In December 2014, Alastair Cook cut a disconsolate figure at a loss with the world. Removed as ODI captain and dropped from the squad for the coming World Cup; without a Test match century for over 18 months; mentally drained by the constant questioning of his captaincy following the disastrous Ashes campaign of 2013/2014 and the less than convincing series win over India. It looked as though the career of Cook, the favoured son of English cricket, might be drawing to an ignoble end – a conclusion unfitting for a sportsman of his undoubted quality.
Ten months on, however, the transformation in Cook’s fortunes could not be more absolute. The England skipper’s imperious 263 at Abu Dhabi in the first Test of the series against Pakistan took his run tally for the year past 1000, a year which has included two other hundreds and six half-centuries.
But how has England’s most successful Test match batsman been able to reverse his seemingly irrevocable descent into ignominy and once again return to somewhere near the top of his game?
First, there is no doubt that Cook has adapted his technique in the last year or so to circumvent his front-foot frailties. Throughout his career, Cook has been a dominant back-foot player, preying on anything slightly short and savagely hooking or pulling it to the square boundaries. This, however, has always made the England captain vulnerable going forward as, due to his desire to cash in on anything pitched back of a length, his weight is ever so slightly back in his stance. Consequently, when out of touch, Cook consistently fails to transfer his weight properly through the ball and as such is caught on the crease. This makes him both an LBW candidate and likely to knick-off to the slips. The work that Cook has done, therefore, on bending rather than bracing his front knee, and making sure his weight is further forward as he crabs across his stumps has given him the solidity going forward that is required to be successful once again at the top of the order.
Yet Joe Root’s insatiable appetite for runs over the past two summers has also been crucial to Cook’s resurgence. As Cook repeatedly failed to make any meaningful contributions with the bat in the last year-and-a-half, Root took over the skipper’s mantle as the dominant run-scorer in the side.
With Ian Bell also struggling for form and the England selectors trying new opening batsmen like they would a new suit, it was so often Root holding together England’s young and unstable side
but more importantly ensuring that victories occurred. This took the pressure of run-scoring off Cook’s shoulders, allowing him to develop his game without the sort of media scapegoating endured by international captains such as Michael Vaughan and MS Dhoni towards the end of their respective careers.
Then there is the role played by Paul Farbrace and Trevor Bayliss. The environment of carefree, expressive cricket introduced by Farbrace and fostered by Bayliss is quite unlike the almost militaristic reigns of Peter Moores and Andy Flower especially, yet has inspired this England team – the captain included. It is no coincidence in my mind that Cook’s return to form has corresponded with the creation of a climate in which players are encouraged to bat freely and to play without fear.
At the age of 30, Cook still has at least five, maybe six, years of Test match cricket left in him. The first Englishman to score 10,000 runs is a title which Cook, barring a career-ending injury, will be granted in the near future. Only time will tell whether he can challenge Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 15,921 Test runs. What is for certain however, is that Cook’s timely return to form will definitely improve his chances.