On the first occasion that Captain Cook led the good ship England, it ended up on the rocks. The experience was so traumatic that it may shape his entire future career as a skipper.
Alastair Cook will take charge of the one-day side at The Oval on Tuesday as their official captain for the first time. The intention is that he will still be there come the next World Cup in 2015 and whatever bets are being hedged, he is also the probable eventual successor to Andrew Strauss as the Test captain.
Everything went wrong that day at Centurion Park in South Africa, as Cook ruefully acknowledged. "We got outskilled that day by quite a long way," he said. "As captain you take responsibility if you win and if you do badly, and we didn't play well enough. I can only learn from that and hopefully if that situation comes around I can adapt to it.
"I learned that when the ball is going round the park you have got to try and do different things. There were certainly things to remember from that game."
The things to remember, however, are better expunged. South Africa made 241 for 6 in 20 overs, which included a world-record opening partnership and England, never in the hunt, did reasonably well to get within 83 runs. But what marked the proceedings was the manner in which England appeared to be captained by committee.
Cook was plunged into the role at the last minute when Paul Collingwood withdrew with a sore back on the morning of the match. What ensued was less a meeting of minds than a scramble for authority. As Graeme Smith and Loots Bosman tore into England's attack, Cook was bombarded with advice.
Fielders of every hue would run from all parts to put in their tuppen'orth on who should be bowling and who should be fielding where. By the end it was slightly embarrassing and Cook was slightly embarrassed.
But as he has tended to do with his batting, he reflected and he recovered. By the time Cook took England to Bangladesh last year with Strauss taking a break, he was much more composed, calm and authoritative. The quality of the opposition might have helped but Bangladesh is not a straightforward country to tour and Cook did not put a foot wrong.
It will be fascinating to see what sort of captain he is. The probability is that he will be thoughtful and painstaking rather than inspirational or audacious. Everything will certainly be thought through before he does it.
The whole scene seems to be slightly complicated by the fact that Cook is now one of three official England captains. Stuart Broad led the Twenty20 side yesterday, while Strauss will return as Test captain for the series against India which begins next month.
"I just feel honoured to captain England in the one-day side," said Cook. "It is certainly not an audition, it is a job on its own and hopefully I can do a good job and we can start being a successful England side, which would give me huge pleasure.
"Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss are our two big leaders and Stuart and I are very fortunate to have two experienced guys and two successful guys leading us. They make decisions on the direction of Team England, and Stuart and I are responsible for our own individual aspects of it. With the amount of cricket we play and the amount of energy you need to give to all formats, it works well with a fresh guy coming in for short periods to give it new energy."
There is no question, however, that split captaincy has had a profound effect before on the direction of an England team. In 2003, Nasser Hussain gave up the one-day captaincy and when he returned to take over the Test side, he found that the dynamic had changed forever. It was Michael Vaughan's side now. Cook denies there is a danger of a repeat.
"I don't think so," he said. "It is a very different set-up with the three captains, and with the personnel involved I think it will work. It is an exciting time to be part of it and it gives each format very clear roles and hopefully that will be beneficial."
The biggest worry of all is the effect that simply playing in one-day cricket again will have on Cook's Test batting. He has been able to concentrate exclusively on one form of the game for the past 16 months (since he led the side in both forms in Bangladesh) and the effect has been sensational.
He scored 766 runs at an average of 127.67 in the Ashes during the winter, he accumulated 390 more in the recent series against Sri Lanka. But different skills and a different mindset are demanded in the one-day game and it might just reduce his effectiveness in the long form.
"You do have to try and adjust a bit," Cook said. "You still get in the same positions but you just have a mental thing about which ones you are going to play and which ones you are going to leave.
"That is the important thing – to get your mind right – and once you go back from playing one-day cricket to playing Test cricket you have to be disciplined enough and patient enough to leave those shots outside off stump which in one-day cricket you would have to play."
There is much to ponder, but it is safe to presume that whatever happens from next week on, Captain Cook and his ship will be nowhere near the rocks.Reuse content