Alastair Cook at a photo shoot
© Getty Images

Cover story

Cook's pickle

England's greatest run machine has been saddled with the tag of a "company man". Where does that leave his legacy?

Andrew Miller  |  

Chelmsford: April 1, 2014. Essex County Ground.

April Fool's Day, 2014. Twenty-four hours have elapsed since England's defeat to Netherlands at the World T20 in Chittagong, but 5000 miles away in Chelmsford, the headlines are threatening to write themselves.

Alastair Cook, the England Test and ODI captain, knows what is at stake. He is chatting candidly to a knot of journalists on the outfield at the County Ground, decked out in his Essex colours at the club's pre-season media day.

The six men around him are familiar faces, acquaintances rather than friends, people with whom he has been playing the media game for the best part of a decade. To claim we are trusted overstates the relationship. Nevertheless, we have documented his highs and lows, his triumphs and disasters, and now, after the grimmest winter of his career, we are gathered on a crisp spring day at the start of a new English season, waiting to get the England captain's thoughts at his first public appearance since the Ashes whitewash.

There are no dictaphones present at this stage of the discussions. However, the gist of the conversation is as follows:

"But Alastair, this is going to make you look stupid."

"Guys, I realise this, but it's out of my control."

"If we can't ask the question, there's no point in us being here."

"That's what I've told them. Let me speak to them again… "

At his very, very best, Cook is the last of the great self-deniers, a man who channels the stubbornness of Geoffrey Boycott or Allan Border to maximise his impact by minimising his weaknesses

At the behest of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Essex are insisting that Cook can only talk about the upcoming county season, and his plans for his benefit year. No questions about his England future will be permitted, and especially nothing pertaining to the sacking of Kevin Pietersen.

It is a state of affairs that has strapped the England captain over a barrel. It is already widely known that Cook was present at the meeting, at Lord's in February, at which the decision to dispense with Pietersen was ratified, and moreover - via a drip feed of information from "ECB insiders", a tactic that will become wearyingly familiar as the PR battle intensifies - Cook himself has been cast in some quarters as the man who was given the final say.

Though he is wise enough to realise he cannot ignore the elephant in the room, Cook is insufficiently versed in legal matters to know on what terms he is allowed to address such a hulking pachyderm. A confidentiality agreement has been put in place until October, stifling discourse and absolving those further up the ECB food chain from justifying their actions to a divided public. But if the show is to go on in the meantime, as it must, then someone, somewhere, needs to provide the man in the spotlight with a script.

Twenty minutes of negotiations later, a deal is finally reached. Sky Sports will ask the Pietersen question as part of a one-off pre-recorded piece to camera, the issue will be raised and lowered again in a single hit, and we can all type up Cook's answer and get on with our jobs.

There is one final catch, however, as the Sky reporter, with a journalistic desire to get straight to the point, launches head first into the Pietersen question without a couple of sighters to start. Visibly taken aback, Cook struggles to compose a coherent answer, then laughs and asks for a retake. You can sense already that it's going to be the longest season of his life.

While their philosophies might clash, the combination of Cook's solidity and Pietersen's flair has given England some of their finest moments on the field

While their philosophies might clash, the combination of Cook's solidity and Pietersen's flair has given England some of their finest moments on the field © AFP

At the second time of asking, there is a better flow to Cook's words. But the impossibility of his situation still cascades off the transcript:

"It has been frustrating. And obviously I understand the reasons why the ECB have made that decision in one sense," he says, his train of thought taking shape in fits and bursts.

"Look, it is frustrating, it was obviously a very big decision, a very important decision, it took a lot of guts and a lot of consideration to make that decision, so… look, we just have to be a little bit patient."

****

Nagpur: March 1, 2006. England win the toss and bat.
1.1 Sreesanth to Cook, no run, short and wide outside the off stump, angling away from the left-hander, no shot offered
(Source: ESPNcricinfo ball-by-ball commentary)

Forty-eight hours and four airport departure lounges marked the transformation of a barely-known 21-year-old to England opening batsman. A blink of the eye in any ordinary situation, but 48 long, sleepless and self-absorbed hours in which to overthink his spiritual and physical journey from the England A squad in Antigua to the opening moments of a Test series in India.

