Alastair Cook insists he has no regrets after giving up the England captaincy, but admitted there were just a couple of moments during the Lord’s Test when he felt a pang for a special job he knows he’ll “never do again”.
While Cook, England captain from late 2012 to the start of 2017, described himself as “happy with the decision” to move back into the ranks, he confessed the sight of his successor, Joe Root, walking down the Lord’s steps to take the toss did bring home to him the realisation of everything he had given up.
And, later in the Test, when he was moved in the field by Ben Stokes – Root’s vice-captain – it again brought home to him his new place in the England hierarchy.
“I am happy with my decision,” Cook said. “The only bit was seeing Rooty walk down the stairs in his blazer and working out you will never do that again.
“The shock was when Ben Stokes told me to move fielding positions. That was when I realised that life was different. He told me to swap with Jimmy because he thought Jimmy would be better in that position. So not only did I have Jimmy gloating at me but Ben Stokes telling me where to move.
“It was different. More the first couple of days of preparation, having spent three or four years being the focal point of decisions. Even when the 12-man squad was announced, I forgot the thought and effort that went into that. It is very different to being captain.
“But I have done my bit. I gave everything to the role and I move on from it. Let’s get behind Joe.”
Cook feels the gap between making the decision, at the end of the Test tour of India in December, and the resumption of England’s Test schedule, was crucial in giving him adequate time to adjust mentally. But while he can look back on his time as Test captain with pride and satisfaction, he admits there is an element of regret over his period in charge of the ODI side.
“It would have been very strange if I had gone straight from not having the captaincy to playing a Test match two weeks later,” he said. “I was pretty clear coming back from India I wasn’t going to be captain. Those two weeks when I was ‘making the decision’ didn’t change it.
“The constant decision-making takes its effect. I don’t miss the media commitments. But I don’t want to sound negative.
“And it was a bit strange when it was announced. I don’t want to say I was in mourning as that’s not quite the right word, but it wasn’t relief I felt. It was sadness.
“I don’t have many regrets but the way my one-day career finished with England was one. That last 12 months when I couldn’t score a run was not a true indication of my one-day game.
“People will remember that period but, for that first 18 months when we got to No.1 in the rankings, I was averaging 50 and striking at over 100. Or something like that, anyway. I played well in the period when I first took over as captain.”
In the end, the simple pleasure of playing cricket again proved key to Cook recovering his enthusiasm and his form. He has already made six centuries for Essex in the county season and, on a deteriorating pitch, made the highest score in the third innings of the first Investec Test at Lord’s.
“The period in February I had off I didn’t bat at all,” he said. “I was on the farm.
“As soon as I got on that plane to go on Essex’s pre-season tour, the challenge of scoring runs and mucking in with the lads made sure any thoughts about the captaincy were quickly forgotten.
“I quite like playing cricket, actually. It is an amazing thing what we do and, yes, there are tough times and hard moments along the way.
“But you know the thought of playing here on Friday in front of a full house… That opportunity is not going to be around forever so that’s what kind of motivates me.”
While Cook reckoned Root was uncharacteristically nervous at the start of England’s training programme ahead of the Lord’s Test, he felt he soon settled.
“I thought he was really calm all week,” Cook said. “In that first net session I don’t think I have seen him bat as badly. Normally he hits lots of balls but he said ‘OK, that is it’ and came back the next day and was fine.
“Clearly if you get a score like he did, that settles a lot of talk about the captaincy. Often captains come in and think they have to change everything. But we haven’t done too much different. He was really calm all week. It was a very impressive first week from him as a captain and leader.”