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July 21, 2014
'Prior is England's best keeper' - Cook
Alastair Cook, England's beleaguered captain, reiterated his desire to stay in the job after defeat to India at Lord's extended the team's winless run to 10 matches.
Cook's own run of poor form has coincided with England's downturn and he has not scored a century in more than a year but he received a sympathetic hand from the Lord's crowd as he said he would not be giving up the captaincy in order to lighten the burden. England trail 1-0 in the five-match series, with the third Test set to begin in Southampton on Sunday.
"It gets harder and harder the more we don't win and it all heaps on me at the end of the day," he said. "Until I get that tap on the shoulder saying 'We don't want you to be captain' I'm desperate to turn things around for England. If I'm not good enough at the end of the summer, then so be it. I'm trying my heart out to do this but I need to score runs and we need to start winning. I'm here as long as they want me.
"I've got an inner steel, which I've got to keep drawing on. First of all I've got to start scoring runs, a lot of things can change quickly from there. I hit the ball better here. I've got to back myself that a score will come. The recent past hasn't been kind to me but we have won games with me as captain and I've won a lot of one-day games as well. It's a team game, I'm fronting up and I hope the lads in the dressing room will as well."
Moores also offered Cook his supporting, describing him as "the right man" to lead England.
"He is not hiding," Moores said. "He knows he has been under pressure for a long time, in Australia and now. The first thing he is doing is starting to hit the ball better. He knows it is tough up here. Often under pressure he is at his best. He has said quite clearly he wants to carry on. He is up for the challenge. I think he is the right man for the job, I really do. It is a new team. We have to learn and improve quickly. We are getting match-winning moments and we are not taking them."
Cook credited India for outplaying his side, as they overcame losing the toss and slipping to 145 for 7 on the first day to record their first win in an overseas Test for more than three years. Despite a second Test hundred for Gary Ballance, which helped England earn a slim first-innings lead, and an encouraging stand between Joe Root and Moeen Ali to resurrect the second innings, they fell away dramatically on the final afternoon.
"It's definitely an issue of confidence and getting over the finish line," Cook said. "There's a group of players in there who are desperate to win for England. We haven't won for a long time and the longer that builds up it's going to take a serious performance from a couple of players to drag us over the line. We're not getting that at the moment. It will take a lot of determination to turn this around. The lads are hurting in the dressing room, we've got a few days off to go home and recover and then we'll come back to Southampton.
"A lot of the standout performances have been by the younger players, which is great the way they're handling Test cricket. The older guys aren't playing as well as their records suggest and that's hurting us. To win games of cricket we need at least nine or ten people playing really well. It's not happening for those guys at the moment, they've got to look at themselves. I've got to start scoring runs as well, that can only happen with a lot of hard work."
As well as the struggles of Cook and Prior, England's other senior players, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, have failed to live up to their usual standards and Moores admitted it was something the selectors would have to look at.
"International cricket is about tough decisions," Moores said. "We will scrub ourselves down here and at selection tomorrow we will sit down and talk about what we think is the best England team to go forward. It is meant to be a tough environment and you are meant to look at things critically and decide if you have got the right combinations.
"We are at the end of a cycle, we have a lot of new players coming in and a lot of new players have done really well. Gary Ballance has had a fantastic Test. Joe Root's innings today was full of character. They are going to be part of the future.
"I knew it was going to be tough because the last time I came in we had lost some players. If you asked me if I thought it would be the senior players who were trying to find form and the younger players firing, I wouldn't have thought it would be that way round but it is what it is. This is a five-Test series."
Cook also gave what turned out to be premature backing to Matt Prior as "the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the country" after another difficult Test.
That loyalty proved to be in vain. Soon afterwards Prior chose to stand down for the rest of the summer because of his persistent Achilles trouble after assessing his performances with England's coaching and medical staff.
Prior made just 12 in England's second innings, as a post-lunch collapse of 5 for 25 sealed a seventh loss in the last nine Tests, following a performance with the gloves that saw him ship 36 byes. Prior was brought back into the side at the start of the summer after being dropped during the Ashes but has struggled with his fitness and managed just one fifty in four Tests.
"It's all up to Matt. He wants to carry on playing for England," Cook said before realisation dawned that he had lost his loyal deputy and go-to-man in the field. "He's got a serious amount of talent, he's been a fantastic player for England," Cook said. "It's all in the mind and he's desperate to keep on playing and wants to turn this around. He's got a place because at the moment I think he's the best wicketkeeper batsman in the country. He has to keep proving it but his record in the past suggests that.
"There were some tough takes there as well, Lord's has the ability to make a keeper look silly at some stage, so a lot of that wasn't his own fault, but he's a fighter and we want people like that in the dressing room."
Peter Moores, England's head coach, had been more cautious about the outcome. He suggested that Prior's injuries - he struggled with an Achilles problem before the Sri Lanka series and was doubtful with a tight thigh for the first India Test - may have hampered his keeping.
"The medics are going to have a look at him," Moores said. "I think he had a really tough first innings with the gloves. Credit to him, he dusted himself down and came back much stronger second innings. He has had his issues physically, we know that. We now have to assess that he is ready to go and do a good job for England."
This story was updated at 2115 BST after news that Matt Prior would miss the rest of the series because of Achilles toruble
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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