The call had come through from a team in crisis. Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones had already suffered career-threatening knee injuries when Marcus Trescothick, Mr Dependable in all formats, broke down in unexplained circumstances. It would take the board another year to admit the truth of Trescothick's mental illness, but not before he had suffered a career-ending breakdown during an Ashes warm-up match in Sydney.

Cook's first scoring shot in international cricket brings to mind David Gower's pulled four off Liaqat Ali at Edgbaston in 1978, but there the comparison ends

Perhaps the unreasonable demands on a player deemed indispensable by England in all forms of international cricket was a root cause of Trescothick's collapse. But then again, Test cricket is all about mental weakness. If you crack, you conceal it, and find a way to battle through. Or better still, you allow no weakness to infiltrate your game in the first place. On or off the field.

1.2 Sreesanth to Cook, no run, again bit wide outside the off stump, Cook leaves it through to the keeper

Patience. And bloody-mindedness. Bloody-mindedness and patience. The will to wait for opportunities and the tenacity to seize them. These are the cornerstones of Cook's game, the traits that will one day make him the most prolific Test run scorer in the history of English cricket.

However, these are attributes that the human eye cannot see, so for now India's bowlers have no understanding of Cook's greatest strengths. He has been schooled, in the most traditional sense of the word, in the art of run-making, not batting. It is a vital distinction that his Essex mentor, Graham Gooch, has drummed into him in the course of hours and hours and hours in the indoor nets in Chelmsford.

"It's not how, it's how many… "

"Make it a daddy… "

He bats with the angular inelegance of an Action Man - his team-mates will later joke that he runs between the wickets like Woody from Toy Story - but from the outset it is clear that Cook has the fitness levels of a greyhound. Extraordinarily, he does not sweat. In Adelaide in 2010-11, during his Ashes-turning partnership with Pietersen, Sky Sports' thermal imaging cameras produced a split-screen comparison of the two men's shirts - Pietersen's hot with saturation and Cook's as cool as a wind-dried pillowcase.

On the farm or at the wicket (or on his way to his wedding), Alastair Cook exudes Englishness

On the farm or at the wicket (or on his way to his wedding), Alastair Cook exudes Englishness © Getty Images

What they said about...

In a turbulent year for Cook the worthies have had plenty to say

"With Cook as captain England will always be conservative and get confused about what to do when games are in the balance." Shane Warne, the Telegraph, June 2014

"Only Alastair Cook, his wife and family want him to remain as captain." Geoffrey Boycott, Test Match Special, July 2014

"In one-day cricket you should pick your 11 best players and choose your captain from there, and I don't think he is one of the best 11 players." Graeme Swann, the Sun, August 2014

"He's a very fine one-day player but nobody wants to talk about that. They want to talk about 'he's out of form', or whatever he's not doing right." Peter Moores, September 2014

"Alastair Cook knows that on the Ashes tour there were absolutely no problems with me in the dressing room." Kevin Pietersen in KP: The Autobiography, October 2014

"The fact that Cook is still having to work out his best way to play spin in one-day cricket is a disgrace." Nasser Hussain, Daily Mail, December 2014

"Alastair Cook's last six captaincy jobs in [ODI] series for England, he lost every single one." Michael Vaughan, BBC, March 2015

"When my daughter grows up, if she brought a bloke like Alastair Cook home, I'd high five the wife." Andrew Flintoff, BBC, April 2015

"I was quoted a few years back saying he could break Sachin's record. At the age of 30, he still has a chance! Quite brilliant batsman! Well done, AC!" Pietersen on Cook becoming England's leading Test scorer, May 2015

The overall effect is somewhat ethereal. Cook is not designed to be noticed, he exists just to be.

1.3 Sreesanth to Cook, 1 wide, another wayward delivery outside the off stump, too wide to make Cook play at it

There has always been something unavoidably beatific about Alastair Cook. The Christmas Day birthday, his hinterland as a choirboy, the precocity of his run-scoring - take most Test records for runs scored by a certain age, and Cook is invariably second on the list, at the right hand of God himself, Sachin Tendulkar. When he is away from England duty he even tends to the flock on his father-in-law's farm in Bedfordshire.

He evokes an image of Englishness that previous generations would have died for. "He and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be," as ECB chairman Giles Clarke would so infamously put it many years later.

