Cook has much more to offer his young charges

Alison Mitchell believes Alastair Cook, despite hinting at standing down as skipper, is the right man to take England forward

Alastair Cook was quick to play down the headline which appeared on the eve of the first Test in Rajkot, declaring he was considering stepping down as captain after this India series. He claimed that the comments, which lead to the headline, were an honest response to a question he finds difficult to answer, namely, how much longer he sees himself being England captain.

This is what he said in an interview with The Cricketer magazine: “Deep down I don’t know how much longer I am going to carry on. It could be two months it could be a year.”

This has long been Alastair Cook’s approach, particularly since he lost the One Day captaincy at the end of 2014. He is too humble to state he’ll be in the job for years to come and too pragmatic to pretend to know how the team will be performing and what his own feelings will be in another two or 12 months time. He knows only too well how quickly things can change in sport.

By his own admission he has been close to quitting the Test captaincy three times already, including at the end of the last Ashes series in England.

However, after being rejuvenated by his youthful and victorious team and at last feeling as if he was comfortable in the job, he decided to carry on. It was as recently as July that he said he’d like to lead the team to the Ashes 2017/18, although he did qualify the sentiment by saying, “if I feel the team is getting a bit stale, bored with me and the next generation is pushing on, then it will be time to go.”

For my part, I hope Cook leads the team successfully for another 12 months, then takes England to Australia for the 2017/18 Ashes. It has been suggested that if Cook does decide to hand over the reigns at Christmas, it could be the ideal time because his expected replacement, Joe Root, would have six months to prepare for the first Test of the English summer next July (although he’ll be fairly busy playing white ball cricket in that time) and then have seven Tests at home to bed-in before travelling to Australia.

Cook has indicated that whenever he does retire he would like to continue in the side as a batsman, so there wouldn’t be the conundrum of having to immediately find another opener. After all it’s been hard enough finding an opening partner for Cook since Strauss’ retirement – Haseeb Hameed is the 10th – let alone having to find a second batsman at the top. Cook, however, already has two home Ashes victories under his belt as skipper, and it would be the stuff of dreams to finish his captaincy career by lifting the urn down under.

Dream retirements rarely happen in sport, it is true, but in 12 months time England could have a very good chance of repeating the heroics of 2010/11. Australia are not the team of 2013/14 when England succumbed 5-0; their bowling attack is a shadow of recent Ashes encounters, there is no ferocious, psychological threat of a Mitchell Johnson type spearhead, and their batsman are still struggling against the moving ball as illustrated in the recent Test match in Perth.

England, in Cook, would have a captain experienced and hardened in away Ashes cricket, and in Root and Ben Stokes he would have two special players in prime position to make a major impact on an Australian tour.

Whether James Anderson will still be fit and firing in another year’s time at the age of 35 is anybody’s guess, but, barring injury, Stuart Broad will be, and as the baiter-in-chief of Australia’s media, he’ll be only too eager to reopen the wounds of his 8-15 at Trent Bridge. Chris Woakes will be eager to prove his pedigree down under, and hopefully Mark Wood will have overcome his injury issues and be in the travelling party too.

Of course to lose an away Ashes series and resign or retire would be to bow out on the lowest of notes, and what captain would choose to bid farewell on a foreign field in front of a baying opposition public if they can help it.

Michael Clarke had to do it after the Ashes in 2015 and it didn’t look like fun. Much better to pass the baton on with people sighing mournfully, suggesting you could have gone on for longer. Andrew Strauss somehow managed that (he even got a round of applause in his press conference) but his two predecessors Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain both resigned mid-series, in tears. It’s impossible to predict when the time is right. But as many sportsmen and sportswomen acknowledge; when it’s time to go, you just know.

Cook has already got through the toughest period of his leadership when there was a gap of 36 innings and 704 long days between his 24th and 25th Test hundreds, and his captaincy nous came under constant, heavy scrutiny. Now should be the time to revel in the job.

If the 31 year old’s enthusiasm for the role starts to wane after seven Tests in Asia this winter, he at least has the chance to recharge after the India series with a solid chunk of time at home with his wife Alice and their two daughters – the youngest of course born just before the start of the 1st Test in Bangladesh. There is nothing though – at this stage – to suggest that his appetite is about to terminally diminish. He will continue to review his career as he always has done, on a “series by series basis.”

As for Root, I don’t share Graeme Swann’s view that his personality isn’t suited to leadership; his likeable demeanour means others in the dressing room warm to him and respect him and his propensity for jokes needn’t be completely nullified by being a leader.

Many at Yorkshire – Jason Gillespie included – believe he will make a fine England captain when his time comes. He’s tough underneath the angelic exterior, strong-minded, well-liked and fair. In that sense, he will follow in the mould of the man he’s expected to follow. It just doesn’t need to be yet.

So don’t give it up, Alastair. You’ve scored more Test hundreds and more runs overall than any other England player. You’ve played for and captained the country more times than anyone else and led the team to two home Ashes victories as well as series wins abroad in those toughest of places, India and South Africa.

There is already much to celebrate about your career and your leadership. If you keep scoring runs and keep the team evolving, captaining the side for a final tilt at the Ashes in the Aussies’ back yard might give you another very special reason to raise a glass of champagne.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, November 11 2016

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