Cook could be in for a rough start as England’s new leader

Andy Lloyd
WHEN Andrew Strauss took over as captain he inherited an England team in a desperate state, following the fiasco of Peter Moores’s and Kevin Pietersen’s departures. Now, as he leaves, the team is in much better health, and for that he deserves great credit.

His decision to retire is terrific, because the temptation to stay on for another two Ashes series must have been great. But for 18 months it has been apparent that one of the major challenges facing England was finding a replacement for Strauss as the opening batsman.

Clearly you don’t arrive at such a huge decision on the spur of the moment, so Strauss will have been thinking about when to retire for some time. The controversy surrounding Pietersen’s omission and his relations with Strauss can only have placed a greater strain on his mind, but I do not think it had a decisive effect on such a profound call.

Strauss spoke of going out on a high and, while is is hard to call it that when England have just lost their No1 Test ranking, the timing is good, because the next few months could be a very tricky spell for the team. In fact, my hunch is that this had more bearing on his decision to retire than the Pietersen issue.

England have come unstuck on the subcontinent enough times to know that the winter tour of India -- Alastair Cook’s first as Strauss’s successor -- will be a very stern challenge. The opponents for the following Test series, New Zealand, may be less daunting but will have home advantage, so should not be taken lightly. Beyond that it is the Ashes, and you can be quite sure that Australia are going to be well up for it.

Cook is certainly the right man to pick up where Strauss left off; like his predecessor, he has the respect of his team-mates and the opposition. Fortunately, he also has good bowlers at his disposal.

Cricket captains can only be as good as their bowling attacks, and Strauss was lucky to have James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.

The slight concern I have about Cook is over his own batting. Some batsmen thrive on the captaincy and it lifts their performance; for others, it seems to be a burden that inhibits their play.

With Pietersen exiled indefinitely – even after this I can’t see him making a quick return to the fold -- and Strauss retired, England are shorn of two of their most experienced and dangerous batsmen. Suddenly Cook is not just the captain but also the batting kingpin; I just hope the first magnifies his effectiveness as the second.

Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer. An opening batsman, he captained Warwickshire in the late 80s and early 90s, leading them to success in the 1989 NatWest Trophy. He made a total of 17,211 first-class runs, including 29 centuries, and later enjoyed a spell as chairman of Warwickshire.