1.3 Sreesanth to Cook, no run, short ball, angling in from outside the leg stump, Cook stands tall on the back-foot and nicely turns it away straight to Jaffer at short leg

Clarke's contribution was the sort of unctuous endorsement that no man should be forced to live down. But it stuck like a clammy handshake - an unfortunate reminder of an era of patronage when England captains were selected primarily for their breeding. Amateurs civilising their professionals. Gentlemen overseeing their Players.

Cook is too good a player to be denigrated by such connotations. And yet, as is evident in Nagpur, he bats with the moral rectitude to back up such double-edged praise. At his very, very best, he is the last of the great self-deniers, a man who channels the stubbornness of Geoffrey Boycott or Allan Border to maximise his impact by minimising his weaknesses.

The cult of Cook, such as had ever existed, had been forged in the heat of battle at the Gabba in 2010-11, with the Barmy Army delighting in his passive-aggressive persecution of the Aussies

"He's got the most stubborn streak of any man I've ever known," said Cook's former team-mate Graeme Swann on Test Match Special. "It's the reason he doesn't buckle under the pressure."

1.4 Sreesanth to Cook, no run, fuller length delivery on the middle and off stump line, much better line and length - Cook gets a good stride forward and defends it back down the carpet

Will Smith, the former Championship-winning captain of Durham, remembers Cook as a squit of a batsman, two years his junior, in Bedford School's 1st XI. "He could barely get it off the square, but technically and temperamentally, you could tell he had it all," says Smith.

The innings that set him apart from his peers, however, was the one he shouldn't have been playing. For reasons best known to the cricket coach, Cook was dropped for the school's annual fixture against MCC, but ended up playing for the opposition when they arrived one man short. He responded to the slight with a match-winning hundred, and the school never made the same mistake again.

A handful of years later, Cook's penchant for the big occasion revealed itself once again, in the summer of all summers, no less. In 2005, in the midst of a throbbing series and in need of a break from the heat of battle, Australia's cricketers decamped to Essex for a low-key two-day warm-up. A chance to rest a few bowlers, experiment with a few options, enjoy some time in the middle without reverse-swinging banshees howling past their outside edges.

Cue Cook's most startling innings to date. An oven-ready 214 out of a first-day total of 502 for 4. The boundaries were short and the bowling was loose, but this was an obliteration, the like of which the lesser islands of the Caribbean or the kids at the Australian Academy used to revel in delivering against English touring teams.

First match, first boundary: Cook gets off to a cracking start in Nagpur in 2006

First match, first boundary: Cook gets off to a cracking start in Nagpur in 2006 © Getty Images

Such unflinching brilliance at every step of his career not only made the events of Cook's Test debut in Nagpur seem commonplace, it encouraged the fallacy that his mind could overcome any matter.

1.5 Sreesanth to Cook, FOUR, short ball on the middle and leg stump line, bit of a surprise delivery, Cook sways back, gets right on top of the bounce and pulls it away to the fine leg fence…

The precocity and placement of Cook's first scoring shot in international cricket brings to mind David Gower's own pulled four off Liaqat Ali at Edgbaston in 1978, but there the comparison ends. For if Gower represents the last of the English cavaliers, then Cook is surely the apogee of the Roundheads.

The common link between the two men is Gooch, the arch-pragmatist whose determination to remould English cricket in his own image led him, in 1989, to banish Gower from a young and forward-looking squad after that summer's Ashes humiliation.

The pair attempted an uneasy rapprochement one year later but there was the Tiger Moth to contend with on the Ashes tour of 1990-91. A harmless stunt to inject some levity into a dour and losing tour, claimed some, as Gower and his sidekick, John Morris, buzzed the Carrara Oval in Queensland in celebration of Robin Smith's return to form. A pointed rebuttal of every principle Gooch held dear, claimed others, as the relationship between two titanic individuals passed the point of no return. Two years later, the issue was still rumbling, as an MCC emergency meeting, no less, was called to protest Gower's exclusion from the tour of India.

If Cook, the uncomfortable figurehead of the ECB's new model army, was diminished by the absence of Pietersen, then presumably so too was his team

Two decades ago it was cricket's ultimate insiders who were banging the drum on behalf of a maverick who they felt had been hard done by - and how the sport at large patronised them for their stance. In early 2014, in the midst of England's winter of discontent, it seemed that the wheel was turning full circle. It was those who were "outside cricket" - another vile and divisive utterance from the ECB boardroom - who kicked up the biggest fuss about an ousted icon, and they too were being patted on the head for their concerns.

