England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl July 24, 2014

Cook's lonely battle to survive


West End, a village to the north-east of Southampton and home to the Ageas Bowl, is a bit of a ghost town nowadays. Southampton is a university town, full of students. The students have all gone back home for the summer break. For those left behind it has simply been too hot to venture out. It has not been raining yet, it has been humid because of the proximity to the sea, and temperatures have been touching early 30s over the last week or so. You will struggle to find people outside in the afternoon.

No matter how sleepy the environs might be, those interested in England cricket can feel the importance of the coming weekend for one man and his team. It hangs there like the humidity.

England are one match down in a series of five. The captain Alastair Cook, the basket in which England cricket chose to put all its eggs, has hardly scored a run. The seniors have been letting down the newcomers. Some have called Cook's refusal to give up captaincy defiance and even a cry for help - "I am not going until I feel a tap on my shoulder"; some call it denial and possibly arrogance. If England lose the series, Cook will most likely have to go. There are other careers hanging in the balance, too.

It was mildly surprising then that three days before the Test India were the only team training. It can sometimes pay to go away from the cricket and come back refreshed, but three days away from it would have been a bit much. Around the time India were leaving, at around 4.30pm, in came Alastair Cook, wearing shorts that seemed too loose, falling off his waist. There are bigger things he needs to get a grip on right now.

Cook went up to the England dressing room, and soon coach Peter Moores followed. By now it was only Cook, Moores and a few groundsmen in the ground. Minutes later they asked Nigel Gray, the head groundsman, to join them. A chat was had after which Gray proceeded to water the pitch, which looks green but not as green as the one at Lord's, and the captain-coach duo went to a net at the edge of the square.

A lady of Indian origin, who had been there for India nets and had seemed pretty pleased with how England had been beaten at Lord's, said "good luck Alastair" as Cook walked towards the ground, now dressed in England training kit, with helmet and pads on. "Thanks," said Cook. "I feel sad for him," she said after Cook had left. That glee of having seen England lose had gone. Further endorsement to the belief that Cook is a decent allround bloke.

The next week, though, is not about being decent. It is one of the most important weeks of Cook's career. And he is not taking it lightly. Much like they were on the Lord's balcony about three hours after the defeat, Cook and Moores were working at things again. Cook at least has thousands of runs to go by, Moores might not have a leg to stand on should they lose here and concede an unassailable lead. The two went out, did not take a look at the pitch, and headed straight to the net. A few gentle throwdowns from 15 yards were followed by proper ones from the Sidearm from a full pitch length.

There was a moment of concern in the first few minutes of the session. Moores walked towards Cook, and they both looked at his finger for what seemed like two minutes. Cook then strapped the glove back on, and went into a long session.

The lady who wished Cook luck left soon. The groundsmen followed not much after. Two men fighting to save their careers continued preparing alone in a desolate ground in a desolate town. Two men who are supposed to have preferred fit-in culture to misfit match-winners.

One of those misfits, a possible match-winner, Michael Carberry, was here earlier in the day, practising with his Hampshire team-mates, after which he did a photoshoot in whites. Those were not the England slightly-blue whites, though. Times are desperate for England, but it is difficult to see how Carberry will get another chance.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 26, 2014, 9:12 GMT

    Funny picture - mores bowling to Cook. If Al can handle him, it proves little, and if he can proves a great deal. Perhaps aking Broad, Anderson et al to bowl at him might give hime better practice.

  • Greg on July 26, 2014, 8:13 GMT

    First-hand observation, insight, empathy, the strange contradiction of desperately wanting to beat someone who you, on a personal level, you would quite like to see succeed; you capture it all. What a super bit of writing.

  • John on July 25, 2014, 22:50 GMT

    Whether Cook's work will pay off depends entirely on what he is working on. If he's getting into position earlier so that he has more time to play his shots, then I expect to see him make runs before long. If he's still got his front foot in the air when the bowler delivers, puts it down and then tries to get into position, he's going to keep failing. Watch his feet and you'll know from the first ball which way it's going.

    I don't think his batting has much to do with his captaincy, which I thought improved in the last game after a poor first morning. England's batting problems are more to do with the fact that in the 4 tests England have played this Summer only he and Bell have failed to score a hundred and Cook himself has failed to reach 30. That means a poor start to every innings and it's hard for any side to overcome that. If he and Bell start making the runs expected of them, the young guys have shown that they're good enough.

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2014, 20:58 GMT

    No one doubts Cook is a nice bloke. But no England supporter thinks 7 losses and 2 draws in the last 9 tests is acceptable. I don't know what the problem is (or problems are). Burn out from too much cricket? Post Mitch shell shock? Might explain the collapse against the short ball and the fact that the seniors are all out of form. Thee senior batsmen (Cook and Bell) aren't scoring, and the senior bowlers (Anderson and Broad) keep bowling short wide rubbish, which is why opposition tails score so heavily. Something needs to change or results will continue to slide. Broad needs to rest his injury, and Anderson just needs a rest. England also score too slowly (the current team scores at about 2.5 an over, rather than the 3.7 or so of 2005). There's no entertainment and no success. Crowds will soon start to leave if this continues.

  • Sudhakar on July 25, 2014, 17:34 GMT

    @Vicky_Maly: Pujara is certainly not in poor form. He played a crucial role on that first morning that made a *huge* difference in the context of the game. He was on song in the second innings, but lost it just about. Dhawan was looking wonderful in the second before he was brilliantly caught by Root. The fact that India has not been defeated despite no big scores from Pujara/Kohli and Dhawan is testimony to India's resolve. Even if they lose the remaining 3 Tests, Indian fans will still cherish the memories of their win at Lords!

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2014, 17:10 GMT

    maybe England can open with Moeen Ali , he has opened in fc matches for Worcs , and Cook can bat .. on number , Cook would be more comfortable when the ball will get older and get rid of swing bowling , it will be good for his confidence

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    Cook is a nice bloke. I hope that the captaincy burden is taken off him and he scores some runs in the remainder of the series, and India still wins the series! Wishes from an Indian fan to a gentleman cricketer

  • raj on July 25, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    Totally agree with opto_pus on (July 25, 2014, 10:59 GMT) - India need to go for the throat. If there is ever a time to go for the kill, it is now!! Aaron, Pankaj or Pandey for Binny. But knowing India, they will try and protect a one game advantage by replacing Binny with Rohit or not making a change, at all!!

  • ESPN on July 25, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    @Jeff. Great insight ha ha. Spot on too.

  • raj on July 25, 2014, 11:54 GMT

    Has Cook lost the support of his team? They all seemed pretty together (a team) when ousting Pietersen. BUT now there seems to be a rift within the team even if the word is not getting out. The England players look unmotivated and disinterested (similar to what Pietersen was accused of). Broad knows that he is next in line for captaincy!!

  • No featured comments at the moment.