“It’s been a long time, a long time coming, But I know a change gonna come.” So sang Sam Cooke in 1964. With England falling apart at Mumbai, it’s time for another Cook to make that change.
England 400 (Jennings 112; Ashwin 6-112) and 183-6 (Root 77; Ashwin 2-49) trail India 631 (Kohli 235; Rashid 4-192) by 49 runs
Alastair Cook has been a fine England captain. He’s won the Ashes, he’s won in India, he’s won in South Africa. He’s overseen the transition to a young and exciting team whose biggest want is for consistency. He’s won more games than any other England captain.
He’s been a far better skipper than he’s ever been given credit for, both as a leader and a tactician, and while this series defeat in India is painful – and demonstrative of the fact that there are things to fix – the general health of Team England is not without promise.
They possess a number of fine cricketers; cricketers who have all displayed at various points over the last 12 months that they can mix it with the very best. This team’s journey is not finished. For Cook, though, time could be up. The prospect of standing down, slipping back into the ranks and concentrating on his batting must be enticing. It may just be the best thing for him and for the team.
If the thought didn’t cross his mind as he watched his bowlers toil this morning, then power to him. If he genuinely retains the passion for the job and thinks he’s still the best man for it then, for the time being, he’s earned the right to leave on his own terms.
His role as captain has been questioned before. In an AOC interview from the beginning of this year, off the back of England’s stonking win in South Africa and responding to questions of how he’d come back from that summer of 2014, Cook said: “The proudest thing I can say about my cricket is that when it got really tough, on a personal level, and as a leader and a batsman, I managed to stay true to what I believed, and I hung tough. And you can say all the right things, but until you get put in that situation you don’t really know how you’ll respond. I managed to dig deep and stay in there.”
He is welcome to keep digging if he has the energy but you wonder how on earth he can? He’s done the job for four years and in that time the climate of the side has changed entirely. It is to his credit that he’s on board with Trevor Bayliss’ aggressive methods – his strike-rate in 2016 is 53.23, compared to 42.54, 43.47 and 43.67 in the three years hence – but you wonder whether the side under Joe Root would be able to commit more readily to such an approach? It has often felt like he is implementing someone else’s plans.
If he does hang around, he’s due to skipper against the West Indies and South Africa in the summer of 2017. Defeat to the Proteas in 2008 did for Vaughan and the 2012 series loss did for Strauss. Cook can prevent himself suffering the same fate by proactively passing on the reins to Joe Root, allowing his anointed successor some time to bed in before next year’s Ashes.
Taking that call would also allow Cook to de-clutter his mind. The stresses and strains of the England captaincy are relentless – don’t forget, Cook left his wife and newborn baby at home when heading out for this tour – and life as just an opening batsman would be simpler. The prospects of a defining third-innings effort from him would have been lessened by the pasting in the field he had to preside over. He remains a vital batsman for England.
With India 50 ahead as the day began, prospects already looked bleak. But then rock bottom is often further down than you think. Especially on a cricket tour. Cook and England will have hoped that if they could take the last three wickets for 30 runs then the game would be on. Kohli and Jayant Yadav were in no mood to oblige.
Instead, they enjoyed the freedom of Mumbai. Scoring runs at will, they took England’s chances from slim to non-existent. It was a race for records. Kohli had his 200 in sights; for Yadav, a century, the first by an Indian No.9. Both got there without much alarm.
Batting for India looked a breeze. The last three wickets added 267 runs. Batting for England looked a nightmare initially. The first three wickets mustered 49 runs. Keaton Jennings became the second man in Test history to follow a first-innings ton with a second-innings duck, Cook became about the hundredth to review more in hope than expectation and Moeen Ali went from bowling 55 overs to batting for three balls.
England then mounted something of a fightback, with Jonny Bairstow and Root attacking to delay the inevitable and take the game towards the fifth day.
Their efforts won’t be enough this time round but a Joe Root-led counter-attack could be just the change that England need to move foward.
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel