Ashes 2015: Andrew Strauss the key ingredient in Alastair Cook's renaissance as batsman and captain

How Cook acted around the team during a difficult time spoke volumes about him

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The Independent Online

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling but in rising again after you fall.” Vince Lombardi’s words accurately describe the last year and a half of Alastair Cook’s cricket career.

Problems on the pitch, through lack of form and distractions off it involving various selection issues, have combined to test this most resilient character. But the broad smile etched on the face of the England captain after regaining the Ashes seemed enough to assign all those woes to history.

The lowest point in Cook’s career possibly came late last year when he was informed he had been sacked as England’s one-day captain. Any dreams of leading England in a World Cup were dashed.

For all he has achieved in his career, representing his country in a World Cup will never be part of the CV. Here’s the great irony, in my opinion.

 

He was persevered with in the one-day format for so long because the selectors felt that not only would it give the team the best chance of success in the World Cup but would also give England their best chance of regaining the Ashes. Continuity and working alongside the recently reinstated coach Peter Moores were apparently deemed crucial to their chances.

Being relieved of his duties, along with a change in management, actually provided Cook and the team with their best chance of bringing home the greatest prize in the game. It seems the new cricket director, Andrew Strauss, had a different policy for the development of the Test and one-day sides, creating distance between the personnel of the two teams as the way forward.

Almost instantly, Cook could breathe again and plot his renaissance. He had time away from the one-day game, time with his family to refresh and gain the perspective that is increasingly so hard to attain with the crowded international fixture list.

As I spent time with him in Sri Lanka during the one-day series prior to the World Cup, it became increasingly obvious that he was struggling with his own game, but how he acted around the team and media during an immensely difficult time spoke volumes about the man. He behaved with great dignity and assurance. Cook was not only the face of the team, but very visible around the hotel and happy to talk with punters.

His form and confidence returned during the West Indies series. He may have been stubborn, yes, but he also realised that his captaincy methods needed updating. Occasionally inventive fields and more expression as a leader were the upshot.

Then came a crucial moment, the appointment of Strauss as director of England Cricket. Cook and Strauss seem to have got this relationship right, and as a result Cook seemed very relaxed as soon as Strauss was appointed. It is hard to argue that Strauss has not got the best out of the one-day captain, Eoin Morgan, and Cook.

Outwardly, England’s greatest Test match centurion seems confident and self-assured. Inwardly, a totally different story could be playing out. Crucially, though, through experience and good support this very fine opening batsman has found a way to get back to somewhere near his best.

I really hope England’s much-maligned leader has time in the next few days to sit back and reflect on a period of time when he, unlike many in his position, pulled through and prospered.

By contrast, Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, will retire from international cricket after the next Test at The Oval. As is so often the case, Ashes cricket has a defining role in players’ careers.

If it is not a happy exit, Clarke’s legacy should remain as one of the game’s finest batsmen and as a fine captain both on and off the pitch after he led the cricket world in mourning with such dignity and compassion following the death of his great friend Phillip Hughes. Surely few would deny Clarke one last hurrah at The Oval.

But the days ahead in the lead-up to what undoubtedly will be a great celebration will rightly all be about England. I’m sure the management will use this time to be honest and realistic, and not get too carried away after the initial deserved festivities.

Following Australia’s complete victory at Lord’s, I called for reality and perspective. More of that is required now. The period after winning is often the best time for reflection.

The Lord’s pitch was flat, benign and bereft of pace. The Oval pitch may well be flat and will test this England team again.

But for now we should all toast Cook and his England team and thank them for not only bringing home the Ashes again but for all the entertainment they have provided during this most memorable summer.

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