Alastair Cook: The Highs and the Lows of Being England Captain

By | Published February 9, 2017

Cricket correspondent, Oli Lathrope, takes a look at the highs and lows of Alastair Cook’s England captaincy.

On Monday morning it was announced that Alastair Cook after 59 tests and 24 wins was stepping down as England’s test match captain. The end of the road came after a resounding 4-0 series defeat in India where it became obvious that after 4 and half years in the job, the stress of opening the batting and captaining one’s country had become too much. No one has ever questioned his ability with the bat, the opinion of his captaincy has always been divisive, and despite winning two ashes series his reign may well be remembered for that 5-0 whitewash down under back in 2013/14 and the subsequent ending of Kevin Pietersen’s international career.

Highs

2012 – Winning in India

Things really could not have got off to a better start for Alastair Cook’s reign as test match captain. Firstly he brought Kevin Pietersen back into the

Captain Cook: Kevin Pietersen's England days may seem well behind him now, but he was a key asset in Cook's side at the start of his captaincy.

Captain Cook: Kevin Pietersen’s England days may seem well behind him now, but he was a key asset in Cook’s side at the start of his captaincy.

fold who had been dropped back in the summer thanks to a series of texts sent to opposition players in South Africa and subsequently falling out with previous captain Andrew Strauss. The decision to do so proved inspired as Pietersen along with Cook himself racked up the runs over the course of the four match series which England won 2-1. It was England’s first win in India for 27 years and was largely unexpected after the side had struggled on the sub-continent the previous winter against Pakistan. Cook finished the series as the top runs scorer from both sides with 562 runs including three centuries and the series win was the perfect start to his captaincy.

2013- Retaining the Ashes

Cook’s first year as England captain would be judged as you would expect on the basis of the two back-to-back ashes series against Australia. The first could not have gone much better as England comfortably retained the Ashes 3-0, despite a few scares along the way. A close win at Trent Bridge was followed by a dominant one at Lords and being 2-0 with three to play meant the series was pretty much already won. The final win came at Durham in another close game but throughout the series England had dominated. Ian Bell scored three centuries and Cook’s honeymoon period as England captain continued.

2015 – Regaining the Ashes

I think Alastair Cook will tell you this was his most satisfying win as England captain. After the disaster of a 5-0 whitewash down under only 18

Champagne Showers: After yet another gruelling Ashes series with the Australians, this triumph was one of Cook's greatest.

Champagne Showers: After yet another gruelling Ashes series with the Australians, this triumph was one of Cook’s greatest.

months earlier, England were largely expected to lose again due to an Australian side that still contained much of the firepower that had so dominantly destroyed England in the past. However this was a new England side and a new Alastair Cook who was now a far more aggressive captain due to the nature of the players at his disposal. With the bat, the ‘chef’ as he is known as by some, only scored two half centuries however you could see the steely determination in Cook’s eyes to right the wrongs of the past. The first two test matches were shared, the second of which was a damaging defeat at Lords. However England produced two of their finest displays in recent memory by hammering the Aussies at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge to regain the urn they had comprehensively lost. The tears in the eyes of the captain after the win in Nottingham showed just how much it meant to him.

2015-16 – Winning in South Africa

The last real highlight of Alastair Cook’s England captaincy came at the expense of South Africa. If the summers win against Australia showed glimpses of the future of English cricket, this definitely confirmed it. Ben Stokes magnificent double hundred in the second test match will be remembered as one of the great innings of all time. For Cook it was not his best series with the bat however it was his captaincy that continued to impress and the largely conservative captain of only two years earlier seemed long gone. Leading 1-0 heading into the third test it was Stuart Broad who did the business for his captain with a magnificent spell of 6-17 and gave England their second away win against South African since the turn of the century. Cook and his England side were slowly starting to see the benefits of all the agony that had come before it and Cook was finally getting the rewards he deserved.

Lows

2013 – 14 – The tour from hell down under

There is really is no where you can start with this one. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Cook’s darkest day as England captain certainly. Heading down under there was a wave of optimism that the Ashes could be won again. However England were on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering from the Australians who were inspired by Mitchell Johnson. Great players such as Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott were clearly past their best and all struggled. Cook himself was hopelessly out of form which only increased the pressure. The whitewash was all that England deserved and there were calls from afar for Cook to step down. The controversy did not end there however as Kevin Pietersen was subsequently dropped, blamed for causing a divide in the dressing room. Whether or not it was the correct decision has been questioned but it did not reflect well on captain Cook.

2014 – Disaster against Sri Lanka

No way out: Cook was left in a difficult position as England's captain after a dramatic home series defeat to Sri Lanka.

No way out: Cook was left in a difficult position as England’s captain after a dramatic home series defeat to Sri Lanka.

Cook managed to survive calls to quit the role heading into the summer of 2014. However if he thought things were going to improve he was wrong. A 1-0 defeat at home to Sri Lanka was the next disappointing defeat under his captaincy. The first test was drawn however an agonising defeat off the penultimate ball of the final day at Headingley condemned England to another series defeat. Cook continued to struggle for runs which certainly was not helping relieve the pressure on himself. Luckily England did turn their fortunes around later in the summer with a 3-1 victory over India.

2014 – Losing the one day captaincy

For most of this article, we have look at Alastair Cook as test match captain however as one day captain Cook was under even more pressure. Off the back of one fifty in his last 22 innings, two months before the world cup, Cook was sacked as captain. It was decision that had to be made as it was clear Cook was no longer an attacking enough player to warrant a place in the England side. What followed was an uncomfortable period between Cook and the ECB where he criticised their decision for sacking him. The whole event did not reflect well on any of the parties involved. However it can be argued that since this moment we have seen the best of Cook as England’s test captain.

2016-17- The final straw

Shattered: A series whitewash in India was Cook's last contribution as England captain.

Shattered: A series whitewash in India was Cook’s last contribution as England captain.

Four years on from Alastair Cook’s first great triumph as England captain was where it finally came to an end. A comprehensive 4-0 series defeat was expected by many but was no less easy to take. Many teams have struggled in India in recent years but it was the nature of the defeats that harmed Cook and his England side and you sensed after the series had ended that Cook may have had enough. The strain of opening the batting and being captain after four years had become too much to take. Despite a hundred in the first test match he struggled for runs thereafter as India’s spinners dominated.

What’s next?

For Cook, he is only 32 years old and has the potential to go on for at least five years and score plenty of runs. For England they move onto a new captain, likely to be Joe Root to lead them into series against South Africa and the West Indies before looking to retain the Ashes down under.