LONDON (Reuters) - Alastair Cook admits England stagnated on his watch but believes that with the shackles of captaincy released he can lead from the front and help revive the team’s fortunes.
Still only a boyish-looking 32, Cook resembled a man with a weight lifted off his shoulders at Lord’s HQ on Tuesday, a day after ending his four-and-a-half year reign as skipper.
The opening batsman’s 11,057 test runs is an English record but the prolific scoring of his early international career has slowed during a record 59 matches in charge.
While seven of his 30 centuries arrived in the first 11 of his 140 tests, he has scored only five in his last 48 as the baggage that comes with the role weighed heavily.
So while he admitted sadness at relinquishing his post, he believes a change of captain can rejuvenate an England side that lost eight of 17 tests in 2016, and his own form.
“Over the last 12 months, we’ve won some good games of cricket, we’ve also lost a number of games. I felt the team needed a push in a different direction,” Cook told reporters.
“I think hearing a new voice could help.”
“It’s not an obituary though,” Cook, whose highlights in charge included two home Ashes series wins in 2013 and 2015 and a first away triumph in India for 28 years in 2012, added.
“I really hope I am here in four or five years’ time because it means I’ve scored some runs and England are doing well.”
Yorkshireman Joe Root is favourite to take over and with a home series against South Africa and Ashes tour in Australia looming, an in-form Cook would be a fillip.
“I have churned out runs most of my career,” Cook said. “I‘m excited to go back into the ranks and play with different pressure. There are huge talents in that dressing room and I hope to be still part of it and be able to lead in a slightly different way. I‘m still excited by that.”
Cook said he knew when he flew home from India in December after 4-0 series defeat that his time as captain was up.
“You need 100 percent commitment to drive the team forward. Looking in the mirror at the end of India, I felt I couldn’t do that. Ninety five percent isn’t good enough.”
While there were plenty of highlights during Cook’s tenure and his record of 24 wins in 59 tests was acceptable, if not spectacular, there were dark moments.
He came close to quitting in 2014 following a tumultuous period in which England lost an away Ashes series 5-0, his form suffered and maverick Kevin Pietersen’s acrimonious departure left Cook and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) under a cloud.
Pietersen was axed from the squad in 2014 with England director of cricket Andrew Strauss citing a “massive trust issue”.
“I do wish it was done differently. Obviously I was part of the team that made that decision (about Pietersen),” Cook, who was accused by Pietersen of being a “company man”, said.
“There were certain times in 2014 when it did feel as if I was the only one who made that decision. I did bear the brunt of it and my wife saw a lot of it. Without her and her family and my family I would not have lasted as long as I did.”
Cook said a turning point came in the second test against India in 2014 having lost the first test at Lord‘s.
“The reception I got at Southampton in 2014 when things were as tough as it got, that was a special moment that kept me in the job,” he said of the win in which he scored 95 and 70.
If Root, as expected, does replace him, Cook is confident he would cope with the added burden.
“He would do a very good job. He obviously has something about him to bat the way he does,” he said. “He has a huge amount of respect in the dressing room.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis