ENGLAND’s surge to Investec series victory over India is a resounding vindication for captain Alastair Cook.
Only three weeks ago, Cook was assailed by a chorus of disapproval – led by several former England captains who called for his resignation.
Less than two months ago, as revealed at the Oval on Friday by the England and Wales Cricket Board managing director Paul Downton – and by Cook’s own admission, as he reflected yesterday after winning by an innings and 244 runs – he was on the brink of walking away.
But after speaking to his wife, as England succumbed to a series defeat against Sri Lanka at Headingley in mid-June, Cook decided that he would not go quietly after all.
More distress followed with a landslide defeat at Lord’s which led to a 1-0 deficit in this series, while his quest for a 26th Test century has now extended to 31 innings and cannot now end until the Caribbean next April at the earliest.
Cook has, however, returned to relatively good form – and most importantly has led England to three successive victories, the last two by huge margins, to prevail 3-1 on the back of James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s wickets and reliable batting from Joe Root and others.
Recalling his evening of doubt in Leeds, he explained what helped him stick to his guns. “[It was] the support I had from my wife,” Cook said. “You can bare your soul quite often to Alice, and she’s very good at getting me back on the straight and narrow.
“But that fourth night was a tough moment. We’d let a winning position slip and Lord’s was very tough as well, losing there in conditions very suited to us and winning the toss for a big advantage.
“But I’m quite stubborn; I believe in my ability, and I’m quite a resilient guy – and that was when I needed it most.”
The culmination of these deliberations is a much-needed series victory for Cook and returning coach Peter Moores’ new era, which was concluded as Root completed an unbeaten 149 on the third and what turned out to be final day of the fifth Test – in the later part of which Chris Jordan’s career-best four for 18 helped hustle hapless India out for an embarrassing 94.
“I’m glad I stuck through the tough times,” said Cook. “That’s what sport does, it tests your character, and to bounce back as a team is a testament to us.
“I don’t play this game to prove people right or wrong. I never have. I do it to try to win games of cricket for England, and do my best at all times.
“So I’m not going to be sitting here gloating, that’s not who I am. I’m here because I believe that I am the right man to try to lead this team forward.
“I’m very, very privileged to be England captain. It’s a great job to have – even through the tough times. You walk out every morning, and you have the name – ‘here comes the England captain’.
“When that’s your name, you do it for such a short period of time in your life, you have to hold on to it as long as you can – and give everything.”
Cook says he never lost faith, but is still surprised at such a comprehensive turnaround. “I remember saying, when we were 1-0 down, that I still thought we were going to win the series,” Cook said.
“I had a lot of confidence in the talent and amount of skill we had in the dressing-room. I didn’t think we’d win quite so emphatically as we have done.”
Anderson is now within three wickets of equalling Ian Botham’s England all-time Test tally, and Cook said: “Credit to the five bowlers for the way they’ve bowled – with sustained periods of pressure. That’s very hard to bat against.
“The number of times [wicketkeeper] Jos [Buttler] and I have been talking at slip and saying ‘we wouldn’t be surviving any of these balls’, and the amount of pressure – there’s no release.
“English cricket needed a series win, and to deliver it like we did, we have a big smile on our face.”
Cook’s opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now the one answering questions about resignation. After a second successive series defeat on tours of England – it was 4-0 three years ago – Dhoni was mostly equivocal about his future.
But asked if he has taken India as far as he can, he said: “Maybe yes. You asked me the same question in 2011. You will have to wait and watch, if I am strong enough or if I am not strong enough.”
Cook, by contrast, has breathing space at last. “I got luckier, maybe, but I don’t think I’ve changed a huge amount,” he said.
“When you move gully to fourth slip, and next ball goes to fourth slip, you look like a genius. When it goes the other way, you don’t look so good.
“That’s what’s happened in the last three games. We’ve had a bit of luck, but I honestly think we’ve deserved it because of the way we’ve hung in there… and we’ve got some seriously good cricketers in England.”