All eyes on Cook as he has his turn in charge of England
The opener takes the one-day armband today knowing that if he succeeds the Test job could soon be his, writes Stephen Brenkley
Tuesday 28 June 2011
In accordance with the new England way of doing things, Alastair Cook will today become their third captain in a week. Those who were saying, "Yes captain, no captain, three bags full captain," to Stuart Broad on Saturday can now start to take the mickey out of him again as he returns to a less hallowed place in the dressing room.
As for Andrew Strauss, who was still leading the team in a Test match on Monday last week, he has gone on holiday. For those still confused by the recent turn of events, Strauss is still England's Test captain, Broad is the Twenty20 captain and Cook will officially assume the one-day role in the first of a five-match series against Sri Lanka at The Oval. Applications, it is believed, are now closed although for a while there it appeared there was more chance of captaining England at cricket than of receiving a ticket for any Olympic Games event.
Cook comes to the job amid a welter of scepticism, much of it based on what was and not on what is, or what might be. He has played only 26 one-day internationals and only three in the past three years when he replaced Strauss as captain on the tour of Bangladesh early in 2010.
In his first and somewhat improbable incarnation, Cook was found to be too limited in shot-making ability as a one-day player. Entire innings were in danger of stultifying around him. When Strauss's one-day career resumed, Cook's temporarily stalled because it was impossible for them to play in the same side.
But Strauss has called it a day and the selectors see Cook almost as a like-for-like replacement. It should not be forgotten that Strauss reinvented himself as a one-day batsman. Cook intends to do likewise. In 77 innings up to 2007, Strauss averaged 32 with a strike rate of 75. After being brought back as captain those figures were 40 and 87.
"I think Strauss is a great example to me," said Cook yesterday. "You can evolve and improve and he certainly did that and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's your job in the media.
"As an international player you're always under pressure, you always have to prove yourself and I'm no different. I'm excited by the challenge, I think my one-day game has evolved since I last played. Obviously in Bangladesh I scored runs and I scored them quickly, so I know I have got the talent and the skill to do it. I have just got to show the lads that I can do it. I know I can score runs at the top of the order."
In Bangladesh last year, Cook went off at a lick, scoring almost at a run a ball, determined to prove that he could do it. There is no doubt that he has adapted and he can hit down the ground, or at least to the cow corner part of it, in a way that he could not before when it was alien territory.
More than his change of style, Cook has a steely resolve which has been seen in the manner that he has dominated the Test arena in the past eight months after his very career was put in doubt. But combining the roles of opening batsman and captain will push him to the limits.
He was mightily impressive in Bangladesh and grew in authority and command as the tour went on. It was like watching grass grow. You could not actually see it but next time you looked he was a foot taller in captaincy terms.
Cook would say this, wouldn't he, but he insists that his elevation to the one-day captaincy is not an audition for the Test captaincy. It is and it isn't. If he mucks it up, he will probably not be Test captain, but if he succeeds the selectors would have no need to look elsewhere.
"At the moment I see myself as the one-day captain," he said. "I am concentrating on tomorrow's game and the series ahead and will try and do the best job I can and worry about all that stuff later."
Another point that has been raised lately is the lack of practice that England captains are likely to get these days. The days of central contracts mean that potential national leaders are unlikely ever to get a chance to be captain of their county.
Among others, it has been exercising the cricket writer and broadcaster and former England captain, Mike Atherton. It is, however, a slightly specious argument. Where have England captains ever come from?
Atherton himself captained Lancashire as a caretaker in just nine Championship matches, one of which they even managed to win, before he became England's most durable Test captain at the age of 25. But Percy Chapman had never captained a side before he led England in their great Ashes triumph of 1926.
Of more recent vintage, a successful leader like Ray Illingworth was picked as England captain at the age of 36 after a mere five matches leading Leicestershire. Nasser Hussain had been captain of Essex six times before he was appointed captain of England and Michael Vaughan's captaincy experience with Yorkshire amounted to precisely nothing before he was put in charge of England and, two years later, he won back the Ashes.
Vaughan has always made the point that it helps if the captain has leadership ability, which he did in spades for a while. The tactical stuff can come as the job goes by. Still, he also admitted that he had barely a clue at the start.
It is not ideal that England have three captains and they are not saying that it is. Strauss's decision to end his one-day career prompted what followed. One day, it is possible that Cook will renounce the one-day leadership to enhance his Test career, which is what the best players have always done (a mild rebuke to Amol Rajan, who in his column yesterday suggested that Daniel Vettori was somehow different).
Cook might have wished for easier opposition than Sri Lanka in his first official series, recent World Cup finalists and an extremely acute limited-overs side. On the other hand it will be a true examination of his mettle. England cannot afford to go more than one behind or they will face disaster. A win today would head Cook's critics off at the pass.
England A N Cook (capt), C Kieswetter (wkt), I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, E J G Morgan, I R Bell, S R Patel, G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, T T Bresnan.
Sri Lanka T Kandamby (capt), M Jayawardene, S Jayasuriya, K Sangakarra (wkt), A Mathews, J Mendis, T Perera, N Kulaskera, S Lakmal, S Randiv, L Malinga.
B F Bowden & R K Illingworth.
No reason to think that there should not be a good batting wicket with the weekend sunshine having arrived in the nick of time.
Dry with sunny intervals. Max temp: 22C
Sky Sports 1, HD1, 12.30-9.30pm.
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