A sense of deja vu at Trent Bridge
Almost a year ago to the day at Trent Bridge, Alastair Cook and his bowlers had to endure the frustration of watching No.11 Ashton Agar score a carefree 98 and add 163 with Phillip Hughes, the highest last-wicket stand in Tests. Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar brought back the nightmare with a stand of 111 to deflate England who thought they had done enough to keep India a below-par total. The inability to roll the tail over poses question marks on Cook's captaincy, writes Andy Wilson in the Guardian.
Even worse for Cook, this Indian reprise came in the context of the debate over his captaincy. So why did he remove Ben Stokes from the attack, even though Stokes had taken two wickets from the Pavilion end, and turn immediately to Liam Plunkett's brave but futile attempt at Bodyline from around the wicket? Why didn't he turn earlier to Moeen Ali's off-spin? Or even to Sam Robson's rarely seen leggies?
England's bowlers tried conventional means to get rid of the tail, which wasn't the worst strategy, but England needed real pace or ripping spin to dislodge them. Cook had neither, writes Simon Hughes in the Telegraph.
That would have been the cue for Graeme Swann in past summers. Seventy-three of his 255 Test wickets were tail-enders, at 11 runs apiece. Without him, England reverted to Jimmy Anderson trying yorkers and Plunkett going round the wicket and aiming at the body. The combination of the pitch and the resolution of the batsmen neutered both.
In the same paper, Scyld Berry looks at Cook's downward spiral as a batsman since taking over the captaincy and observes that the malaise has affected England's recent Test captains, including Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss.
Since that last Test century at Headingley against New Zealand, Cook has had 25 innings, not passed 72, and averaged 24. The sample of modern England captains is far too small to be statistically significant, but he will have to defy recent precedent if his batting is to flourish again without returning to the ranks.
In the Daily Mail, Nasser Hussain writes that it's not fair to blame Cook entirely for England's situation, for the selectors were asking for it by not picking a specialist spinner.
Yes, you could quibble about the balance of this England side, with Ben Stokes as low down as No 8, and no front-line spinner -- but that's only partly Cook's fault. The selectors have to take responsibility too. And this desperately sluggish Trent Bridge surface definitely isn't anything to do with the captain.