Cow Corner

After year to forget, Cook leads England back up

The BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Awards are, as Early Doors has touched on this morning, essentially a rather silly exercise, but in this year of British sporting excellence the one thing they did was illustrate how much cricket had been shunted to the periphery.

The celebration was all about the Olympians, but then there were Tours de France, US Opens, Ryder Cup comebacks and more to boot. It was utterly irresistible.

And in this glowing summer of sport England lost their number one status in Test cricket after comprehensive series defeats in the UAE to Pakistan and at home to South Africa. The sport did manage to stay in the headlines, of course, but that was because Kevin Pietersen and his team-mates were locked in an ugly stand-off which saw him axed from the side for months on end. The captain, Andrew Strauss, quit the game. The T20 World Cup crown was meekly surrendered.

All this from the BBC's Team of the Year in 2011. How quickly England's stock had fallen.

But England, for their many trials this year, were never a side in terminal decline, and before the year is out they have finished with a triumph as good as anything they have managed in their recent past, and something which belongs with any of the medals and the successes feted at the ExCeL Arena ceremony last night.

India are simply not beaten in Test series in their own back yard — not since Australia finally cracked it with a 2-1 triumph in 2004-5, and not by England for all of 28 years.

The tourists had to do it the hard way, after a crushing opening defeat. In fact, that makes it all the more remarkable — it was hard to see what path England could walk to compete. Cowers freely admits that he saw little prospect of beating India away after the failings of Ahmedabad.

That they did owes everything to their new captain Alastair Cook.

By sheer force of will, and an unnatural determination to accumulate runs, Cook led from the front. His hundred in the second innings of the first Test proved to his team-mates that India was not some run-free desert they were destined to wander wretchedly. His century in the second set up the man he had a hand in recalling, Pietersen, to play a match-winning knock. His century in the third drained India of any remaining belief.

Hell, if he had not been on receiving end of two shocking decisions in the fourth Test, he would probably still be batting now in Nagpur. He broke record after record, and it is merely the start for a man who has yet to turn 28.

His team-mates, one by one, with Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, drew conviction from the performances of their leader, and started to look like a real force on the Subcontinent.

In a way, it's something of a pity that England are not slated to tour the Subcontinent again until 2015 — they were just getting the hang of it. But in more familiar conditions the future looks bright. Joe Root made a compelling debut — Jonny Bairstow's series was brief, but his potential undimmed. James Taylor and Stuart Meaker remain in the reckoning.

England's major failing in recent times has been the inability to sustain momentum. The 2005 Ashes winners went to the Subcontinent and through injury and decline fell away into mediocrity. The team who rose to number one in 2011 also fell away sharply.

Cook has restored the impetus. But if England are to regain their standing as the world's best cricket team, it will require what the captain has preached all series long: hard work, and lots of it.

Take a look at the scale of his achievements in the calendar year. Only Michael Clarke managed more Test runs this year. In the ODI arena, Cook led England to the top of the rankings, averaging 47.35 with three centuries in the process. India was the coup de grace, but as a body of achievements in a calendar year, it's an effort that would not have looked out of place on the BBC's SPOTY awards amongst the top 12 contenders.

In a non-Olympic year, and moreover a double Ashes year featuring home and away series, he is a strong early contender to win the award in 2013.

That won't have registered to him, of course. The SPOTY awards are normally a reflection of accomplishment — if he were to win it, it would probably indicate he was an Ashes-winning captain with a shedload of runs to take back to his farm. Recognition comes after achievement. Hard work, again, and lots of it. It's a message you suspect Cook won't allow his charges to overlook.