England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl July 26, 2014

Cook strives to answer England prayers


Play 03:56
'We're not in a position to rotate' - Cook

There has never been a Sunday start to a Test in England, but the administrators have missed a trick by not following the old custom in one-day cricket of delaying the start until the afternoon so everybody had chance to go to church. Alastair Cook, a former chorister at St Paul's, presumably still knows his ways around the aisles and might wonder if there is such a thing in the Church of England as payback time. If there is, he needs it now.

This increasingly feels part Test series, part Shakespearean tragedy and, should that feeling persist over the next five days, it does not augur well for Cook. It is normally in Act III where the central character with many virtues begins to suffer for the flaws in his character, such as indecision, ambition or the failure to set a third man. If he does not somehow turn the third Test in his favour, it could become messy.

That being so, this is no time for squad rotation. It is one thing to talk entirely logically about rotating your crop of fast bowlers to survive the insanity of seven Tests in little over two months. It is quite another to do it when you are 1-0 down with three Tests to play, when a run of 10 Tests without victory represents the worst for 20 years, and when England's cricket media, and indeed much of the public, is on your back. Short-term thinking is the only way to go.

Looked at in isolation, fast-bowler rotation would mean there was a strong case for Stuart Broad to stand down at the Ageas Bowl. The rest would enhance his chances of managing the tendinitis in his knee and getting through the summer. And his presence in the next Test at Old Trafford will become even more important if, as is quite probable, James Anderson suffers a ban when the ICC disciplinary panel sits in judgment on his Level 3 charge on August 1, after his spat with Ravindra Jadeja at Trent Bridge.

But Cook was admirably honest about the position England find themselves in. When you have the third most successful fast-bowling combination in Test history - their shared-wickets tally outdone only by Ambrose and Walsh and Wasim and Waqar (fourth if you include Pollock and Kallis) - you do not voluntarily split the partnership in a match that could define your captaincy unless you have an overpowering reason to do so. Especially when the Ageas Bowl has a reputation as one of the fastest, bounciest surfaces in England.

"We are not in a position to rotate because we are not winning games of cricket, so we are picking the best XI to do that," Cook said. "Clearly with the workloads the lads have had in the four Test matches, we are starting to see more thoughts of it because we are slightly into unknown territory.

"We will do what we always do, which is to pick what we think is the best team and put all the circumstances into it - fatigue and all that kind of stuff. It is largely a physical thing. Each individual bowler will pull up fairly differently. But we are picking the XI that we think this week will be the best to win."

He was adamant that "Stuart Broad is fit enough to play this game". As for Anderson, any fears that his mind might be more on his ICC appeal than the Test would be groundless. Anderson has finished both the Headingley and Lord's Tests, against Sri Lanka and India, distraught at England's defeats. The charge hanging over him just makes him want to play all the more.

"It is obviously a distraction with that looming but he is a very senior, experienced guy who is hurting a lot," Cook said.

Chris Jordan, whose recent Championship performance for Sussex against Warwickshire countered the belief that he was stuck in one-day mode in the Sri Lanka Test series, has a strong case for a recall. Perhaps Ben Stokes' blistered feet will be hurting (his abysmal batting run hardly helps his case) or Liam Plunkett might be held to be feeling the pace. It is hard to see how England can turn to Chris Woakes, so unproven, with the series at such a critical point - but if Plunkett is leggy, Woakes may also find a place.

It is by no means impossible for Cook to turn the summer in his favour. His integrity and sense of duty should need no underlining. The former England captains, and others, who increasingly feel it is in the best interests of both England and Cook for him to step down, do so with considerable respect and would love to see him prove them wrong. Kevin Pietersen, the latest former England captain to call for his resignation, might feel more slighted, but by now he is just one more voice, the easiest opinion of all for Cook to shrug off.

With each Test that England lose, the same questions grow in potency - and, for that matter, predictability. "I am desperate to carry on because I love being England captain," Cook said. "It is a huge honour.

"We know what we are at the start of. It is bubbling under but the longer it goes without a win it becomes harder and harder. I just have to stay true to myself and realise how good it will be if I can get through this as a person, as a player, as a leader, and take huge strides from it. If I don't get through it, it is what it is.

