There are murmurs from England fans that simply handing the Test captaincy job to Alastair Cook after Andrew Strauss chose to retire from cricket is all a bit too predictable and cosy.
Perhaps. But the counter-argument is simple. Consider the circumstances under which Strauss inherited the job. Coach fired, captain axed — it was a shambles out of which something remarkable developed. It was not the blueprint for appointing a captain — nor, in truth, where the sudden exits of Michael Vaughan and before him Nasser Hussain.
The job is going to a 27-year-old with 83 Tests and 6555 runs under his belt. A man who has been captaining the limited-overs side for over a year - and, it must be stressed, with great distinction.
Today's result takes Cook's captaincy record to 20 wins against eight losses in ODIs — and whether England deserve to sit at the top of the ODI rankings quite yet, there can be little doubt that the team has developed from the side who bounced from one unpredictable result to the next at the 2011 World Cup, before bowing out in the quarter-finals.
With the bat in that time he has 1366 runs at 48.78, including four centuries. It is the kind of form that would stand out in any team.
Standing out is impressive when at first there were questions about whether Cook would even fit in. Cook was in few people's first XIs either on batting pedigree or on his ability as a captain — but the results speak for themselves.
Not that his batting did today, however. Chasing down a target of 212 looked like the sort of task that he and Jonathan Trott were built for — keep your wicket, accumulate, get across the line in your own time. But Cook, who has demonstrated an ability to hit fours and rotate the strike in his one-day career to date, played scratchily. At one point he'd managed just six scoring shots from the first 40 balls he had faced. And yet, having endured through those early overs, he then holed out with a swat against spinner Robin Peterson to midwicket.
But he could afford that, because under his captaincy his bowlers had impressed.
Firstly, team he took with him on to the field was well-chosen — Jade Dernbach appears to learned the art of being judicious with his variations, and the result is that he has become a devastatingly effective bowler. His home track of The Oval was a decent pitch to bat on — but without much assistance Dernbach made things happen regardless. His full, inswinging ball to dismiss Hashim Amla was a thing of beauty, which his slower cutter to Dean Elgar flummoxed the left-hander look and took his off-stump. James Anderson might have finished with the better figures, but Dernbach was the bowler of the day.
Cook also appeared to understand the demands of the pitch. With Amla and Graeme Smith were going along well, he squeezed the run rate, building pressure which led to errors. Ravi Bopara's medium pace, called upon just 10 overs into the proceedings, was naggingly effective, while the captain rotated his bowlers with purpose. Rather than stick to the textbook and bowl his front-liners, he gave Bopara all 10, and Samit Patel was left in the outfield.
Cook has an image of being a bit of a stiff, straight-up kind of guy, but although he has inevitably been influenced by Strauss, he's still very much his own man. His captaincy over the last 12 months has often been braver than Strauss'. Today, having watched AB de Villiers whip his spinner James Tredwell over to cow corner for a four and a three in successive balls, he held his nerve and gave the bowler another six balls. They brought the wicket, with the Proteas skipper holing out.
Ian Bell taking the catch — and England's fielding standards as a whole improving out of sight — did England no harm. But then what do they say about even the best captains needing a bit of luck?
Cook is a man who has proven his steel time and again, a man who has worked at his game and found an extra depth. He is not yet a compelling speaker (who knows — even that may also improve in time), but he has risen to every challenge put his way thus far. Why bet against him doing the same with the Test captaincy?
- Sports & Recreation
- Alastair Cook
- Andrew Strauss