Cook did not deserve to be caught in the middle of such disputes. But this was a man who had always fronted up for his country, and never flinched when the going got tough. A man for lesser mortals to hide behind. He could take the heat, because if he didn't then who would?

****

"The time is right to look to the future and start to rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy."

When, in February last year, Paul Downton, the short-lived managing director of England cricket, issued a press release containing that polarising sentence to confirm Pietersen's divorce from English cricket, the implications were far clearer than the thinking that had gone into the decision. In painting the KP situation as a clear case of black and white, the ECB set about painting their favourite son into a corner.

The cult of Cook, such as had ever existed, had been forged in the heat of battle at the Gabba in 2010-11, with the Barmy Army delighting in his passive-aggressive persecution of the Aussies. The signature stroke of his career-defining haul of 766 Ashes-winning runs was no stroke at all. Instead, it was a taunt to an opposition that began the series with marketing priorities leading to an overblown squad announcement for the first Test.

Cook's PR took a hit when he told Graham Gooch, the man whose autograph he used to

Cook's PR took a hit when he told Graham Gooch, the man whose autograph he used to "queue up to get", that his services as batting coach were no longer required © PA Photos

England's plans for the series were formidable. Even James Anderson, one of the game's most skilful manipulators of a cricket ball, echoed Cook's methods by leading the line in the art of bowling dry. "Don't get cut," were his orders from the bowling coach, David Saker. Give the Aussies nothing, and wait for their patience to exhaust.

But even allowing for the success of England's attritional tactics, Australia still might not have been conquered had it not been for Pietersen's top notes of destruction on the third day of the second Test in Adelaide, when his bruising double-century rammed home the advantage that Cook's painstaking 148 had established.

Likewise, two winters later, when Cook's cussed brilliance laid the foundations of his greatest triumph till date as England captain, the 2-1 Test series win in India in 2012-13, it was Pietersen's breathtaking 186 in Mumbai that turned the series upside down.

At the time of his sacking in February last year, and irrespective of all other mitigating factors, the statistics declared that KP and Cook were almost indivisibly important to England's cause: 104 Tests on the one hand, to 102 on the other; 8181 runs at 47.28 with 23 hundreds on the one hand; 8047 at 46.51 with 25 hundreds on the other.

Their one-day statistics were markedly different, of course, but in February 2012 - shortly before the first schism between Pietersen and the England dressing room - he and Cook opened the batting against Pakistan in the UAE and produced a pair of centuries apiece in a 4-0 series win, arguably England's finest ODI achievement in the past four years.

The longer that Cook endured - devoid of runs, clinging on at the crease - the more inevitable it was that his undoubted flaws as a captain would be conflated with his overall value as a batsman

Their ethics and philosophies may have been as immiscible as oil and water but the chemistry on those occasions when they hit it off was unforgettable. And if Cook, the uncomfortable figurehead of the ECB's new model army, was diminished by the absence of his team-mate, then presumably so too was his team.

****

The ECB was given nine months in which to brace for impact ahead of the publication of Pietersen's autobiography in October. On the morning of the book's release, with scattergun accusations dripping from every national newspaper, the board claimed it was unable to respond because it had yet to be delivered a copy.

It was a laughable response but nothing more than a continuation of that culture of silence that had left Cook so lost for words at the Essex press day. The ECB's unwavering belief that all problems could be solved by performances on the field conveniently ignored the corrosive nature of those problems in the first place. It was an attitude that stemmed largely from the ECB chairman. Giles Clarke's standard refrain is that journalists should concern themselves with writing poetry about their teams rather than boring the public with the politics.

However, the upshot of shoving their players' heads under a rock is that the ECB denied them the chance to speak honestly and openly about what happened on the Ashes tour - in particular at that infamous meeting in Melbourne - and to cultivate, at the very least, an air of plausible deniability for when the sledgehammer allegations started landing.

A curb on free speech in the aftermath of England's last Ashes trouncing and the ensuing KP saga took its toll on Cook and his team

A curb on free speech in the aftermath of England's last Ashes trouncing and the ensuing KP saga took its toll on Cook and his team © AFP

In particular Matt Prior, whose hard-earned reputation as the heartbeat of Andy Flower's England's team was roundly traduced in Pietersen's book.

