Stephen Brenkley: Look beyond all the sniping and Alastair Cook’s one-day record is still creditable
Of the 17 men to have led England, only three have a better win record
Every morning that Alastair Cook wakes up someone or other is telling him why he is not fit to be captain of England.
For most of the early part of the summer this related to the leadership of the Test team. Having put that one to bed by conducting an unlikely revival against India, he is now being derided for his style, or lack of it, as the captain in the 50-over version. The word in the world of punditry on a rain-soaked day at Bristol on Monday was that Cook does not have what it takes as either batsman or captain and should now step aside to concentrate on Tests.
He has been this way before. When he was first elevated to the one-day captaincy in 2011, having not played for the side for most of the previous three years, it was greeted with wide scepticism. Cook responded with 10 scores above fifty in 19 innings, four of which he converted into hundreds.
Last summer, he helped to engineer the team’s progress to the final of the Champions Trophy, for most of which England looked a classy, assured bunch who knew exactly what they were about. They beat Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, undaunted on each occasion by the reputation of several members of the opposition for belting the ball into the stratosphere.
Since then, it has all begun to unravel, partly because they were throwing away matches they ought to have won. Cook’s record as captain still stands reasonable comparison with any of his predecessors. Of the 17 men to have led the team 10 or more times, only three have a better win percentage than Cook – the Mikes, Gatting, Brearley and Denness – and they really were different days back then.
Cook is said to have insufficient speed of thought and response in the fast-moving game of the 21st century. For good reasons, many like the cut of Eoin Morgan’s jib. But Cook has led this team in 59 matches and so close to another World Cup there is no earthly chance of a change.
The pundits, led by Michael Vaughan and Graeme Swann know this. Vaughan, a magnificently opinionated commentator, also knows how Cook feels. He was a captain who insisted on his one-day credentials in the face of the evidence, though he had precisely no one-day hundreds to Cook’s five.
Cook’s batting strike rate as captain is 81.89 runs per 100 balls, acceptable even by the era’s standards. There seems to be a desire outside the selection room to pack the team with sluggers on the grounds that one or two are bound to come off.
England may actually have it right as long as the totals to which they aspire are based on conditions on the day, not some statistical database. The plan is to backload the innings after a solid start with Joe Root, Morgan and Jos Buttler all scoring at a lick.
The omission of Ravi Bopara seems more startling by the day. But the overdue move to promote Alex Hales to open with Cook also gives much-needed latitude for spectacular rapidity at the top. England almost certainly will not win the World Cup but the failure will not be down to the presence of Cook.
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