Peter Hayter column – We should have given knackered Cook time to recover

It was absolutely typical of Alastair Cook to want to be with his players for the start of the series in Bangladesh and absolutely typical of him to want to play in the first Test as soon as he got there.

Absolutely typical and, arguably, absolutely wrong.

On the eve of the match, in which he passed Alec Stewart’s record for the most England Test caps, Cook himself said he had experienced “24 hours of an emotional rollercoaster” before arriving in Chittagong, that time spent waiting for the birth of his and Alice’s second child, “clearly wanting everything to go well then, 15 hours later, packing up the car to go.

“It wasn’t ideal in any stretch of the imagination.”

After the skipper’s final net session the day before, his message had been much the same.

“Today I was a bit sluggish batting and it doesn’t make you feel like the best husband and father in the world leaving so soon after the birth.

“The last couple of weeks my mind has been elsewhere,” he admitted.

Those who have experienced the joys, stresses and, let’s be honest, sheer blind panic of waiting to become a father know the feeling.

The fact is that, immediately before and for a good while after a new arrival, most dads struggle to tie up their own shoelaces let alone attempt something really complicated like putting on the kettle.

So, try preparing to play an international cricket match, leading your side, getting up to speed with any issues within the camp, injuries, illnesses, selection of the side, tactical plans, media responsibilities and all the rest of the stuff that goes with being captain of your country, then batting against the turning ball in spin-friendly conditions alongside the latest contestant in the game-show “Find An Opener” – all when you have left half your heart, your mind and your soul more than 5,000 miles away.

Was it any wonder, watching Cook scrape through 26 balls on the opening morning of the match, during which he made four, played and missed at least twice and ended up falling over sweeping Shakib Al Hasan and watching the ball loop into the stumps, he looked just plain knackered.

In case anyone might be concerned at how it might appear for a second England captain to decline to travel to Bangladesh in less than a month, clearly there is no comparison between compassionate leave on the grounds of impending fatherhood and ODI skipper Eoin Morgan staying at home because of security fears.

None of this is to blame Cook for making that call.

He takes the role of captaincy very seriously, considers it an honour and, for what that may be worth, it is eminently possible he will come good in the second innings.

But surely it would have been better for him and his family, and, indeed, for England had the choice been taken out of Cook’s hands and he had been told by the selectors to skip not just this first Test of the series but both, to enable him to return rested, fresh and fully focused on the next assignment, the five-Test series in India.

And not just for now.

Cook, who, should he play in Dhaka as well, will arrive for the opener against India in Rajkot ready to become the man to captain his country in more Tests than anyone else, reckons he may be able to play another 70.

But sooner or later he will go and have to be replaced as batsman and as captain.

Granted, the case for blooding both young openers, Haseeb Hameed as well as debutant Ben Duckett is less strong, but with the depth in England’s current batting line-up demonstrated by the fact that all 11 on the field in Chittagong have made first class centuries, not out of the question.

But had Cook been instructed to stay at home a few weeks longer that would have opened the way for either Joe Root or, possibly, Ben Stokes, to gain valuable experience for when one of them is invited to take on the role full-time.

Back in 2009, when Andrew Strauss was rested for the trip to Bangladesh, Cook, who had never captained a first-class match before, was asked to lead in his absence and the true value for him was finding out just how much he needed to learn.

How all concerned might have benefitted had the same applied this time round.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, October 21 2016

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