How is Cook getting the flavour right?

How is it that Alastair Cook has, after all his time as captain, suddenly got the clue? No, I am not being sarcastic. Now, without consulting anyone from the dressing room, via his vice-captain Joe Root, to the dumbest man in the side — your choice, I could not possibly comment — he is making the right calls.

Alastair Cook celebrates after winning the Ashes.   -  REUTERS

More questions than answers. It is often the case when a series or a season comes to an end. Particularly where England cricket is rising or falling but, as we shall see, in many other sports too,

The great puzzle for athletics fans at the moment is: Are all these guys on drugs or are some cleverer in covering up their deception than others?

We worried about that all the way through the World Championships in Beijing but after Usain Bolt won both the big sprint titles and that charming British runner from Mogadishu Mo Farah took the two distance crowns we concentrated on a single question.

Where would athletics stand if either of these two great athletes were exposed as drug cheats? Oh, please say it cannot happen. These two charmers win, they smile, they chatter, they pose, they carry their country’s flag with pride; heavens above, they appear to be special, honest, clean runners.

Yet such is the atmosphere created within their sport, everyone who watches still has the lingering doubt. It is the greatest legacy left by the cheats; they have turned us all into sceptical, doubting witnesses to the death of a sport that died 4,000 years ago because the ancient Greek runners, jumpers, throwers and wrestlers could not resist the temptation to cheat.

Now the culture of drug taking is so prevalent that there are almost two sections to the world, the student and the Olympic Games. On the one side all in white like the good cowboys are the straight guys; on the other side in deep black are the cheats.

Of course, in an ideal world the cheats would be cast into outer darkness, damned and forgotten. But the authorities, fearful of being sued and so bankrupted, dare not commit to a policy which outlaws the cheats for life. So they ban young men and women for two years and then allow them back into the highest level of their games.

It’s sad and perhaps Seb Coe, newly made the boss of world athletics, will find a way to change the expectation that a life ban can be operated.

More questions of a different kind surround the England cricket team. Well done, lads, winning back the Ashes, looking like a team, playing with style and determination against those stylish, determined Aussies and at times outthinking them and finding a way to bowl to each batsman and setting fields that frustrated them to the point of fury so that they soon got themselves out.

Well done Joe Root, a grinning, elegant batsman who may one day stand alongside Sachin Tendulkar with an avalanche of runs behind him; provided he is not made captain too soon, provided the media do not get under his skin, provided there is no guilty secret that soils his image.

Well done, too, to Stuart Broad, looking like a testing all-rounder at last, bowling with purpose, forgetting to lose his temper each time an appeal is refused, concentrating hard when he bats and promising to be a Bedser-Tate-Barnes medium pacer.

There is nothing to cause shame in bowling a little slower, to pitching the ball off stump, to allowing the odd four in order to tempt a batsman to edge a ball to second slip; and now Broad, who set off to be a rip-roaring, 6ft 6in terror, has realised where his future lies, to be a match-winner rather than potentially a Test star.

I love watching him, bounding to the wicket like a gazelle, releasing the ball from his full height and causing panic; long may he reign, perhaps to be the greatest of all England wicket takers. He is still young, or at least young enough to bowl on, as Glenn McGrath bowled on, towards his 40th birthday.

How many wickets would that bring? My mother used to watch Sydney Barnes when he was well beyond 40, pitching the ball slowly but precisely and far too good for those club players in Bradford, Lancashire and the Midlands. “We always knew we would lose if Barnes was playing,” she used to tell me long after he died.

Keep going Stuart; there are plenty of victims waiting still. Barnes would be proud of you.

Finally there is the biggest mystery of all with its temptation to call in Sherlock Holmes, who rarely touches on cricket, for a credible solution.

How is it that Alastair Cook has, after all his time as captain, suddenly got the clue? No, I am not being sarcastic. Now, without consulting anyone from the dressing room, via his vice-captain Joe Root, to the dumbest man in the side — your choice, I could not possibly comment — he is making the right calls.

Is it luck? Is it a divine voice from the gods discernible only to him? Heaven alone knows but it is true. Until his long break from the game our Alastair got most things wrong. I know a small, neat home on the outskirts of Leeds where a former England captain must have been hitting his head against the living room wall.

Suddenly, all that has changed. Cook finds a problem, thinks for an over and comes to the right conclusion, England win. Great.

All I want to know is what book he read, who he found to answer the right questions. No one can give me an answer and so long as the new Cook is chief chef it doesn’t matter.

It is still the biggest turn-around of the year and I would love to know how it came about.