By Richard Edwards
REPLACING Alastair Cook at the top of the order, is the least of England’s concerns as the Ashes approach.
That’s the view of former Aussie coach, John Buchanan, who believes that any failure to fill Cook’s place in the team will be down to a paucity of English batting talent rather than an indication of the former captain’s influence on a faltering top order.
Cook bade farewell to international cricket in an emotional final Test at the Oval. It was the end of a stunning career but his retirement has left England with a considerable hole to fill as next summer’s Ashes loom into view.
Buchanan, though, believes that his loss isn’t the equivalent of that felt by Australia when Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath exited stage left at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes.
And although he acknowledges that England will have a job on their hands to replace him, he tells The Cricket Paper that the team’s attacking style may have seen them look for an alternative to Cook before the Ashes began, regardless of whether he had made the decision to step aside.
“Of course he will be a hard person to replace in the dressing room because of his personality and experience,” says Buchanan.
“But how much they will miss him will depend on the coach and the selection approach. The type of game that England may choose to pursue may not have had room for Cook in the future anyway.
“Can you ever truly have a succession plan in place when a truly great player retires? When speaking of greats, they do not come along all that often. When they do, they are called great because they can do things other very good players cannot do – they have the capacity to turn games, to win games more regularly than other players. So while replaced, it is difficult to fill the gap totally.”
The Aussies certainly found that when Warne and McGrath called time on their careers, with the pair’s 1271 Test scalps proving impossible to replace.
Being saddled with the ‘new’ Shane Warne tag was also something that weighed heavily on a generation of Australian spinners before Nathan Lyon emerged.
No doubt, Rory Burns will have to get used to comparison with Cook if things go well for him on the Test leg of the tour to Sri Lanka.
Buchanan, though, questions whether the former England captain belongs in the same category as Warne and McGrath.
“They (Warne and McGrath) were two greats of the game, I don’t think you can argue with that,” he says.
“So naturally that is going to make a significant difference. Cook is a fine player and has been pivotal to an English batting line-up. However, while being a fine player, a resilient player, he was a not a great. So his loss to the English camp will definitely be felt, but should not have the impact of a Warne or a McGrath. If it does, it says more about the quality of the other players than it does about Cook.
“Is this England’s biggest headache in the run-up to the next Ashes series? I’m not sure it is, although settling their top order will be a big part.”
Most England cricket supporters would baulk at Buchanan’s assertion on Cook’s claim to greatness. He has, after all, scored over 12,000 Test runs and 33 Test centuries – a tally that only one Australian, Ricky Ponting, has surpassed.
Regardless, replacing Cook is a priority before next summer’s Ashes. Failure to do so could see the Aussie retaining rather than surrendering the Urn on English soil.