ALISTAIR COOK’S baptism of fire as England captain went from bad to worse as a record-breaking defeat at Centurion was followed by trenchant criticism from South Africa coach Mickey Arthur.
Essex opener Cook has long been considered a captain-in-waiting but the Gloucester-born 24-year-old could hardly have endured a tougher introduction than yesterday’s comprehensive 84-run thumping after regular Twenty20 captain Paul Collingwood pulled out with a bad back.
South Africa ran up a record 241-6 – the best ever Twenty20 international total on record if you discount games against Kenya – with the late-blossoming 32-year-old Loots Bosman smashing 94 and captain Graeme Smith contributing 88 in a first wicket stand worth 170 off just 13 overs.
In reply only Jonathan Trott (51) and Kevin Pietersen (29) approached significance in a response of 157-8, and Arthur was quick to point out their accents are suspiciously South African.
And even as Cook admitted “I don’t think it comes much tougher than that”, he found himself under fire from no-nonsense Arthur, a man who has talked of his ambition to coach England when his time with South Africa runs out.
Arthur said: “I was surprised England didn’t open with Morgan and Trott, with Pietersen at three. We talk about us perhaps being a little but unpredictable, I thought England were very predictable today.”
Cook responded: “There were thoughts of it, but we decided not to go with that. We got 200 the other day playing with that order, so we decided to stick with it.
“Unfortunately the big hits, we didn't hit them as cleanly as they did. In hindsight, we could have maybe changed it, but whether it would have changed the result I don't know, because 240 is a lot of runs.”
But Arthur wasn’t stopping there. After watching Cook withdraw Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid when his only over had gone for 25 including four sixes, he added: “Giving Rashid only one over was criminal.
“When Trott and Pietersen were batting, there were 15 South Africans on the field with the umpires. Then an Irishman came in. We were searching for the Englishmen!”
Cook, fresh from Twenty overs of humiliation and 16 sixes in the field, opted to open himself with Joe Denly. Cook got 26 off 21, Kent’s Denly hit a run-a-ball 14 and both were back in the pavilion in the space of 9.3 overs with 65 on the board and the game was effectively over.
Still, England fans might point out a 1-1 series draw in the first of three chapters in South Africa is hardly a disaster.
Truth is, the rain won it by a single run for England in the opening Twenty20 clash at the Wanderers on Friday and yesterday’s debacle couldn’t have been more one-sided as the tourists head to the first of five one-day internationals on Friday at The Wanderers with a warm up in Potchefstroom to come against South Africa A tomorrow.
Cook, who hands over leadership to Andrew Strauss until January 18 next year when the final Test of this marathon safari is due to end in Johannesburg, added: “You try to keep your emotions as calm as you can but it was hard. Everyone was busting a gut to bowl to the plans but the margins were small and our skill levels weren’t good enough.
“Yes, I was getting a lot of advice but a lot of players wanted to try to help repair the damage. I had the final word. I will go to bed tonight disappointed but I enjoyed it because I had the honour of captaining my country.”