The appointment of Alastair Cook as captain of England's one-day squad should not come as a surprise to those who follow English cricket.
By Sunil Gavaskar
The appointment of Alastair Cook as captain of England’s one-day squad should not come as a surprise to those who follow English cricket. It is only in England that a player who cannot find a place in the team on merit can become its skipper. It is not the first time it has happened and just when cricket followers in other parts of the world were thinking that England has shed it’s old thinking, the nomination of Cook as skipper has shown that it still lives in a world of its own. Cook has had an outstanding Test series against Australia where England retained the Ashes. He was a huge part of that success but he was not in the team that stayed on and played seven one-dayers in Australia. Neither was he in the team for the World Cup that followed where England did not reach the semi-finals but did enough to suggest that with a bit of luck they could have been there.
So instead of rewarding some of the players from that World Cup team with the captain’s cap, the English selectors have gone for one who was not even part of the squad. This may well have been because Andrew Strauss expressed his desire to focus on Tests and so did not want to play one-dayers anymore but it still begs the question why Cook? Of course, he has a university degree which makes such a difference in English cricket as far as hierarchy is concerned and he speaks well too, so there you are. The England selectors also chose Stuart Broad as skipper of the T20 squad but the way he is getting injured it may well be a different person who will actually lead the team onto the field.
What Cook’s appointment will do is to create bit of a rift in the team for nobody likes to be led by a player who is not worth his place in the team on his own ability. That will change of course if, in his first couple of matches, Cook scores hundreds and leads the team to wins but if he doesn’t do that there will definitely be rumblings within the team.
Way back in 1981-82 when Keith Fletcher was appointed the captain of the England team to India despite not having played or even being in consideration for a spot in the team for the Ashes series played earlier during the season, the divide in the team was obvious. Sure, Fletcher was supposed to be a canny captain for Essex and had led them to the County Championships, but as he found out soon enough that wasn’t going to be enough for some of the seniors in the team who had played their hearts out in the tough series in the summer and had wrested the Ashes from the old enemy. They quite naturally felt that he was an impostor and intruder and he did not get the support that he expected. His is a classic example of how presumptuous, sweeping statements people who have no idea of the pressures of international cricket make about certain first-class players being the best not to have played for the country.
It is a whole different ball game between domestic first-class cricket and international cricket especially Test cricket. There have been innumerable players who have been terrific at the domestic level but who either through sheer bad luck or fragile temperament are unable to have the same success at the Test level. That is why those who have missed the bus cannot be called as the best not to have played, for how does one know that they would have been a success at the highest level. There are many factors that can make the difference starting from tougher opposition at the international level and thus the skill level as well as temperamental level being found wanting. At the domestic level, there is a certain sense of comfort because one plays with others, who also have pretty much the same approach and attitude to the game and who probably a player has grown up with or talks the same language.
When a player is picked for his country, he has others who may have had a different cricketing upbringing and who speak another language. So, the comfort factor is much less and that can affect the player’s performance. It is the same with the captaincy. A good captain at first-class level does not automatically mean that he will be a good one at the Test level too. Cricket history is replete with plenty of good first-class format leaders who were found wanting at the Test level. It is easy to make statements if you have not experienced the pressure of the international level. For, just watching international cricket can never give even a fraction of an idea how tough it is and how players have to cope with the tensions and pressures. If only cricket was as easy to play successfully as it is to talk and write.
Strauss has proved himself by leading two victorious Ashes campaigns and that is why it is not going to be easy for Cook and Broad when they lead the England team out for the limited overs and T20 internationals.