one-day sides into the Test match arena.
And that is what England need. Cook has laid the foundations, and Root’s job will be to build. But he needs time. With three Tests at the beginning of the summer against the less than threatening West Indies, Root will be provided with the perfect opportunity to ease his way into a job that has been a visible challenge for so many of his predecessors.
When Cook does stand down – it seems increasingly probable that he will do so after the conclusion of the current T20 series in India – Root will be presented with seven Test matches to mould his side before he embarks on the toughest test of all. He must assert his influence immediately, reshaping attitudes within the current team and fostering an atmosphere in which his players can thrive.
The timing of Cook’s resignation is key. It must be done before the English summer commences, providing Root with the chance to introduce himself to the job, decipher the way he wants to rule and to build up his already positive relationship with the press. If Cook leaves it too late, England’s youthful Yorkshireman will be thrown into the deep end.
Such a transition will benefit all parties. England’s potency as a Test match side will augment owing to Root’s spirited, thoughtful yet ebullient nature, while Cook’s renewed role as a batsman and subordinate contributor will deflect pressure away from him and could have a positive effect on his run scoring. Change is vital.
England under Root will resemble the buoyant, exuberant and high-energy outfit that Virat Kohli has transformed India into, making themselves conspicuous to the opposition and relentlessly hunting teams down. While Cook’s England were capable of playing in such a manner, too often the England captain’s passivity took over and England would drift aimlessly through games.
The Root epoch will be one of dynamism and enterprise. If Cook’s captaincy was the cricketing equivalent of a Per Mertesacker performance – solid, reasonably reliable yet usually risk-free – Root’s will be one of an Alexis Sanchez, energetically searching for breakthroughs and ways to penetrate the opposition. The future will be bright.
And, with series approaching on seaming, swing-conducive wickets, we have reason to be optimistic. Contrary to the dust-bowls conveniently prepared by Indian groundsmen this winter for our batsmen to be bamboozled on, Root will have initially English conditions to appropriate in his favour followed by the quick, hard wickets in Australia.
So change is key. Although speculation was mounting concerning the ECB’s procrastination in announcing Cook’s departure – many believed they were planning on naming Root captain in white-ball cricket as well – Eoin Morgan’s timely return to form seems to have cemented his position as England’s one-day leader. Root’s Test promotion should be announced soon.
But for now we wait. With a summer – hopefully – ahead for England’s new captain to learn, develop and enhance his leadership skills before England embark on their urn-retaining odyssey, the next few months will be compelling. While it may be difficult for us sentimentalists to say farewell to Captain Cook, the emergence of Root and the energised, fearless and enigmatic brand of cricket he will bring is a transition that should be embraced by us all.
Photograph: Wikimedia commons