Cook: England’s ‘stubborn, cautious’ captain

Driving into the ground: The relentless Cook captained England in 59 Test matches. © PA

Alastair Cook set a string of records as England’s cricket captain. When he resigned yesterday, commentators praised his quiet, gritty determination. Is this the true source of greatness?

In November 2012 Alastair Cook led the England cricket team for the first time as its permanent captain. Since then he has played more matches, batted more times and for more minutes, and faced more deliveries than any other Test player in the world.

Yesterday that workload caught up with him. In the wake of a heavy defeat to India, he resigned.

Cook’s career exemplifies the value of grit. He has been a conservative captain with a reputation for patience. He is a watchful opening batsman who relies heavily on three straightforward shots and often frustrates bowlers by leaving the ball alone. In one match in 2015 he batted for 836 minutes.

He has relentlessly accumulated England records: the most matches as captain; the highest run scorer; the most appearances; and the most centuries in history. His team won the Ashes twice and secured victories in India and South Africa.

Andrew Strauss, England’s director of cricket, called him ‘one of our country’s great captains’. And The Guardian’s Andy Bull said: ‘English cricket has had better captains, but never a better servant’.

But some found his approach too methodical. In 2013 cricketing almanac Wisden decried his side’s ‘unsentimental proficiency’ — even as they beat Australia 3–0. His caution saw him sacked as captain of England’s one-day side in 2015, just weeks before the World Cup.

And in the mercurial Kevin Pietersen Cook found his nemesis. Pietersen was in many ways Cook’s opposite: an entertainer and showman who scored runs at breathtaking speed and invented some outrageous shots. But in 2014 he was sacked from the England team after a fallout on a disastrous tour to Australia.

Cricket is traditionally a game of patience and craft. But since 2003 Twenty20 — the fastest form of the game — has become lucrative and popular. It has increased the appetite for high-risk spectacle, in an era when near-instant gratification has become the norm in society. Cook’s main success has been in the five-day Test format, a rebuke to this trend.

Cooking up a storm

This is true greatness, say supporters. Cook’s record speaks for itself. He showed us that bloody-mindedness, self-belief and determination can bring success. His hard work gave flashy stars the chance to achieve. When he had setbacks, he worked on his game and got through them. There is much to admire about his quiet resolve.

Not really, say detractors. People watch sport as a form of exciting entertainment. They want to see memorable moments, such as original bits of skill or tight battles between teams aggressively pursuing victory. Stars like Pietersen, who throw caution to the wind and thrill their audiences, remind us what brilliance really looks like.

You Decide

  1. Is grit an important quality to you?
  2. Whose approach to life is better: Alastair Cook’s or Kevin Pietersen’s?

Activities

  1. Write five interview questions you would like to ask Alastair Cook if you got the chance.
  2. Think of a person you admire in public life. Prepare a short presentation to your class explaining what they have achieved and outlining three attributes you admire. What can we all learn from this person?

Some People Say...

“The truest champion is the one who just gets on with the job.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t like cricket. What does this mean to me?
Fans of any sport will have opinions on the way the game they enjoy should be played. For example, if you like football, you could ask whether you prefer a tactically-minded, conservative coach (like Jose Mourinho, for instance) or a more expansive one. You can also learn a lot from Cook’s relentless focus and dedication.
But I don’t even like sport.
The lessons of Cook’s career could apply in many walks of life. Are dedication and patience more important than the taste for the spectacular? Is it better to be flamboyant and exciting or to maximise your talents to get a job done? Understanding the arguments for each can help you to decide which people you admire most and want to emulate. And it can help to guide you when you start a career.

Word Watch

Resigned
Cook, who is 32, plans to continue playing for England. Joe Root, his vice-captain, is tipped to succeed him as captain.
Opening batsman
Cook is one of the first two England players to bat, so he faces the most danger — the opposition’s fastest bowlers are bowling and the ball is at its hardest.
Three
The pull (a shot played in front of the body at waist height), the cut (where the batsman hits a wide ball away from his body) and the nudge (a gentle guiding shot).
836 minutes
This innings (the name for someone’s turn to bat) against Pakistan was the third longest in Test history.
Ashes
A series of five Test matches between fierce rivals England and Australia. The Ashes is considered the most important competition either team takes part in.
Shots
In 2008, Pietersen was the first player known to use the ‘switch hit’. In a match against New Zealand, he turned his body the wrong way and hit the ball for six runs.
Twenty20
The shortest form of cricket played professionally. Both teams bat for 20 overs (six deliveries are bowled per over). It usually lasts around three hours.