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July 26, 2014
'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.
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