"It has been a really tough time for everyone," Prior told the Cricket Monthly in February. "It has been hugely frustrating for everyone that it has been such a closed shop, not been able to speak and say things. I don't want to go into it too much because I'll get myself into trouble. I'd love to say what I really think, but the way things have been handled has not been right."

Cook didn't cop anything like the same amount of abuse as Prior but the barbs were stinging nonetheless. To be likened to Ned Flanders, the dithering do-gooding neighbour in The Simpsons, was a low blow but it was Pietersen's assessment of his "company man" credentials that really touched a nerve.

"He had shown all the signs of leadership the ECB look for," Pietersen wrote. "You have to be able to say yes. You have to be able to say it a lot." In one passage he talked, entirely plausibly, of Swann's tendency to snigger in team meetings whenever Cook, in his slightly bumbling manner, attempted to rally his beaten troops.

Pietersen's version of events may well be, as Swann declared, "the biggest work of fiction since Jules Verne". Nevertheless, history is traditionally written by the victors, which meant that either the ECB were subverting the conventions of myth-making for no apparent benefit or - as the conspiracy theorists were entitled to surmise, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary - Pietersen's sacking had been a grievous injustice and he was merely setting the record straight.

Ten years earlier Cook's determination had been the trait that was the hardest for his opponents to read. Now his bloody-mindedness seemed all that remained for him to be judged by

Either way, the longer that Cook endured - devoid of runs, clinging on at the crease, waiting for the cavalry that was never going to arrive because it no longer fit into the team ethic and philosophy - the more inevitable it was that his undoubted flaws as a captain would be conflated with his overall value as a batsman.

It didn't help that public perception that Cook's first duty after the 2013-14 whitewash was to tell his mentor Gooch that his services as a batting coach were no longer required.

"I used to go and queue up to get his autograph, hoping he would bat and get some runs," said Cook of the decision. "So telling him it was time to move on - I will remember that for a long time."

****

If Gooch's sacking had been intended as a show of strength by a beaten but unbowed captain who knew his own mind, it instead pointed to a key weakness at the heart of Cook's public persona - despite having every England batting record at his mercy, he remained a cricketer who had never been given the chance to cut his Essex umbilical cord.

Back in September 2003, at the age of 18, Cook marked his Essex debut - against Pietersen's Nottinghamshire, no less - with a catch inside the first five overs, an unbeaten 69 in the second innings, and a nine-wicket win. He had played 31 first-class matches for his county by the time of his England debut 30 months later, learning the game's intricacies from such old sweats as Grant and Andy Flower, Ronnie Irani and Darren Gough.

Does anybody do defence as well in this day and age?

Does anybody do defence as well in this day and age? © Getty Images

In the course of the past decade, however, from the prime ages of 21 to 30, Cook has played barely that number of Championship fixtures again. The rites of passage that future England captains used to undertake on the county circuit - the chance to glean situational insight, the chance to try out tactics and fail without the world looking on in judgement - have been denied to a man who has been forced to make his mistakes as a leader in the spotlight.

Gooch played 118 Tests for England to Cook's current tally of 114. But he also made 391 appearances for Essex to Cook's current tally of 73. In 1987, Gooch was able to hand the club captaincy back to his predecessor Keith Fletcher when his form deserted him. And it did not prevent England from turning to him during the West Indies series the following year.

Cook's first real experience of leadership came, at the age of 25, on England's tour to Bangladesh in 2010 - a total hospital pass of a tour, with Andrew Strauss resting ahead of the Ashes and five awkward fixtures to negotiate in which anything less than victory would have been seen as a failure. True to his reputation for overcoming adversity with will power, Cook let no one down, least of all himself. He scored a century in each Test to seal a 2-0 win, and showed a turn of speed in the one-dayers that surprised and delighted the selectors. A brace of 60s in his first ODI appearances for 15 months confirmed his status as the next man in line. His lack of tactical acumen was not, in the ECB's estimation, any concern whatsoever.

Nor, for that matter, was the lack of subtlety to his methods. It's easy to say with hindsight that they were not built to last. But Cook's standard stroke for one-day cricket was, in essence, a single agricultural hoick -­ a scything parabola from off to leg, which, depending on the line of the ball and the point of contact, could take on the characteristics of the cut, the drive and the pull through midwicket.