"I am putting in the hard yards. Sometimes you feel as if you are not getting the rewards. But that's why it's called Test cricket. Nothing will give me more satisfaction than scoring runs because I will know how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into it."

The summer has sharpened his taste for black humour. He praised the coaching staff and his team mates for their unity, and remains grateful for their support. "I think so, yes - unless they are lying to my face," he said. It was a neat, and essentially lighthearted, reminder of human nature. It was not yet a disguised cry for help - although somebody will probably wonder whether it was.

He has not made a Test fifty in 2014, during which time he averages 14.33, but sustaining him is the memory of a previous low spot in his career when he could not buy a run and was on the verge of being dropped. He felt in a much worse place in 2010 then he does now. "Sod it," he said, and went out against Pakistan at The Oval with a desire to hit the ball.

"I went in to bat that day thinking 'I am going to be dropped anyway, I might as well play my way'. Think my first ball of that day against Pakistan was an awayswinger from Mohammad Amir which I hit through midwicket for four. I had a little bit of luck, a couple of nicks went through slips, and then a bloke threw it over the keeper's head for me to get a hundred."

A career is again on the line. There is a lot of work to do before he gets into the realms of possible India overthrows. But this is not a good time for England captaincy changes - not in Test cricket at any rate. English cricket will be so much better off if he makes it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy on July 27, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    If it is the best 11 how come he is in the team. I dont think he would be in even best 100.

  • stephen on July 27, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    Cook is not getting runs ,he is not worth his place in the team never mind the captaincy, we certainly cannot afford passengers the team should be selected on current form not past reputations

  • Rue on July 27, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    Let's stick with the best bowlers to win the test? They haven't won a test in the last ten! why are they the best bowlers for the job regardless of records, they have not performed well enough to win matches. Leave Stokes alone his batting will come good.

  • Henry on July 27, 2014, 6:21 GMT

    *Alastair, sorry about the typo.

    I probably agree with the author about not changing the captain mid series. Then again, I can't disagree with English supporters who want an immediate change. Happy to sit on the fence in this case.

    I'll also give into some speculation. If Cook was never made captain in the first instance, the poor guy probably would have crossed 9000 runs by now...

  • Henry on July 27, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    The recent articles about Alistair Cook, the English system, their penchant for data analyses etc has me a little confused.

    If England based all decisions on the results of such analyses, shouldn't one very important factor have been identified from the onset?

    I refer in particular to the psycho-analyses of players. I can only assume that if these tests were robust, they would have identified Cook's intrinsic qualities, personality type etc as being unsuited for leadership?

    Yes, these aren't exact sciences, which then begs the question, why bother with them in the first place?

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    england has to play a much better game if they have to win a test in this series. the possibility of england winning this series is out of question because even in dream it is not possible to visualize this england team winning 2 tests out of the 3 remaining tests in this series, and the only question now is whether they can win one test and try to draw the series. and to draw this series england may have to try their best effort ever, because none of their batsman look confident, and their bowlers waste almost every ball by bowling it short pitch and bad line. bowling so many useless short pitched deliveries and bouncers, giving so many byes, so many runs in the 3rd man area - every aspect cook is not doing captaincy properly.

  • Paulo on July 27, 2014, 5:56 GMT

    @Arun Bose. Thanks. What do you think about Cook and bowler rotation?

    I think India should seriously consider bowler rotation as well. Your bowlers haven't played a normally scheduled 5 match series, let alone a ludicrously scheduled series in 40 odd days. Especially when your bowlers are so young and precious likely Kumar. And unlike England you guys actually have a half decent chance of winning the world cup (well more than decent actually. I think you guys will win it).

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    Actually, it's more like a mere 300 overs a year they bowl. That's nothing.

  • vas on July 27, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    In both the tests England had chances to win the match. All they need to do is bat sensibly. Stokes' batting is yet to click. So the only change I expect is Jordan for Stokes. Will Bell and Cook find form?

  • Dummy4 on July 27, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    Rotation? Get on with it! These centrally contracted bowlers don't bowl enough in a season, let alone too much! If broad for example has problems through bowling 400 overs a year, something is wrong with the mountain of advisors, physios, fitness coaches etc that hang on the the Engkand camp tails.

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