Shastri wants India to 'go for' Cook
Ravi Shastri has said that India should relish the difficult situation England find themselves in heading into the Investec series with their captain, Alastair Cook, under increasing pressure due to a combination of his poor form and further defeats for the team.
Cook has not scored a Test hundred for 24 innings and England will enter the five-match India series, which starts at Trent Bridge next Wednesday, on the back of a 1-0 loss to Sri Lanka. He has faced a barrage of criticism - not least from Shane Warne - and there is now a very vocal debate about whether he should continue as captain.
Shastri, never afraid to back India, wants the visitors to "go for" Cook at the earliest opportunity to try and prevent him gaining a foothold against a side he averages 55.26 when facing.
"If you have the leader under pressure always go for him. You need to get stuck in. You have to make the game as tough as you can," Shastri said at the series launch. "As an India player they will want this debate to continue."
He drew comparisons with India's 1986 tour of England - where they secured the second of their three series victories in country - which began with David Gower under scrutiny as captain; he was then sacked after defeat in the opening Test at Lord's. "With David Gower, all we said was don't let him get runs in the first Test and let the pressure build. He lost the captaincy, India won the series," Shastri said.
He believes that England need to decide whether they want to make the most of Cook as a batsman, saying he "is not a natural captain".
"Cook is mentally very tough. He'll break all records for England," he said. "The question is do you want a captain in Cook who is not playing freely or do you want Cook playing freely as a batsman? That is what happened to Sachin Tendulkar. As captain he felt the pressure was getting to his batting and it was taken away."
Cook's team-mates remain convinced that the captaincy and his lack of runs do not go hand-in-hand although Stuart Broad acknowledged that when a player is struggling for form, light at the end of the tunnel can be difficult to see.
"I don't think the captaincy will cause him too much pressure over a long period of time," Broad said. "When you aren't scoring runs or taking wickets you expect a certain amount of flak, and that won't change until he scores a hundred. Cooky knows that. Winning Tests will help with his captaincy, but even if we are winning and he's not scoring hundreds he'll still be getting a certain amount of stick. He's honest. He's just a score away. But when you are in that hole it does seem a long way away."
When asked if he would be keen for the Test leadership - should the captaincy be taken away from Cook or he decided to give up the role - Broad was reticent and said it was a job better suited to a batsman.
"As a fast bowler I think captaincy is tough in the longer format. I think Test captaincy is more suited to batsmen who can admire the game, get a feel for game and I certainly think Cooky is the right man for the job now."
One of the main criticisms levelled at Cook during the Headingley Test against Sri Lanka was his use of Moeen Ali, especially on the fourth day as Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath extended their match-winning partnership. Despite removing Kumar Sangakkara and Lahiru Thirimanne on the third evening, Moeen was not given a bowl at Herath - the No. 9 and another left hander - until the partnership was well established and Broad appeared to suggest more faith should be shown in the offspinner.
"I think Mo gets good revs on the ball and will gain a lot of confidence from the hundred [in England's second innings]. We have to throw him ball and let him go. He showed what he can do with the Sangakkara and Thirimanne wickets, that was Swann-like. He has a huge amount of talent.
"In the Sri Lanka series, the Lord's pitch had nothing in it for the spinner, so I can understand him not bowling many overs there but maybe he could have bowled more at Headingley. I think we'll see him bowl more and more during the summer."
Still, the onus will be on England's quicks to do the bulk of the work, which is likely to be an onerous task with five Tests spread over just seven weeks. There has been a suggestion that England's pacemen could be rotated but Broad, who has to manage his ongoing knee problem, prefers another option.
"It's the worst phonecall you can get, that you aren't playing the next game for England," he said. "If India score 400-500 each time the bowlers will be knackered so the ball is in our court. If we bowl them out cheaply we can keep playing."
All eyes, though, will still be on Cook.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo