• England beat Australia in Cardiff to go 1-0 up in 2015 Ashes series
  • Alastair Cook had to sacrifice batting as England dawned on new era
  • 30-year-old led the side with flair and ambition not previously seen 

Martin Samuel – Sport for the Daily Mail

It was, fair to say, rather an unusual role reversal for Alastair Cook. His captaincy was widely praised, his batting held up as one of the few disappointments of England’s first Test victory.

Cook had led the side with flair and ambition not previously seen. So often labelled an instinctive conservative, this was a leader with panache. He took gambles and, mostly, they worked. He was more than a match for Australia’s oft-lauded Michael Clarke.

His batting, however, was underwhelming. Scores of 20 and 12 put pressure on England’s top order and he appeared to be trying to force the run rate from the start, having become the country’s greatest amasser with a style that bordered on the cautious. It wasn’t the Cook we know; it is, though, a Cook we may have to get used to.

Alastair Cook celebrates with Moeen Ali after the spinner dismissed David Warner in the first Ashes Test

Alastair Cook celebrates with Moeen Ali after the spinner dismissed David Warner in the first Ashes Test

England captain Cook led his side with flair and ambition and deserved the win in Cardiff

England captain Cook led his side with flair and ambition and deserved the win in Cardiff

How batsmen blew Aussies away

England picked up from where they left off against New Zealand, sealing a comprehensive victory over Australia with a thrilling brand of attacking cricket/// 

4 England scored at more than four runs an over in both innings (4.20 and 4.11) — the first time they have done so in a Test match since drawing with Sri Lanka at Lord’s in June 2011, when they scored at 4.30 and 4.28.

430 England’s first-innings total was the first time they had scored more than 400 against Australia since their 644 at Sydney in January 2011.

58.20 Average strike rate of England’s batsmen against Australia. It was 48.80 across the two Tests against New Zealand earlier in the summer and just 40.42 in three against the West Indies.

49 With England in danger of collapse at 22 for two in their second innings, Ian Bell and Adam Lyth punished the Australians by piling on 49 runs in the next five overs.

England’s management is very relaxed about Cook’s scoring at Cardiff. About his coming down the wicket to Nathan Lyon; about him holing out when he did. And they will remain firmly on his side while he helps fashion England’s revitalised approach to Test cricket. Right now, Cook is taking one for the team. It is an impressive sacrifice.

Top of the agenda this summer is that England’s players buy into a philosophy of attacking play — and the directive had to come from the top. When Cook laid out the way forward, the strategy would have been completely undermined had he then gone out and played in his traditional way. It would have sent a message to the players that he was saying what the coaches wanted him to say — while, deep down, not believing a word of it.

The catalyst for the way England played in Cardiff, indeed the way this team have played for much of the summer, is seeing Cook put his dressing-room messages into practice. If Cook means it, if Cook is prepared to tweak his approach, to take risks with bat in order to take the game to Australia, the rest will follow.

‘Alastair is a very calm operator and very well respected by the players in the team,’ said coach Trevor Bayliss. ‘He is a fantastic batsman and even though he didn’t score as many runs in this match as he would like, his approach in the first innings sent a message to the rest of the players.

‘Here was the captain trying to be that positive batsman, maybe a little bit out of his comfort zone but trying to show the way. Most of the good captains are not only leaders of the team but leaders in attitude.’

Cook struggled with the bat, first edging behind to Brad Haddin off the bowling of Nathan Lyon

Cook struggled with the bat, first edging behind to Brad Haddin off the bowling of Nathan Lyon

The 30-year-old then holed out in the deep as he looked to go on the attack to Mitchell Starc (left)

The 30-year-old then holed out in the deep as he looked to go on the attack to Mitchell Starc (left)

Long term, it will not stay this way. The ethos will not change but, once established, it makes sense for Cook to play in the way he is most effective. This will probably happen when Joe Root is moved up the order to No 3. And that is more a matter of when than if.

Right now, all that holds Root back is his success at No 5. It would be hard for new arrival Bayliss to interfere with a set-up that had just beaten a well-fancied Australia in four days, with Root the top scorer and man of the match.

Yet Bayliss is Australian and shares the instincts of his countrymen. Australia’s gun batsmen play at No 3. Now that Steve Smith is rated as the best of them, he has moved up the order from six. Ricky Ponting made similar progress as his numbers improved.

The longer Gary Ballance struggles to make the spot his own, the more chance there will be of Root’s promotion. As Ballance is a dogged type, this would release Cook to be the glue in England’s top order again, confident that the innings will not get mired in caution. Bayliss wants two of his top three batsmen to be attack-minded, leaving Cook to tie the innings together.

Cook is congratulated by his England team-mates after taking a fabulous catch to dismiss Warner (below)

Cook is congratulated by his England team-mates after taking a fabulous catch to dismiss Warner (below)

‘My message is to go out and play his own way,’ Bayliss added. ‘Yes, we were talking about being mentally aggressive because if you are, when those boundary balls come along your feet are already moving and you put them away. Sometimes that message can take a little bit of time to sink in.

‘People like Alastair and Ian Bell have scored plenty of Test hundreds. So go out and bat like you always have done. Those two guys are class players and can change their game to suit any situation. The rest of the guys will bat around them.’

By then, it is to be hoped, he will have got his message across. Once the team are ready to take the game to Australia, Cook can revert to his natural style. Until then, expect the nearest to a rollercoaster ride one can ever envisage from England’s captain. And never forget the sacrifice.

England are out of their comfort zone, only because the captain has nobly committed to abandon his. The team are the better for it: and long term he will be, too.

England coach Trevor Bayliss wants his team to be 'mentally aggressive' but to still play their own way

England coach Trevor Bayliss wants his team to be ‘mentally aggressive’ but to still play their own way

Joe Root performed wonderfully with the bat in Cardiff and is destined to be the next No 3 for England

Joe Root performed wonderfully with the bat in Cardiff and is destined to be the next No 3 for England

Cook salutes the crowd with a stump after England won the first Ashes Test to go 1-0 up in the series

Cook salutes the crowd with a stump after England won the first Ashes Test to go 1-0 up in the series

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