From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 29, 2011
Some people doubted Alastair Cook's ability to rise to the top level as captain but it was clear from the one-day series that he has every player backing him and that is just about the best advantage a captain can hope for.
It is difficult to anticipate the long term future of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as he returns to India at the end of the tour of England.
The Indian captain may be treated as a victim of his team's poor performances and be allowed to continue. Just as likely a ruthless selection committee may think it is the right time to make a change. They have sacked men who have far fewer black marks than Dhoni.
All I can say with any certainty is that Dhoni has found many friends and admirers since he arrived in this country and there will be a wave of disappointment if he is blamed for the appalling results of the last few weeks.
His critics may argue that he has not made enough runs — 77 and an undefeated 74 in the third Test and two fifties late in the one-day series were his best efforts — in his time in England. I will argue that the weight of responsibility has been so great that a poor run of batting form was only to be expected.
Some will say that his captaincy has lacked dash and thoughtfulness. In common with every other captain Dhoni has made tactical mistakes but he has never failed to lead. Right to the end he was to be seen laying down the law, rousing those who needed it and sympathising with those whose luck seemed to be running out.
I speak, of course, as a journalist and in his role with us he has been prompt, courteous, sensible and willing. He has our respect and we trust that he has retained the trust of the Indian fans and the Board and that he continues to rule. Being wicketkeeper, prominent batsman and captain is a difficult trick at any level as Alec Stewart found.
It may be the reason the Australians have always fought shy of making men like Rod Marsh and Ian Healy captain; the strain is great in the short term and, as Dhoni has found on this trip the longer the pressure continues the greater it becomes.
I hope we will see him back here, that India's Board concentrate on plugging other gaps in their side and that he gains strength from the misfortunes which beset India from the middle of the first day of the Test series when Zaheer Khan limped off the field never to return.
We must not forget that rollicking innings by Dhoni when India won the World Cup in the style that one-day cricket was intended to produce. We only caught glimpses of that aggressive batting here and we would be excited to see it all over again.
Dhoni's slide down the popular rankings has been in strict contrast to the rise and rise of Alistair Cook.
The truth about this young man — yes, I know he has been playing for a lot of years now but he is still 27 until Christmas and for another couple of years he will be a young man for those of us beyond the age of competition — is that if you set him a task he will carry it out with aplomb.
He was the Cricket Writers' Club Young Cricketer of the Year in 2005, well before he made his Test debut in India. He came to the annual dinner to receive his award and impressed everyone in cricket by scoring a double century against the Australians the next day.
That dinner can be an ordeal, because journalists are not gentle creatures, drink is taken by some and the proceedings are often noisy. Cook took it all in his stride, made a quiet speech of thanks and returned home. But, instead of being content with a dozen runs, he batted all the way through the 100 overs and confirmed what everyone already knew.
Here was an England hero in the making, just like 50 or so Test cricketers, starting with Fred Trueman, who have also won the honour. Although there will be rough patches, as there must in any career, Cook has shown he can emerge stronger and more focussed after every setback.
Now he has been named Test Cricketer of the Year — alongside Jonathon Trott who is Cricketer of the Year — which is both a tribute to him and another acknowledgement of the strides forward England have made.
It is my belief that Cook will set new standards in the run-making department before he is finished and, at his age, that is a long way off.
Some people doubted his ability to rise to the top level as captain but it was clear from the one-day series that he has every player backing him and that is just about the best advantage a captain can hope for.
Just as Dhoni will rely on help from Duncan Fletcher to overcome the troubles that are bound to follow on his return to India, so Cook will need the England coach Andy Flower to guide him through what are bound to be difficult times.
At the moment with victories in every part of their game, England are riding high but we all know that sport is riddled with trouble at the most unexpected times and that every success seems to breed added difficulties.
I have no doubt that Cook will have his own cure for those ills.
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