The Last Word: Let's all raise a glass to the Young Farmer down my local

After his exploits in India, Alastair Cook is about to go from ordinary local lad to global celebrity

At first glance he is just another Young Farmer, an unremarkable figure in a hoodie and working boots getting his round in at the Green Man, our village pub. His friends pick up pin money working as beaters at the local pheasant shoot, and he is reckoned to be handy with a shotgun.

Alastair Cook is a hero hiding in plain sight. The England cricket captain is accepted for who he is rather than what he is, or what he may become. In a world accustomed to the superficiality of celebrity he is deceptively, yet extraordinarily, ordinary.

He intermittently breaks cover at the village cricket club, and donated a signed pair of batting gloves to the Christmas Bazaar. Before he left for India, he could be seen jogging along the lanes with his wife's nephew, a promising rugby player at Bedford School, his alma mater.

Outside that bubble of normality, madness is about to ensue. Cook has entered a different dimension in Kolkata. Cricket, a sport defined by statistics, is in rapture to a record-breaker. Introducing himself as captain with a Test series win in the subcontinent will be the equivalent of a first-ball six.

Leadership is an intangible quality. It is as invisible yet as inevitable as gravity. The best captains reflect the virtues they expect from their team, and Cook's dedication to accumulation is an unspoken challenge to those around him.

He will hate the pretence implied by the title, but he is what management consultants call a fifth-level leader. That's the term created by business guru Jim Collins, who studied the chief executives of the most successful companies for his MBA textbook From Good to Great.

Collins found a common denominator: his quiet overachievers rejected the modern cult of personality, the penchant for self- aggrandisement and theatrical aggression. In his words they built "enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will".

That is Cook, in a thumbnail sketch Wisden could not match in a 5,000- word hagiography. His principles and personality are suited perfectly to his sport and his role within it.

Opening the batting is one of the hardest jobs because of the discipline it demands. Cook's achievements are remarkable because, as captain, he is obliged to develop a professional schizophrenia, to switch from thinking collectively to individually when he walks out to bat.

It is a process of constant recalibration. He cannot allow personal priorities to overwhelm the interests of his team, but must concentrate also on his quest for technical perfection. The reaction of his players in India has been revealing. Without exception they have been gushing to the point of being awestruck by his ability to compartmentalise his game and lead from the front.

Cook has it within him to become English cricket's version of Martin Johnson. The rugby World Cup was won by the force of his example rather than by the psychobabble of Clive Woodward. The captain's understated persona disguised a ferocious competitor whose players could not countenance letting him down.

The forthcoming Ashes series will present the Australians with a delicious dilemma. Cook is a mirror image of a succession of revered captains such as Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. He combines modesty with achievement, poise with pugnacity.

Cook is the antithesis of Kevin Pietersen. The captain's ego does not require ostentation, and the Bollywood gangsters who control Indian cricket and its thirst for instant gratification cannot buy his loyalty. But he knew he needed England's most dyn-amic batsman, and cut through the cant of the reintegration process.

He will be the first to stress he still stands in the shadows of greatness. Sachin Tendulkar has 51 Test centuries to his 23 and Ponting's 41.

No one really knows him. The fragments of his life are like Scrabble tiles – it will take time for them to be placed in the right order and make perfect sense.

Awards cover up hidden problems

These are the days of rubber chicken and ritual applause. It is awards season, when storied achievements are reduced to soundbites. It is all very cosy and a little complacent.

The modesty of Katherine Grainger, the grace of Jessica Ennis and the vivacity of Laura Trott are enduring virtues. Bradley Wiggins's Modfather impression has not lost its novelty value.

But what else has changed? Athletics and swimming are still being run by men manifestly unfit for purpose. The quangocrats are talking up a post-Olympic bounce in participation, and hoping we will not notice that 12 sports have reported a decline in interest.

Sport England – helpfully characterised as "the Department for a Walk in the Woods" by Niels de Vos, UK Athletics' hapless CEO – have also failed to engage the under-25s. De Vos clings to his job despite the arrogance and ignorance which led him to accuse more successful sports such as cycling and sailing of "technological doping".

So, too, does David Sparkes, British Swimming's chief executive, who implies he is too valuable to be sacrificed.

Meanwhile, the publicly funded Olympic Stadium has been annexed by West Ham, a privately owned football club. Altogether now: "We're forever blowing budgets..."

Ciao Mancini

Roberto Mancini is "not embarrassed" by Manchester City's abject failure in Europe. There, in letters of fire 50ft high, is the reason that he will, by the end of the season, have lost a managerial position he is unfeasibly fortunate to occupy.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot