English cricket February 8, 2017

Hussain, Gooch and other post-captaincy case studies

A closer look at the fates of Alastair Cook's predecessors who played on after stepping down

Nasser Hussain signed off with a match-winning fourth-innings century at Lord's © Getty Images

Nasser Hussain - 1999 to 2003 (age at resignation: 35)

Record as captain: 45 Tests, 2487 runs at 36.04, five hundreds, HS 155
Post-resignation: 12 Tests, 837 runs at 39.85, two hundreds, HS 116

There were as many differences as similarities between the last two Essex men to captain England. Cook's passive approach as a leader contrasted starkly with Hussain's often raging tenacity in the field, although as batsmen they both made a virtue of their technical limitations by pushing their mental abilities to the max. Likewise, both men resigned the Test captaincy at a time when they were no longer involved in an upwardly mobile one-day team, although in Hussain's case (ahead of the Lord's Test against South Africa in 2003) he gave his successor, Michael Vaughan, a mere three days to acclimatise - as opposed to the four months now available to Cook's eventual successor. While perhaps never entirely comfortable at being back in the ranks, Hussain went on to enjoy a brief but fruitful spell as England's elder statesman. Two matches after quitting, his century at Trent Bridge was vital in squaring the series against South Africa, and having played a key role in England's first win in the Caribbean for 36 years, he bowed out in style the following spring at Lord's, by hitting the winning runs in an unbeaten century against New Zealand, and retiring three days later.

Mike Atherton - 1993 to 1998 (age at resignation: 30)

Record as captain: 54 Tests, 3815 runs at 40.58, eight hundreds, HS 185*
Post-resignation*: 36 Tests, 2286 runs at 35.16, five hundreds, HS 136

As a stubborn, nuggety opener with a naturally defensive outlook, Atherton was perhaps the predecessor with whom Cook had most in common as captain, and he is also the likeliest role-model for Cook's life back in the ranks. Both men led their country at a relatively young age, which in theory leaves plenty time for a lengthy second innings - although in Atherton's case, his chronic back condition meant he was never likely to play long into his thirties. Nevertheless, he proved a vital lieutenant for three years after his resignation - firstly for Alec Stewart, to whom the honour fell of sealing England's first five-Test series win since 1986-87, against South Africa in 1998 (in which Atherton's 98 not out at Trent Bridge was pivotal), and then for Nasser Hussain, not least in Karachi in 2000-01, when his ten-hour century set the foundations for the famous heist in the dark. The end, however, came swiftly, and at the hands of a familiar nemesis. Another Ashes defeat, and six more dismissals to Glenn McGrath, confirmed to Atherton that it was time to call it quits.

*Includes two Tests as stand-in captain in 2001

Graham Gooch scored a double-hundred against New Zealand soon after quitting the captaincy © Getty Images

Graham Gooch - 1988 and 1989-93 (age at resignation: 40)

Record as captain: 34 Tests. 3582 runs at 58.72. 11 hundreds, HS 333
Post-resignation: 13 Tests. 798 runs at 33.25, one hundred, HS 210

Gooch and Cook, mentor and protégé, share the rare distinction of averaging more as captain than as mere players, although in Gooch's case the chasm is a yawning one, given his extraordinary batting feats at the start of his full-time tenure. Gooch hadn't been a unanimous choice as captain - Ted Dexter, the then-chairman of selectors, once described him as having the charisma of a "dead fish" - but a succession of legendary innings (333, 154 not out and all that) ensured that his bat did the leading. He handed the reigns over to Michael Atherton midway through the 1993 Ashes when the urn had been lost but his powers were still apparently undimmed - as he demonstrated the following spring when, having sat out the tour of the Caribbean, he eased back into Test cricket with 210 against New Zealand. But thereafter he struggled to hit the high notes, and that winter's Ashes tour, at the age of 41, proved a tour too far.

David Gower - 1982, 1984-86, and 1989 (age at dismissal: 32)

Record as captain: 32 Tests, 2267 runs at 43.59, six hundreds, HS 215
Post-captaincy: 11 Tests, 848 runs at 53.00, three hundreds, HS 157*

Gower's captaincy zenith came in the summer of 1985, when he scorched the Australians with 732 runs in six Tests - less than 12 months (and one West Indies blackwash) later, he'd been ditched after defeat against India at Lord's. He returned for a second Ashes stint in 1989, but soon wished he hadn't, as Allan Border's ruthlessly focussed Aussies delivered the drubbing of a generation. Thereafter, Gower's career was one of fits and starts, as his successor, Gooch, put a premium on fitness and discipline - neither of which were ever high on Gower's lists of priorities. With the sort of insouciant brilliance that only the most gifted sportsmen can produce, he kept making his case for a permanent recall with a series of charmed innings - a match-saving 157 not out against India that booked his place on the Ashes tour, and a brace of centuries at Melbourne and Sydney that retained it in spite of his infamous japes in a Tiger Moth. He was given just enough time to inch past Geoff Boycott as England's leading run-scorer in 1992 before Gooch's patience ran out for good.

