The time has arrived at last for Alastair Cook to create an England side in his own image. He has been captain for 18 months but frequently it has seemed almost as if the real responsibility and power has lain elsewhere.
Starting on Tuesday at The Oval – after the brief excursion earlier this month to Scotland – Cook must finally forge ahead on his own, casting off the previous regime of Andrew Strauss, his predecessor as captain, and the departed coach Andy Flower. Strauss himself suggested on Monday that the Cook era can now properly begin.
“Alastair obviously inherited a team that myself and Andy Flower built and in some ways he was in Andy Flower’s shadow, I think,” Strauss said. “Look at the dynamics of the leadership team. Because Andy and I started at the same time we had very neutral, balanced relationship, whereas when Alastair took over the captaincy Flower had been there a long time and I think he was taking over a larger part of the workload or the leadership side of things.
“I think that dynamic has changed again and Cook has been in the job for a while now and Peter Moores is coming back. I think Cook will be standing a bit taller and be keen and hungry to take on a bit more. For me, captaincy is all about confidence, about backing your own judgement and being comfortable about making those big calls in the middle. Despite having lost in Australia, I think Alastair will have to be more confident this summer than he was previously.”
Cook’s new team will not properly take shape until next month when the Test series against Sri Lanka starts. The one-off Twenty20 international at The Oval today, followed by five one-day internationals beginning at the same venue on Thursday, will of necessity see a cast of familiar faces. But from the off, Cook’s style and approach will be instructive.
Neither he nor Moores, who has returned to the job of coach for his second spell, will be granted much leeway. If Cook has to discover a fresh assertiveness, Moores has to learn from the mistakes he made last time and they need to win almost immediately.
“There is a far smaller honeymoon period this time round,” said Strauss. “Moores will be judged pretty much straight away on his performances. The only thing to say contrary to that is he has done it before, he knows what he is getting himself into and knows what he did well and what he did less well first time round.
“He’s in a better place to do the job well this time but English cricket is in that kind of transitional phase which is pretty much where it was when he took over last time . We had lost the Ashes heavily and been poor in the World Cup and he came in with some new players. There were definitely some teething problems, I don’t think he can afford them this time.”
Strauss, perhaps more than anyone else, sees this as a break from his tenancy as captain when England, briefly, became the top-ranked Test and one-day team. The difference is enshrined by the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, which marks a definitive line.
“When Andrew Flintoff retired everyone said, ‘How can you possibly replace a player of that quality?’ We went on to have an exceptionally successful period on the back of that,” said Strauss. “No one is irreplaceable, let’s put it that way. That’s a given. Obviously, there were some issues in the dressing room while Kevin was in the side, not all of his own making.
“It was a big decision which I think was done for the right reasons. Alastair Cook and the England hierarchy decided it was time for a fresh start and they couldn’t have a fresh start with Pietersen in the ranks. But like all these things the decision will be proved right or wrong by England’s performances on the pitch. If they start losing the issue is going to come back and haunt them again. It’s going to be fascinating to watch the evolution of the England team before our very eyes.”
Andrew Strauss is supporting AEG’s scheme for grass-roots cricket. Clubs can win sets of kit, a washing machine and coaching sessions by submitting an application at facebook.com/AEGReuse content