Voyage of discovery for captain Cook
The England captaincy has passed temporarily from a “jaded” Andrew Strauss to Alastair Cook, as the selectors placed their faith in the man they believe could be the future leader.
It was confirmed today that Strauss would be rested from the Test and one-day international series in Bangladesh, which begins in late February.
National selector Geoff Miller, and Strauss himself, both cited the rigours of a tough tour to South Africa and a huge year of cricket about to start in May, including an away Ashes series and a sub-continental World Cup, as reasons for the decision.
Cook, 25, is therefore being entrusted with leading his country in two Tests and three ODIs in Bangladesh, while Paul Collingwood will retain the Twenty20 captaincy for two matches against Pakistan in Dubai on February 19 and 20.
Strauss apart, fast bowler James Anderson is the only other player to be prescribed a rest - to allow treatment for his chronic right knee injury.
Among the notable inclusions in 16-man Test and 15-man limited-overs squads are Yorkshire bowling all-rounder Ajmal Shahzad and Hampshire opening batsman Michael Carberry - the latter in for Tests only.
Strauss explained that the decision to rest him was a pre-emptive strike - to ensure the grind does not get to him when he and England may be able to afford it least.
“I am feeling pretty jaded,” said Strauss. “It’s been a long year, and I am very conscious of the 18 months of cricket that starts in May with the Ashes tour and the World Cup.
“My view - which is shared by the management - is that if you accept there is a need to rest players at times, then a captain should be allowed to have that rest as well.
“The notion that captains continue until they are mentally and physically exhausted doesn’t seem in the best interests of the side.
“I think I will be as refreshed as I possibly can be for the summer and the Ashes after that, and the World Cup as well.”
Cook must therefore fill his place, and the Essex left-hander is impatient to prove himself. He promises to be his own man.
“I can’t wait for the tour to start,” he said. “I am very excited about what Straussy and (coach) Andy Flower have built up and I am very honoured to be taking over.
“It is a massive learning curve for me and a huge part of my development.
“You have to do it your own way. It is a short-term role, but it is very important I do it my way.
“I have a lot of help around - I am very close to Andy (Flower) from our Essex days - that relationship has already been formed.
“If you are not your own man you can’t do as well as possible; I can’t be another Strauss or (Michael) Vaughan.”
Strauss, meanwhile, is adamant his absence will not arrest the progress England have made in recent months, culminating in a 1-1 Test series draw against South Africa.
“If I had concerns about that, it would have been a reason for going on the tour,” he added. “But I am very comfortable with the individuals, and the dynamic of the side is not going to change very much.
“It would be arrogant of me to assume that - just because I am there - people will work harder.
“Part of my job and Andy Flower’s job is to have a long-term view, and that is why this decision is being made.
“You get used to criticism in this job, but I think it’s being done for the right reasons - the Ashes and the World Cup are two big priorities for this side.
“I would never forgive myself if I turned up for the Ashes feeling exhausted and not giving myself the best chance of performing as a captain and a batsman and not having the energy to keep players going in some pretty stressful situations.
“I am confident the team will be in great shape under Alastair’s stewardship.”
Strauss had a largely unproductive tour of South Africa as a batsman, but appears to have been as assured as ever in his leadership role.
Miller explained exactly why the selectors had come to the conclusion that Strauss needs some time out.
“He’s been rested to give him the opportunity to get his mind together again,” he said.
“This is not just about the present; we had to look towards the future as well. And this is an opportunity for us to find out whether Alastair Cook, who has played 50-odd Tests now, is material for a future England captain.
“We’re giving Andrew a break so he can refresh himself for an arduous 12 months ahead. It’s not just about performing with the bat; it’s about his mental state too.
“We’re not setting a precedent. (South Africa captain) Graeme Smith has had a break; (India captain Mahendra Singh) Dhoni had a break from a series. We’ve got a really intense international fixture list coming up.”
Miller confirms that the selectors feel Cook must be given the chance to prove that his leadership skills can transform to the international stage.
A regular captain of Essex second XI and England age-group levels, Cook has skippered England only once, in the second Twenty20 international against South Africa on this tour.
“We’ve given him the opportunity to be involved in team meetings as vice-captain,” added the national selector.
“He’s very strong mentally and has captained at other levels. We want to give him the chance to show whether he can do it in the international arena.
“It’s opinions - and our judgment is that he could be the future England captain.”