Ashes 2015: Mixed feelings but equal levels of emotion for captains Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke

COMMENT: Cook has a knack of saying and doing the right things

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Alastair Cook has a farmer’s realism and a yeoman’s resilience. He is a man whose passion is expressed briefly and privately, rather than indulgently and visibly. Just before noon on Saturday, ambushed by cricket history at Trent Bridge, he came as close as he has ever done to weeping in public.

“Bet that’s your worst nightmare” he muttered self-deprecatingly to his interviewer, Michael Atherton, as the crowd sensed the exquisite irony of his momentary discomfort.  Pausing on the verge of tears to recover his composure was as out of character as Piers Morgan resisting the chance to promote his friend, whose name escapes me.

“It’s just a release, I suppose” Cook rationalised later, in the incongruous setting of an airless squash court behind the pavilion at Trent Bridge. “When you captain any side you are under a bit more pressure than everyone else.

“When you do something you dream of doing you do get a bit emotional. You think of everyone who supported you through the really tough times, mainly my wife, my family and her family. It took me a little over the edge.”

Cook has a knack of saying and doing the right things. He seemed genuinely abashed by being spoken of in the same breath as WG Grace and Mike Brearley, the only other England captains to win two or more home Ashes series.

He paid fulsome tribute to Peter Moores, the coach sacrificed in the blood-letting which followed an unimpressive tour of the West Indies in late spring. His authenticity was captured by the instinctive selflessness which on Saturday prompted him to give his souvenir stump to Mark Wood.

 

The Durham bowler was so consumed by winning the Ashes back in appropriate fashion, splaying the stumps of last man Nathan Lyon, he was still shaking half an hour later. Lyon, who sank to his haunches like a boxer who had taken one blow too many to the solar plexus, provided the contrasting image of distress which defines such occasions.

“That’s the sort of moment you play this game for” said Cook, wistfully. More than two and a half hours after play had ended, he was still in his whites, walking around the ground, acknowledging spectators and signing autographs with his infant daughter Elsie cradled in his left arm.

alastair-cook-2.jpg
Alastair Cook celebrates after winning the Ashes

 

The dignity he has shown under concerted attack over the last two years was never going to be abandoned when he was asked to consider the fate of opposite number Michael Clarke, whose Test career will end at the Oval in a fortnight.

“He is a fantastic cricketer, a fantastic batsman and a fantastic leader” said Cook. “I know he is in a bit of a dark place at the moment, but when the cloud lifts we will remember him as a true ambassador.”

Clarke, who decided to retire on Friday night after a conversation with his wife, and confirmed the his intentions to coach Darren Lehman and chairman of selectors Rod Marsh on Saturday morning, was in tears in the aftermath of defeat.

“I’m sick of crying on television” he said, prompting a sympathetic standing ovation. “I don’t feel sad, because this is the right time to walk away. I don’t blame anyone in that dressing room. I’ll always hold myself accountable, and my performances haven’t been anywhere they need to be.”

michael-clarke-1.jpg
Michael Clarke looks on at Trent Bridge on the third day

 

Clarke and Cook are throwback personalities in an era of vacuous celebrity, men of substance and humility. When Clarke insisted “cricket owes me nothing and I owe it everything” he was speaking from the heart, rather than regurgitating a flattering soundbite.

His relative lack of popularity in Australia is puzzling, because he has fronted up to failure. The way in which he instinctively flicked his fingers beneath the desk during his press conference hinted at private grief, but his poise was hugely impressive.

Similarly, the warmth of the England players’ tributes to Cook exceeded professional protocol and reaffirmed the sense of unity that has been a feature of a schizophrenic series. This is a team based on brotherhood, rather than individual ego.

Joe Root, doused in champagne, wearing a comedy store mask, and attempting a bizarre impression of Bob Willis, was serious for long enough to reflect: “For Cooky to go through what he’s gone through and still be as true a man as he is, is phenomenal.”

Stuart Broad mirrored the mood: “Cooky has been through some tough times, but he’s a very private person, and he can switch away from it. He has stood up as a man and led from the front. He’s a pleasure to play with. He’s got such hunger for England to do well.”

New coach Trevor Bayliss hailed him as “a fantastic bloke”, and praised him for the proactivity of his captaincy, which has changed out of all recognition since his self-confessed darkest moment. That came after day four of last year’s defeat by Sri Lanka at Headingley.

He had been first out after scoring 16 during a notably a neurotic innings, and a chorus of former England captains concluded a mercy killing was in order. The witless Morgan maintained the barrage by insisting there was more chance of his being becoming Pope than Cook winning the Ashes.

“I’ve managed to hang in there and stick to the right principles to lead a team” Cook said, in that measured way of his. He is hardly the flamboyant folk hero modern sport demands, but tears of joy are like molten gold.

Comments