Cook being Cook, he found the will to make the most of his limitations. On the eve of his first series as full-time ODI captain, against Sri Lanka in June and July 2011, he was derided by Michael Atherton as a "plodder" but answered that charge in startling and pugnacious fashion with 95 not out from 75 balls to inspire a come-from-behind 3-2 series victory.

But in the long term, that tedious expectation to lay bat on all balls, regardless of merit, began to chisel away at the poise and equilibrium on which his professional career had been founded. One-day cricket was an affront to his Test match technique, but as England's anointed one, he had no option but to push on on all fronts and find a way to marry his two methods.

Abu Dhabi: March 18, 2015

England's World Cup has been and gone, a sorry and off-the-pace saga that ended with an elimination so ghastly that not even the team's lowest expectations could do it justice. However, the man who had been in charge for 43 of the 46 months since the 2011 tournament played no part in the fiasco.

At Lord's against New Zealand, Cook found in Ben Stokes an ally who could make capital of his obduracy and confirm that his strength was not a weakness after all

Instead Cook is 7000 miles away in the UAE, turning out for MCC in the pre-season curtain-raiser against Yorkshire. The flesh wound is still raw after his axing as one-day captain and, in spite of the evidence of one half-century in his previous 22 ODI innings, he is still conditioned to take no backwards step. He is out of earshot of the usual suspects and in a mood to vent his spleen.

"I was [captain] for three-and-a-half years trying to do a job. We got to No. 1 in the world with a full-strength side and got to the final of the Champions Trophy.

"You always back yourself, and I would have loved to have had the opportunity that was taken away from me. The selectors made that decision because they thought it was the best for English cricket. Hindsight has probably proved them wrong, but now it's very easy to say that."

Ten years earlier Cook's determination had been the trait that was the hardest for his opponents to read. Now, however, his bloody-mindedness seemed all that remained for his game, and his personality, to be judged by. His lesser-spotted attributes of loyalty and decency had been subsumed by circumstance - and the fault - still unspoken - lay with the ECB for ducking the big decisions until it was too late to change the destiny.

Cook had been conditioned never to back down from a challenge. But his greatest strength was in danger of becoming a fatal weakness.

****

Lord's: May 25, 2015

The roar that greeted his departure was unlike any that Cook had ever heard. It was the sound of a fifth-day Lord's crowd - a crowd stripped of its debentures and red-trousered insiders, and packed instead with ordinary fans, the type who take pot luck for £20 a ticket, when they sense that something might just happen.

Was Cook the Gentleman the ECB hoped would keep its Players on track?

Was Cook the Gentleman the ECB hoped would keep its Players on track? © PA Photos

It was also the sound of a hero's return. Ten months earlier, the goodwill of the cricket-watching public had come to the fore in adversity, with Cook bashfully accepting a standing ovation at the Ageas Bowl for managing, against all expectation, to reach lunch on the first day against India with his wicket still intact.

The Cook who returned to the Lord's Pavilion on Bank Holiday Monday, however, was a man with his purpose reaffirmed. He had withstood everything that New Zealand, the weather, and the match situation could throw at him. He had endured for 345 balls, for nine hours, to turn an impending defeat into a chance for a draw, and ultimately, in his near-mute appreciation of a coming-of-age onslaught at the other end, an improbable shot at victory.

All Alastair Cook had ever wanted as a leader was for someone to follow him into battle. At Lord's against New Zealand, he found in Ben Stokes an ally who could make capital of his obduracy and confirm that his strength was not a weakness after all.

The same, perversely, was true a week later at Leeds. England's batting may have collapsed on the final day of the second Test but not before Cook, with a dour and reassuring 56 from 171 balls, had served another reminder that, in an era of breakneck batting feats, old-school stonewalling can sometimes gladden the heart every bit as much.

"I'd love to score as quickly as Ben but the bottom line is that I can't," said Cook after the Lord's win. With an Ashes looming, they were the reassuring words of a man who is no longer being asked to be all things to all men. The subsequent success, in his absence, of England's one-day batsmen has added to the sense that Cook's strengths are at last being correctly channelled.

The sternest test of Cook's new-found poise is yet to come, but where, two years earlier, he had been left to answer the impossible questions on his own, now at last he is building a team around him with players who can fill in those blanks in the narrative. All he needs to worry about is the challenge of leading from the front.

Andrew Miller is a former editor of the Cricketer. @miller_cricket

 

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