Alastair Cook has described the series defeat in India – one that was completed with a Test to spare by a crushing loss in Mumbai – as the type of result that “naturally” leads him to question his future as England captain but he will not be making any decisions until the new year.
One thing is certain in his mind, however: Joe Root would be ready to step up and lead the side if a change were to be made.
Just 33 minutes were needed on the final morning for Virat Kohli’s side to take an unassailable 3-0 lead into the fifth Test in Chennai on Friday, with Ravi Ashwin claiming the final four wickets in figures of six for 55 as England were bowled out for 195 and lost by innings and 36 runs. Only twice before has a side posted 400 batting first and suffered an innings defeat.
It is only Cook’s second series defeat in his last 10 as captain - both of which have come in Asia where the team lack the necessary spin-bowling firepower – but it raised questions about his long-term continuation in the role after an interview with the Cricketer magazine in which he expressed a desire to return to the playing ranks one day.
The topic continues to be discussed by Cook and the director of England cricket, Andrew Strauss, on a series-by-series basis and while Cook, who turns 32 on Christmas Day, was always faced with a tough assignment leading a team ill-equipped for the challenge of taking on the world’s No1 side away from home, the pair must now decide whether it is time for fresh leadership .
Cook said: “The comments I made [at the start of series] have not changed anything. It sticks true to end of this series: I will sit down with Straussy at the end of the year. We have made that pact to talk honestly and openly about stuff. My position would not have changed if we had won this game or lost this game.”
Asked if defeats such as in Mumbai make any such decision more difficult, Cook replied: “Yes, of course you have questions. Naturally you look at stuff. Clearly it is a hard place to tour, there is no doubt about it, certainly with the balance of our squad in terms of where our strengths lie, the subcontinent is going to be a harder place to tour than somewhere like South Africa [where England won away last winter].”
As vice-captain, Root is Cook’s obvious successor but given his status as the best batsman in the team at present, there is a natural caution as to when the right time would be for the handover. The incumbent, who took over from Strauss in 2012 and has led England for a record 58 Tests, sees no reason why he would not be ready despite leading Yorkshire just three times, as well as two warm-up fixtures in Bangladesh. “I think Joe Root’s ready to captain England,” Cook said. “You never know until you actually experience it, because of everything that goes with the England captaincy. You’re thrown in at the deep end and you either sink or swim. Nothing can really prepare you for it.
“But he’s ready because he’s a clued-on guy and he’s got the respect of everyone in the changing room. He hasn’t got much captaincy experience, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a very good captain.
“Being captain of England is a huge honour, a huge privilege. You are at the forefront of the team and it comes on to your shoulders when you win or lose. In the heat of the battle you make those decisions.
“You go to bed at night and you have to live with making good or bad decisions. I am very proud to do it and we will go to Chennai as a group of players and it will be tough with momentum against us but if we can just grab every opportunity we have got a chance.”
Grabbing every opportunity was something England failed to do in Mumbai, with India’s mammoth total of 631 in the second innings bloated by three missed chances offered by the three centurions. A tough stumping off Murali Vijay on 45 could not be executed by Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid dropped Kohli on 68 from a hard return catch, while Jayant Yadav earned a life on eight when Root grassed him at slip.
With the three batsmen going on to score 136, 235 and 104 respectively, the missed chances cost England 354 runs overall. “They made us pay and that is credit to India. Most teams who score runs give chances at some stage and it is about a side being good enough to take them. Missing Kohli, missing Vijay and Yadav cost us dearly,” said Cook.
The end of the Test brought with it some unsavoury scenes as Ashwin, en route to completing the best ever match figures at the ground of 12 for 167, exchanged words with Jimmy Anderson when England’s final batsman arrived at the crease. It was prompted by Anderson’s assertion the previous evening that Kohli is thriving because any technical deficiencies in his batting are not in play in his home conditions.
Cook added: “It was a bit of a sour end really and a disappointing end in terms of how well the spirit between both sides has been played. It was clearly reference to what Jimmy said yesterday which has kind of been blown out of all proportions, which it can do here. He was just stating a fact which if you asked Virat is probably quite true. But yes it was obviously just sticking up for their captain which I thought was slightly unnecessary.”
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