Alastair Cook: Conservatively in the Eye of the Radical Storm

England v Australia: 4th Investec Ashes Test - Day Four

His team may be bringing in the urns and titles, but Alastair Cook hasn’t exactly been the ‘captain consummate’ for England. Though he’s played his part on the field on numerous occasions, even coming up with a hard-fought half-century in the first innings of the fourth test; Cook’s assertiveness has been a factor that has gained focused throughout the Ashes so far.

He’s been out-of-sorts, at times indecisive even as England managed to stake their claim – yet again – on the Ashes urn. The victory though convincing, still lacked the thrust that belongs to Cook alone. It would be perhaps a lopsided comparison but one can’t help but spot the difference between Clarke and Cook – especially after the third test. Where the Australian shrugged and cast-off the ignominy of the Ashes defeat to muster up his troops well for a potential fight-back with some well-displayed tactical aggressiveness; Cook’s manoeuvres lacked the element of the proverbial coup de grace.

Discussions about England’s potential whitewash over Australia continued to rage on as the hosts took firm control over the series winning the first two matches. But Australia’s comeback efforts in the third test, pinpointed towards an altogether different actuality. Though England managed to gain for themselves, a much-needed draw – in what was perhaps one of the most convoluted test matches to have ever been played – the fact that they weren’t able to carry through the momentum of their first two test match wins was indeed a finger worth pointing towards the English captain.

The conservatism generally associated with English cricketers was once again brought to light as Cook continued to dither even as the Australian captain ran amok with the run count. Looking back at England’s sedative game-making, perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that had it not been for a few lucky – and not so lucky – interventions, the battle for the Ashes would have still been raging on. This however isn’t to say that England didn’t deserve to win and retain the Ashes. But after having completely routed the Australians in the opening two matches, only to manage a much-deserving hold in the meekest of manners then doesn’t do justice to the hopes and expectations riding on the team.

Though indeed Cook managed to get England back to winning ways in the fourth test – thanks to Stuart Broad’s superb spell – it still doesn’t negate the fact that the English captain needs to shrug off his cape of conservatism. There again it doesn’t mean that he should come up with a change so unorthodox that it’s totally inexplicable. For it’s quite obvious that the English team is sticking to a certain plan of action with clearly demarcated roles for each player.

Making subtle alterations rather than focusing on bringing about a more obvious change would however help Cook fare better when compared with other seasoned tacticians of the game. As far as building experiences go, the English captain needs to embrace newer ideas and dimensions that would give him an edge over his peers not just in test cricket but also in the other formats. His penchant for persisting with the ‘road much travelled’ rather than setting a precedent of his own has made it quite difficult for Cook to make his mark in the shorter formats of the sport, especially in the T20s. Though the team’s policy of different captains for each format of the game has worked well for England, in many ways it’s an inconsistency that a player of Cook’s calibre hasn’t been able to build on and capitalise on these more-engaging formats of the game.

While Cook’s chances of captaining or playing in the English T20 side still remain unclear, there’s no denying that he’s the right man to helm the English cricketing affairs at the test and ODI levels. But there again while he may have proved his worth, embracing newer horizons would only go on to reinforce his skippering capabilities.

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