• ESPN Sports Personality - No. 2

Alastair Cook: Quiet superstar

Jack Zorab
December 20, 2012
Alastair Cook's performances in India brought him widespread attention and fame © PA Photos

The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable sporting performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...

For the first time in Alastair Cook's career his yearly appraisal form features a section of equal importance to his batting. That new box being an assessment of his performance as the England Test captain.

Cook the player has wound up his 2012 slowly, saving his best for the last series of the year in India where he scored three hundreds and averaged 80.28 to guide England to their first series win in the country since 1985.

Yet his average for 2012, a couple of runs shy of the half-century at down at 48.03, is not so impressive; - just below his career average of 49.42. While it is nothing to shout from the rooftops about for an opening batsman, it is not bad given that he has batted in five more innings this year than in any other 12-month block in his career.

But in international terms Cook has been outclassed by Michael Clarke (another candidate for our sports personality of the year award, before Cook brought the boom to India). Considering the Australian has hit four double hundreds this year, however, that is hardly something to be ashamed about.

Cook had a poor showing in England's toughest series against South Africa, only getting beyond 50 once in six innings (when he went on to make 115 at The Oval). He followed that up with an even worse one-day record making just 83 runs in five ODIs.

And that slump should be considered when looking at his consummate displays on the subcontinent this winter because not many players can flick the switch like Cook has.

But it is what Cook has brought to the table as captain, and the effect his guiding touches have had on the team, which are most impressive for someone cutting his teeth in the role.

He has borrowed some aspects from Andrew Strauss' reign and broken with others, but never simply wiped the slate clean. There is always purpose behind his decisions.

Being bold is the quality Cook seems to possess in abundance and there is nothing which reveals that trait in sport better than someone willing to alter a winning team, as Cook did after the victorious Mumbai and Kolkata Tests.

Samit Patel, who admittedly had not sparkled in India but had not flopped either, was moved sideways for the fourth Test to make way for the uncapped Joe Root. What a move it proved to be too as the Yorkshire opener faced 229 balls and made 73 runs on his debut.

Root may have been inspired by his captain's centuries in the first three Tests, the chances are he probably was, and he would not have been the first. Cook's fellow-opener Nick Compton is a perfect case study in how a calming influence at the crease can bring a player on. Compton looked a touch unsure and slow on his feet initially, and did not progress past the 30s in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, but his 57 in Kolkata owed a lot to Cook's terrific 190, making the 27-year-old the youngest person in history to pass 7,000 runs.

"He gives the other players a lot of confidence out there, because he's so solid," Compton said. "He's very unflappable, not a lot of airs and graces, and just gets on and does it. It makes a big difference to have someone who's so chilled out at the other end."

The 190 knock was notable for another reason, however, as it marked Cook's 23rd Test century - moving him clear of an illustrious list of names comprising Wally Hammond, Geoff Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and Kevin Pietersen to become England's all-time leading Test century scorer.

The Cook effect is infectious and it is not exclusive to the England dressing room or English cricket fans.

Under-fire Indian captain MS Dhoni also seemed inspired by Cook, at least off the pitch, when he came out fighting in the press after the third Test, stressing he would not walk away from his responsibilities when his team needed him most. Any captain should possess such qualities but his defiance may well have been accentuated by keeping wicket behind Cook and watching his fledging leadership skills first-hand.

Ultimately India could not offer up great resistance on an abomination of a wicket in Nagpur but a draw meant they had not rolled over, despite morale clearly at a low point.

Things went Cook's way in India after the first Test and a better marker of his captaincy will come next year in the Ashes. But his resolve in that first Test to score 176 in Ahmedabad in a losing cause was a sure sign that he can take control of his own personal form in difficult team situations.

Sometimes that is all that is needed to inspire others.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.