Alastair Cook suffered the second biggest defeat in his captaincy tenure and looked somewhat indifferent to what transpired in India © IANS
Alastair Cook of England suffered the second biggest defeat in his captaincy tenure and looked somewhat indifferent to what transpired in India © IANS

It all ended where it began.

Back in 2012-13, a vigorous Alastair Cook, who was recently heralded as captain scored 562 runs in a mere 4 Tests in India to help England come from behind and stage a series win. But four years later when the time arrived for Cook to do it all over again, that too all by himself since the men who helped him create history were gone, he could garner a very little. Cook suffered the second biggest defeat in his captaincy tenure and looked somewhat indifferent to what transpired in India. His team repetitively lost despite making 400 and more batting first, and India kept bettering England every single time. Cook’s lack of runs and dropped catches signalled not all was well. Alastair Cook: One of English cricket’s silent predator

Perhaps, that was the time when Cook decided it was enough. No more he could burn himself to make England look better. He had been doing it for many years, and having put everything in it, there had to be a time when Cook felt spent. Hats off to Cook for not taking any impulsive decision over captaincy; he not only spent many nights sleeping over the idea but also appraised to the greatest extent possible to deduce what looks like to be the best decision, for him, and for England cricket. It started before India tour and it has ended after yet another trip.

Cook is never ruffled; he took his time to ponder whether his time as captain was over. It indeed was.

Should Cook have resigned after the series against West Indies, or after playing South Africa? Or should he have waited for the Ashes 2017-18? He may have continued, but what more difference could he have made after spending almost all of himself in England’s revival?

As a captain, did Cook ever take a wrong call? Not relating to the selection errors that captains make along the way or any other decision which impact results directly, Cook’s long-term decisions concerning England’s future were mostly right.

He weathered all storms which hit England cricket post their defeat in Ashes 2013-14, and did not give up despite an embarrassing series defeat to a lowly Sri Lanka at home in mid 2014. At the end, Cook only got positive results, culminating in admiration and respect garnering not only from English cricket but also worldwide. Alastair Cook: 8 memorable highlights from his eventful captaincy career

Resilience

Circa mid 2014, if there was one man in the entire English cricket setup with greatest of resolution to bring back the smiles, it was Cook.

Cook showing his true character of possessing steely resolve, a deep reserve of calmness, self-belief and perseverance to fight all odds and achieve exemplary results can be recalled in two instances.

The second one has to be his decision to stick with a young, inexperienced but richly talented England side when Australia had annihilated them in an away series and Sri Lanka had belittled them at home.

Of course, the first instance was when Cook vowed not to be among the ordinary any more. Four years into his Test career, Cook had hobbled to the Ashes 2010-11. Inconsistency and lack of big runs had media panning Cook mercilessly.

Cook responded with 766 runs in an Ashes series in Australia. It was a monumental performance — the fifth highest over-all — that took England to an elusive series win in Australia.

“Nobody walks over me, ever, and no-one will walk over me, ever. You don’t get to the top in professional sport without being hard and tough, but I do that in my way. I don’t shout or scream, but I am determined and I will push harder than 99 per cent of cricketers in training,” Cook said upon his return. Why Alastair Cook’s batting rekindles memories of Bill Lawry

Character

MS Dhoni proved that a captain need not be born with leadership qualities. He can excel when he knows the best ways to use his resources, back the talented despite lack of performances and keep pushing on with the basics to get favourable results.

Cook was no different.

“I don’t shout or scream, but I am determined and I will push harder than 99 per cent of cricketers in training.  That is as much my character as any other perception that people might have. I’m not some little soft touch. I will never take a backward step when batting, but I want to be respected as a nice guy, too. I don’t think you have to be this macho man all the time, just because you play sport,” Cook told the Daily Mail after the Ashes 2010-11.

Cook’s resolve to stand above the rest, to lead from the front, to get the basics right and to play Test cricket in its most traditional ways were some of the qualities seen later when he was ascended as captain in 2012.

The winning start to his captaincy in India was something Cook had not even dreamt of. Conquering India has not been among the achievements for even best of the cricketing nations, but Cook made it possible. India had no answer to his mountain of runs and the tactical brilliance of having Monty Panesar bowling in tandem with Graeme Swann.

That he remains one of the steeliest characters in Test cricket makes the format richer at a time when teams around the world are lacking batsmen who do not show the basic intent to spend time or grind it at the crease. Ravindra Jadeja – The latest trouble in an already cluttered life of Alastair Cook

The support within

Cook’s reign as captain saw many cricketers making their international debuts. The rise of Moeen Ali, Joe Root and Ben Stokes – who more or less form the backbone of any England team across formats – happened under Cook’s vigil. After all, England cricketers draw a lot of confidence early on in their career excelling in Test cricket at home, and these three were no different.

Cook felt his time was over after the series defeat to Sri Lanka at home in 2014, but the support system in the dressing room was too strong to not let him decide on his time. In fact, the support from a string of young cricketers who made terrific progress under Cook created an environment that Cook always wanted to create.

A dressing room which has a relaxed environment, the zeal to make each other excel and the trait to enjoy respective successes was seen during Cook’s tenure.

Emotional

It is difficult to assume what Cook is thinking while batting; his expressions remain alike when he is plundering runs or struggling for them. The only instances are when Cook’s steely look turns into that of a beaten captain despite giving it all.

But there was one rare instance when Cook showed the emotional side of him.

Michael Clarke was a cry baby; he failed to control emotions when Ricky Ponting walked away, which means, when his time was over, Clarke would fail to keep a check on himself.

The Ashes 2015 broke Michael Clarke. He quit by the end of it, tormented by the fact that despite winning the Urn twice, he could never win it in England. The dodgy back also broke his spirit.

But Cook had never thought England would win the series. After all, Cook’s ‘work-in-progress’ England looked inferior against Australia. But Australia’s disintegration handed England and Cook their second consecutive Ashes win at home.

Cook was so overwhelmed by the occasion that he cried too, along with Clarke, for having arrived at a point, which he did not think would happen. Neither would Clarke have imagined his retirement heading into the series, nor had Cook fancied that England would win it.

And thus, for the first time, world saw the Cook, who cried.

The Kevin Pietersen saga

Cook versus Pietersen has intrigued cricket fans and experts alike. But if it were to end today, right at this moment, Cook would emerge victorious for various reasons. Being gracious is one thing, but to keep treading a path with everything stacked against you – from lacking one of the most talented batsmen ever on your side to the social media army launching sudden attacks – Cook showed resilience.

For those on the side of Pietersen, it is important to remember and acknowledge that it was Cook who championed for Pietersen’s reintegration ahead of the India tour in 2012-13. Pietersen had already committed the sin of speaking against his team earlier that year when South Africa were in England. But Cook showed better sense and got Pietersen in the side to help England win.

In retrospect, how justified is Pietersen in moaning over his exclusion? Cook gave Pietersen the second chance and brought him back. But there was no third chance.

As stoic as Cook can get, he never spoke enough about the issue.

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Joe Root is the red-hot favourite for England captaincy, despite having very less experience of leadership. He has led in only four First-Class matches. There could be an option in Ben Stokes as well. But if heralded as captain, Root will get a relatively younger team than what Cook got four years ago.

Cook, 32, has given his career a perfect boost with resignation as captain. He battled for years and toiled in and out of cricket grounds to keep England afloat; he did more than an impressive job. Now, it is time for Cook to revitalise himself as a cricketer. Find the batsman in him once again who vowed “nobody walks over me, ever, and no-one will walk over me, ever’. He has crossed 11,000-run mark; the target is Sachin Tendulkar’s tally of 15,921.