Alastair Cook is no stranger to criticism of his captaincy. Ever since taking the reins of the England Test team, Cook has been widely maligned for his allegedly overly conservative on-field tactical decisions and the lack of inspired brilliance that the likes of MS Dhoni and Brendon McCullum have brought to Test cricket captaincy in recent years.
While there is no question that Cook has a tendency to lean towards more defensive captaincy, it seems unfair to paint him as the insipid, uninspired conservative that some commentators would have us believe he is.
Under his leadership England have started on the path towards the thrilling brand of cricket that the likes of New Zealand have patented, not to mention the many successes that Cook’s particular brand of leadership have brought to English cricket.
The stats behind Cook’s Test captaincy speak for themselves, though they paint just as divisive a picture of Cook’s career as the media routinely does. 59 Tests as captain, 24 victories, 22 losses and 13 draws. Cook’s longevity speaks to his determination, stubbornness and unerring drive, with his 59 Tests as captain an England record, but equally his 22 losses is also a record for an English Test captain.
That said, many of these defeats have come in catastrophic series for the English side, where even the great captains of Test history might have struggled to turn around the fortunes of struggling England sides, especially in the modern era where few teams have the ability to win away from home on a regular basis.
However, we cannot ignore the simple fact that Cook has lost almost as many Test matches as he has won, making his tenure as statistically questionable as they come.
This leaves Cook open to questions about when he will surrender the England captaincy and who his eventual successor will be.
While this is not the first time Cook has been left effectively staring down the barrel – a 12 month relatively barren spell in 2013/14 threatened Cook’s position in the Test team and lost him the ODI captaincy – this is the first time that a worthy successor has by all accounts been waiting in the wings.
The new superstar of English cricket, Joe Root, has emerged as a leading candidate to take on the burden of England captaincy, though there has been dissent about Root taking on the captaincy from some quarters.
Largely, such dissenters point to Root’s lack of captaincy experience – though he did captain Yorkshire briefly following the suspension of regular captain Andrew Gale – and to his position as England’s undisputed star batsman, a role that many fear will be compromised by the rigours and demands of the captain’s job.
Proponents of Root taking up the mantle of captain point to the likes of Virat Kohli and Steve Smith who have prospered after taking on the captaincy of India and Australia’s Test sides respectively and there is doubtless something to be said for a young, innovative captain to match England’s increasingly progressive approach to Test cricket.
However, there is equally a case to be made that Root’s participation in and importance to England’s sides across all three formats should prevent him taking on the captaincy, at least for the time being.
Whatever action England and Andrew Strauss decide to take, few would question that Root will one day be captain of England.
While Root may yet prove be a fine captain in addition to his brilliance with the bat, perhaps Root’s prospects would be better served by a continued apprenticeship under the master of combining England captaincy with monumental feats of run-scoring, Alastair Cook.
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