Alastair Cook, England’s beleaguered captain, was on Monday offered the unequivocal backing of his oldest friend in cricket. If Ravi Bopara’s words of encouragement were to be fully expected, the passionate and unbridled manner of them was more surprising.
To put it bluntly, Bopara looked and sounded as though he meant it. He claimed to be speaking for the rest of the team as well. Cook has so far led England to eight successive defeats this winter, five in Tests, three to date in the one-day series – the latest by seven wickets in Sydney on Sunday – with two still to play.
“I think he is definitely the man,” said Bopara. “There is no one out there who can do the job he can do. He is one of the best players in the England side and he has been for a number of years. His experience, his calmness, the respect he has from the rest of the guys.
“He is definitely a good leader. He is well-spoken and he is good to have around. He is always smiling, and not much affects him. Yes, naturally, you are going to be on a low, and yesterday he was on a particular low, but I didn’t notice any difference.”
Cook and Bopara have known each other since they were 13-year-old opponents in southern schools’ representative sides. They graduated from there to Essex and almost in tandem to England where Cook, until recently, has had a virtually unfettered rise. Now Bopara plays under Cook in the one-day team.
“Alastair always came across as a mature kind of boy even at that age,” said Bopara. “He presented himself very well, he came across as your captain sort of guy. I am glad he’s doing it now, he is the right man for it.
“We have had a little chat, nothing major. It’s more sort of an encouraging chat to say ‘look, I have known you pretty much all my life’. I said: ‘this is nothing to you and whatever you might be going through right now you will come out a better person, a better captain and keep believing’. And he does, he is in a good place.”
Bopara said he spoke for the rest of the team who saw Cook as their leader. There has been fevered speculation based on not much more than hot air that Eoin Morgan might be the man to take over the one-day captaincy, leaving Cook to concentrate on Tests. This would leave England with three captains again, which is inevitably difficult to manage, more so if Cook were still around as a batsman.
“I think if you’ve been through what Alastair’s been through over the last few months you will naturally have some lows,” said Bopara. “That is only human. He has got a lot of self-belief and that is the main ingredient to captaincy.
“More than anything, it is his character as a person. He’s become more confident in the calls he makes, he’s got better at man-management, addressing people, that sort of stuff.”
If it had been a testimonial for a job, employers might wonder if the applicant had a single weakness. It is what friends are for.