Faisalabad, December 1987: the beginning of the end of Mike Gatting's captaincy © Getty Images

Mike Gatting - 1986 to 1988 (age at dismissal: 31)

Record as captain: 23 Tests, 1542 runs at 44.05, five hundreds, HS 183*
Post-captaincy: 13 Tests, 565 runs at 22.60, one hundred, HS 117

For a handful of seasons in the mid-1980s, the squat and pugnacious Gatting was one of the most in-form players of his generation. He had taken 54 Test innings to reach his first hundred, but then racked up eight more in the next two and a half years - during which time he succeeded Gower as England captain and secured his crowning glory with victory in Australia in 1986-87. But, at Faisalabad the following winter, his run-in with umpire Shakoor Rana signalled the beginning of the end. In June 1988 he was sacked on the trumped-up charge of a dalliance with a barmaid, and, understandably disillusioned, he was ripe for recruitment for the 1989 rebel tour of South Africa. Astonishingly, the selectors turned back to him in 1992-93, as soon as his three-year ban had been lifted, and they even saw fit to send him to Australia in 1994-95. But by then he was well past his prime, even though he retained just enough tenacity to rack up one last hundred, a matchwinning effort in Adelaide in his penultimate Test.

Kevin Pietersen - 2008 (age at dismissal: 28)

Record as captain: three Tests. 262 runs at 52.40, two hundreds, HS 144
Post-captaincy: 59 Tests, 4142 runs at 44.53, eight hundreds, HS 227

It wasn't easy being him. Especially in the immediate aftermath of his sacking as England captain, following his failed putsch against the then-coach Peter Moores in December 2008. Only weeks earlier, amid the peculiar tensions that surrounded the early years of the T20 revolution, KP had been talked up as potentially the most powerful England captain in history, on account of his supernova status in a febrile market. Suddenly, he was a humiliated former leader, reduced to the ranks and forced to realise that his "brand", such as it was, was still inextricably linked to the status that came with international cricket. And so, Pietersen knuckled down to play a critical role in a remarkable England resurgence. Though the ECB would prefer to rewrite that particular draft of history, England surely would not have conquered Australia in 2010-11, or reached No.1 in the world the following summer, without his ability to turn sessions and series in a single innings. That post-2008 truce was not built to last, but it was unmissable while it did.

Andrew Flintoff roared only intermittently in his post-captaincy Test career © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff - 2006-07 (age at dismissal: 29)

Record as captain: 11 Tests, 565 runs at 33.23; 34 wkts at 34.44
Post-captaincy: 12 Tests, 464 runs at 27.29; 29 wkts at 38.00

It wasn't apparent at the time, but Flintoff's first series in charge was also the last hurrah of his three-year golden era. He stepped up at a moment of crisis on the tour of India in 2005-06, following a career-threatening knee injury to Michael Vaughan, and led through force of personality (and a healthy dose of Johnny Cash) to seal an impressive 1-1 series draw with victory in the third Test in Mumbai. But Flintoff's default tactic was to lead from the front, and when that approach failed him, he was bereft of ideas - as he showed at Lord's one match later, when he bowled his dodgy ankle to breaking point with 51 overs in a failed victory push against Sri Lanka. The 2006-07 Ashes were an unmitigated disaster, and Michael Vaughan hobbled back, to universal relief, for the arrival of West Indies the following summer. Flintoff, inevitably, had his moments thereafter - a searing spell against South Africa at Edgbaston, for instance, and of course his Ashes swansong in 2009. But his world-beating best had already been and gone.

Alec Stewart - 1993 and 1998 to 1999 (age at dismissal: 35)

Record as captain: 15 Tests, 1059 runs at 39.22, two hundreds, HS 164
Post-dismissal*: 47 Tests, 2495 runs at 36.15, three hundreds, HS 124*

"The Gaffer" was one of sport's natural sergeant-majors - as England's selectors amply demonstrated back in 1993, when the younger but more officer-class Atherton was appointed as Gooch's successor, despite Stewart having led the team in Gooch's absence on the (admittedly disastrous) tour of India and Sri Lanka the previous winter. When his chance finally came five years later, it was short but notable - encompassing a rare series win against South Africa, another losing tour of Australia, and an ignominious home World Cup campaign that was beset by a wage dispute and finished before it had started. Stewart was ushered aside to make way for Nasser Hussain, and reverted to the role that arguably suited him best - an immaculately professional wicketkeeper-batsman with the fitness and focus to set an England caps record (recently broken by Cook) and bat on into his 40s.

*Includes two Tests as stand-in captain

England captains who didn't rejoin the ranks

Andrew Strauss - retired 2012
Michael Vaughan - retired 2008
Bob Willis - retired 1984
Mike Brearley - retired 1981

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan14801231 on February 9, 2017, 14:39 GMT

    It says only Gooch and Cook Averaged more as a captain , but I guess it's the same case with Pieterson, Gower and Gatting , please correct me if I have understood otherwise.

  • exiledtyke on February 9, 2017, 11:02 GMT

    Surely the classic case is one I.T. Botham? His return to the ranks in 1981 was nothing short of spectacular.

  • OwenEdwards on February 8, 2017, 21:23 GMT

    No Keith Fletcher in the list? ;)

  • liz1558 on February 8, 2017, 19:58 GMT

    Shouldn't Gower's record include the runs scored between 86 and 89 as well? Then his record would be 2000 runs at 45.5 post captaincy.

  • gagan203 on February 8, 2017, 6:50 GMT

    I think Cook will play till 2019 home ashes series..

  • No featured comments at the moment.