Alastair Cook goes home on Monday looking forward to "seeing a few sheep" but with important decisions to make about the future direction of the England team. A gut-wrenching final-over defeat by five runs yesterday completed a miserable tour for Cook, who won just one match in 10 against Australia and saw his reputation as England captain severely dented. He will survive as captain and be handed the authority by his England and Wales Cricket Board bosses, along with team director Andy Flower, to make changes with the future of Kevin Pietersen top of the list of decisions he has to make.
Early next week England will name their squad for the short tour to the West Indies, a dry run for the World T20 in Bangladesh in March, and if Pietersen does not feature then his international career will almost certainly be over. Cook has already held preliminary discussions with Paul Downton, the new managing director of cricket, but the detailed planning will start only once Cook has returned home. There have been vague references to a "new era" and deciding if Pietersen fits into those plans will be the most controversial and important decision as England begin the process of rebuilding for the 2015 Ashes series.
"Over the next week or so I will meet up with him [Andy Flower] personally and plan our way forward," said Cook. "We made it quite clear [at the end of the Ashes series] we had to concentrate on this one-day series and wait until I get home. I had a couple of talks with him [Downton] when he was over here in the New Year period but they were as much getting to know him and seeing what his ideas are as such. It was more sitting down to get to hear his ideas and him hearing mine."
Cook will seek solace on the sheep farm owned by his wife's family and is due to become a father for the first time in March as cricket takes a back seat after a gruelling tour. He will not go to the West Indies as he is not part of the Twenty20 side, giving him time to recharge and work on his batting, which has suffered from the burdens of captaincy over the past six months. Stuart Broad takes over the running of the side today as Twenty20 captain and is likely to share the job with Eoin Morgan in the West Indies, where England play three 50-over matches and three Twenty20s.
"It has been a challenging tour for me. It has been really tough," said Cook. "I am not exhausted but I will look forward to putting the pads away for a couple of weeks but you know that hunger will come back quickly." The absence of a player with Pietersen's talent and experience on a slow pitch which deceived most players was keenly felt as England's batsmen threw away a winning position and Michael Clarke's side held their nerve to deliver victory on Australia Day. With 55 required, England had six wickets in hand and Joe Root and Eoin Morgan seemed to be coasting towards victory. But Morgan mistimed a drive to mid-off and Joe Root was caught at short fine-leg for 55 off 86 balls trying a scoop shot as James Faulkner struck twice in a batting Powerplay that turned the match.
A moment of controversy summed up England's tour when Ravi Bopara was given out stumped with nine runs needed. Bopara was beaten by a delivery from seamer Clint McKay which ricocheted out of the gloves of keeper Matthew Wade, who had been told to stand up to the stumps by his captain, and dislodged the bails. The replays showed Bopara's foot momentarily off the ground as the ball hit the bails but it was a close call and Cook felt the benefit of the doubt should have gone to the batsman.
"I thought the law said the bails had to leave both grooves and looking at the TV screen I thought there was enough doubt for it not to be given out," said Cook. With the last recognised batsman out, the final pair of James Tredwell and Chris Jordan had to make eight off the final over. Tredwell fell to the third ball swishing wildly at a delivery from Shane Watson as Australia sealed a win which took them back to the top of the one-day world rankings. Once again England's bowlers were let down by the batsmen. Broad had shown pace and discipline to take three for 31, bowling dangerman Aaron Finch after he was twice dropped in the opening overs, dismissing Watson lbw playing across his pad, then returning to the attack to bowl Wade around his legs just when the wicketkeeper looked to accelerate in the final overs.
Jordan took two for 37, with two wickets in his final over just reward for his best bowling performance of the series. Ben Stokes proved yet again he has a golden arm, twice taking a wicket in the first over of a spell and backing up his good performance at the Waca with three for 43 here as only George Bailey showed the patience necessary to score runs on the sluggish surface.
Cook and Root appeared to be mastering England's run chase after the early loss of Ian Bell and Stokes, who misjudged the pace of the surface and was out hooking. Root looked refreshed after missing the last two games and reached his fifty with a six while Morgan was the only batsman all day to look dangerous playing down the ground but it proved just to be one final false dawn on Cook's tour to Australia.