England cricket captain Alastair Cook gestures after scoring century in India in November.
England cricket captain Alastair Cook gestures after scoring century in India in November. Rafiq Maqbool

England's Cook steps down from captaincy

CRICKET: The humility felt by Alastair Cook after his team's defeat to India must have been deep, for it is to the primal instinct of every England cricket captain to win the Ashes in Australia - or at least have the chance.

Cook has relinquished his opportunity after resigning his captaincy of England's Test team, and with it the chance to avenge the whitewash he and his team suffered last time they travelled to the antipodes, an episode that impacted on his leadership in lasting ways.

There is no doubt that England's grand plan for retaining the forthcoming Ashes was, at least until the debacle in India, to have the 32-year old Cook at the helm. But that has now been ripped up after Cook, with good pause for thought, decided he'd had enough following his side's 4-0 defeat to Virat Kohli's team. To score 400 batting first and lose once can be considered careless, but to do so twice requires stronger remedy and Cook, whose only real fault was to be too cautious in the drawn first Test at Rajkot, has supplied it by resigning his post.

The timing is not perfect for man or team. To enlist another leader just nine months before the Ashes is never ideal. Cook may only have won 24 Tests from his record 59 in charge but his experience as leader, especially in avoiding the pitfalls his team suffered last time in Australia, would have been invaluable. Instead, unless Andrew Strauss has a rabbit up his sleeve, Joe Root will be handed the reins, a player with even less leadership experience than Cook when he first took over full-time in 2012.

Root, a sparky soul, enjoys a challenge and is a problem-solver by nature. Yet there is a feeling, what with him playing all three formats for England and becoming a young father for the first time recently, that there is already a lot on his plate before adding the responsibility of higher office. There is, however, just as there were no alternatives to Cook when Strauss stood down as Test captain, nobody else.

Cook's captaincy style, to a large extent coloured by Strauss, was cautious to the point of ridicule. You can get away with that when your bowling attack has real bite, which England's did under Strauss, who enjoyed the best of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, but otherwise you need to gamble or at least be proactive. Fortunately, Root can be counted on to be both those things, which could make for an exciting Ashes series providing England's batsmen are not blown away like they were last time.

It would help Root if the selectors could find a good fast bowler who can stay fit for more than the odd Test. Both Broad and Anderson can still clean up if the ball moves sideways but that rarely happens for long on Australian pitches, while England's spin options are poor. South Africa's recent success against Steven Smith's side will give Root and his bowlers much heart but Aussie groundsmen will surely not be so generous to the Poms.

Root will also have, in theory, a reinvigorated Cook back in the ranks, a dangerous proposition if his run-scoring is as great as it was last time he visited Australia (766 runs at an average of 127.6) simply as one of the team. His impact remains theoretical at this stage. Cook's desire to carry on is genuine and we will all have a better idea after the series against South Africa during the English summer.

England always maintains it has contingencies for every situation but an unexpected change of captain can take time to be absorbed and then to flourish. Root's relationship with his bowlers is vital. Taking orders, suddenly, from a fresh-faced Yorkshireman who previously took the mickey out of them, is not always a recipe for smooth service.

Unless he is badly bitten by South Africa during the summer, Root will offer a bolder style of captaincy than his predecessor and be less risk averse. Cook and coach Trevor Bayliss will be there to temper any excess in those areas but they will support not interfere. For those expecting the next Ashes to be another Pom-baiting exercise, prepare, under Root, to be baited back.

Derek Pringle is a former England all-rounder and chief sports writer of the Telegraph (UK)

News Corp Australia

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