Opinion: Sacking Cook would be a kindness
The final nail in the coffin of Cook's captaincy came on the fourth day of the Headingley Test versus Sri Lanka. He was lost, clueless, devoid of inspiration and an embarrassment to the role of England skipper.
<i>"Alastair Cook is England captain, and he should be England captain, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong."</i> – Peter Miller, 7th January 2014.
Over the last five months my mind has been changed. The final nail in the coffin of Cook's captaincy came on the fourth day of the Headingley Test versus Sri Lanka. He was lost, clueless, devoid of inspiration and an embarrassment to the role of England skipper.
That might sound harsh, but it really was that bad. Over the last twenty years of following cricket it is difficult to remember a time when an England captain 'lost it' in such a spectacular fashion.
England decided to stop trying to get Angelo Mathews out when he was on 54 and Sri Lanka had a lead of 169. Mathews went on to make another 106 runs and Sri Lanka pushed their lead to 349.
There was no Plan B, and Plan A was a poor tactic executed badly. Cook looked a little boy lost as England were defeated by Sri Lanka for the first time in a Test series on home soil. This comes on the back of losing 12 of the 13 matches in Australia and defeat in ODIs and T20s against Sri Lanka. Things are bad, they may well get worse, and Cook has been the man in charge of all of that (aside from the T20s, to be fair).
There are some that will say that the management around Cook are equally culpable. Perhaps they are, but as a veteran of 104 Tests, 23 of which he was captain, Cook is responsible for his own destiny.
And here is the issue. Cook is a lead from the front skipper, but his form is so bad that it is no longer able to do that. In his last 12 Tests Cook has scored 601 runs and is averaging 25. Without the runs at the top of the order Cook is under even more pressure as a leader.
There has been talk of 'agendas' and 'witch hunts', and perhaps there are. That does not mean that there are not serious questions around his ability to lead this side going forward. Since the Ashes defeat there have been more and more reasons for those that are in the anti-Cook camp to start circling the wagons around him.
There was the insistence by the ECB that Cook was the right man to lead England, so much so that Kevin Petersen was sacked to make his life easier. Then Giles Clarke told us this was because he had 'the right kind of family', as if that was an explanation that would make us forget any on the field disasters.
This enthusiastic backing from his employers has only increased pressure on the England skipper. When you have told the cricket-loving public that the man in possession of the captaincy is unquestionably the man to lead the team forward there is the expectation that he will show a modicum of competence.
The defenses of Cook fall into three categories, none of which are particularly compelling. The first is that Cook won a series in India in late 2012. This is a fact, he did.
But he did that leading from the front with excellent performances with the bat and backed up by the brilliance of Pietersen, Swann and Panesar. This is not that side, it is one that needs a strong leader who has some tactical nous that can turn good positions into winning ones. This is not something that Cook seems capable of, certainly with his thinking seeming so muddled and his form so poor. 2012 is now a long time ago.
The second that Cook is a nice guy that tries hard. Again, this is true. Cook seems like a good egg, he is honest and hard working. Neither of those things are a pre-requisite for England captaincy. Niceness isn't what wins you cricket matches. Runs, wickets and decent tactics are. There is talk of him lending cricket bats to journalists, but is this kind of act of kindness what makes a great captain?
The third is that there is no one else. Cook gets the job by virtue of being the only available option. Giving an elite sportsman the task of leading his country because there is no one else hardly fills you with confidence. While there is no outstanding candidate, that is not to say there isn't another option.
Ian Bell has played 100 Tests, is certain of selection and has captained Warwickshire well in the past. Stuart Broad would be an out there choice, but he is the current T20 captain. Eoin Morgan is outside the side, but is scoring first class runs and has captaincy pedigree. Jimmy Anderson may even do a decent job. There are options.
None of this will come to pass. Cook will be given the India series, primarily because the ECB have backed him so strongly in the last six months. To question his position is to admit that they were wrong in the way they handled the Ashes aftermath.
While to admit that it could have been dealt with better would certainly win some plaudits from the fans that have become 'disengaged' from this team, it is extremely unlikely.
Cook will captain England, even though the kindest thing to do would be to let him concentrate on finding a way to score runs. If he struggles as a batsman or as a captain the ECB will have no choice but to back track and find an alternative.
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