England v India, 3rd ODI, Trent Bridge August 30, 2014

Cook a lead weight for England's World Cup chances

England's much-derided formula for one-day cricket is being further undermined by the form of their captain. Maybe it is time Alastair Cook decided to stand down
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Cook: Batsmen need to regain confidence

Sometimes the greatest act of leadership is knowing when to stand down. So, just as Nasser Hussain's selfless decision to retire from Test cricket in May 2004 - a weaker man might have allowed the prospect of a 100th Test cap to urge him into another series - helped set the foundations for England's Ashes success the following year, so the greatest contribution Alastair Cook could make to England's ODI plans would be step down from the captaincy now.

Defeat in this match was inevitable long before the end of the first innings. It was inevitable once England scored just one boundary between the fourth ball of the 18th over and the second of the 44th. It was inevitable once it became apparent that Trent Bridge had, once again, prepared a slow, turning wicket that did the home team no favours. And it was inevitable once an England team without a spinner considered first choice by their county's Championship side, lost six wickets for 122 runs against 30 overs of spin from India's bowlers.

It is not that their strategy is necessarily wrong. England showed in the run-up to the Champions Trophy that their much-derided batting method of preserving wickets and accelerating towards the end of the innings can work. They were No. 1 in the ODI rankings in 2012 and went within an ace of winning their first global ODI event last year.

And, for all the talk of picking younger, more aggressive players, the likes of James Vince, Alex Hales and James Taylor, who constituted part of the England Lions team in the recent tri-series tournament against their Sri Lanka and New Zealand counterparts, it is worth remembering that, in two of the four games they played, they were reduced to 43 for 4 and 48 for 4. They lost both as a consequence. Having at least one solid player in the top three makes sense for England.

The problem is more England's execution of their plan. If they are going to pursue a strategy based around one of the top three batting through their overs, one of the top three is going to have start doing that. In the absence of Jonathan Trott, who along with Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann, remains a huge loss to the ODI side, England have nobody doing the job nearly often enough. Trott, it might be noted, has scored two centuries and a half-century in his last five List A innings, and has recently been cleared by the England medical team as available for selection.

At present England have the worst of all worlds: batsmen who play at a slow rate and who fail to see the job through. They offer neither stability nor impetus and instead offer the foundations of their own defeat. It was not just that England scored too slowly in this match, they also lost all 10 of their wickets.

Specifically, Cook's poor form is hindering his team. Cook has been out of form for more than a year. It is 37 ODI innings and more than two years since he registered a century. He has made one half-century in his last 14 ODI innings and that, an 85-ball innings of 56 against Sri Lanka, did England few favours as they lost the series decider. Since that century in June 2012, Cook has averaged 32.48 at a strike-rate of 72.79. England have won 18 and lost 17 of them. That is not a small sample size.

While everyone accepts that players' form will fluctuate, this has been too long a slump to dismiss as an inevitable dip on a long journey. Several good top-order batsmen in county cricket would, if given enough opportunity, flourish occasionally at international level. The measure of success is to do it consistently and Cook simply cannot claim to have achieved that. He has been selected for his solidity, yet is batting with obvious fragility.

His batting in this match was painful. He edged frequently - twice on 5, once on 6, again on 13 and 17 and 18 and 28 - as well as playing and missing on 2, 7 and 41. In between, he timed the ball so poorly that you could imagine his bat sponsors imploring him to rip their stickers from his bat in case people thought they were to blame for the dead, metallic sound made each time he connected.

It is hard to deny the conclusion that younger men such as Gary Ballance, with a List A average of 52.52 and a strike rate of 89.48, or Taylor, average of 52.33 and strike rate of 83.21, are being kept out of the side by an inferior player. While such grim form can be more easily accommodated in the Test side - Cook's survival instinct remains a significant asset in the longest format - it cannot in the shorter.

Equally, while Cook's passion for the role of captain is admirable, desire and good intentions are not enough. Almost every England supporter inside Trent Bridge would love the opportunity to captain their country, it does not mean they are the right person for the job. Ian Bell or Eoin Morgan, while hardly in the most impressive form themselves, are perfectly acceptable options as replacement captain.

The management's loyalty to Cook is admirable, but it must not be used as an excuse for inaction. Part of the selectors' fear is that, if Cook steps down in this format, it may weaken his position in Tests. It is true, certainly, that Hussain and Andrew Strauss found that to be the case.

But, unless England really are prepared to sacrifice their ODI plans in the naïve belief it may help their Test form, unless their management team is too weak to make the strong decision, unless they are hoping that, by some miracle, it will all come right on the night and Cook can lead them to glory in the World Cup, they are just treading water. Cook's presence at the top of the order - at least a Cook as demonstrably out of form as this - is impeding their hopes of progress.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • beech78 on September 1, 2014, 10:14 GMT

    Nice bandwagon going here, last couple of games the problems been the so called 'dynamic' middle order and terminally average all-rounders. Whats the alternative? Morgan? captain of the the poorest one-day side in county cricket. I'm sure in there own heads they have decent arguments for dropping Cook and Bell but really..... Next bandwagon please.

  • PeerieTrow on September 1, 2014, 9:46 GMT

    I've always been a strong advocate of having the same person as the test match and ODI captain. However, I've got to agree with George here that Cook is not suited to the role of ODI captain. I would go one step further and say he should no longer lead the test team. Whether or not he stays in the team as a batsman is a moot point; I don't believe he currently justifies his place and should be sent back to the counties to regroup. There is only so long a player can trade on past glory, and this is where I disagree with George on Morgan who for me should be out too. I would promote Bell to captain, bring in James Vince to play #1 to Hales at #2, and replace Morgan with 'Titch' Taylor at #3, Bell at #4 and Root #5. For me Stokes and Woakes should be dropped. I believe the mercurial Bopara deserves another run thereby leaving room for another nailed on bowler, most likely Broad on recovery but leaving room to experiment in the meantime.

  • balajik1968 on September 1, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    What is the alternative? To be fair to Cook, he is the product of a system which does not think too much of the limited overs format. This is strange, considering that England started this format. Actually for me the watershed year for England in ODI's is 1992. They lost their 3rd final in 5 World Cups, a remarkably consistent performance. From 1986 to 1992, they were arguably the best ODI team; a mistake by Gatting and an inspired Pakistan denied them a World Cup. Something seems to have gone out of them after that.

  • OhDearieMe on August 31, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    @Jose Puliampatta and @Cricfever_PM: I think you misunderstand our Viking brother, Hjaltibonhoga. Cricfever_PM was criticising the English mindset, the very mindset that gave us ODI and T20. It doesn't matter that they are currently rubbish at it, we enjoy those forms of the game because they were brave enough to make the change. For heaven's sake please don't corner the tiger!

  • Uticensis on August 31, 2014, 20:40 GMT

    Cook's batting is in poor shape, but (as non-English observers like Monga more rationally observe) England's starts are not a real issue; in fact, their average score through the first Powerplay overs is comparable with other leading countries recently. What drags England back, repeatedly, is losing wickets and momentum during the middle overs, especially v. spin, and the finger of blame here points squarely to the middle order. Root and Bell, part of this stuttering engine room, are not obviously better alternatives as captain than Cook, in ODIs any more than Tests (where Dobell eloquently pointed out their drawbacks). Bell is surely lucky to hold down a place at all - his recent run of starts belies a career-long inability to make game-changing scores (3 tons in 140+ games, vs 5 in 80+ for Cook). Even Morgan is looking poor right now. Surely we need to see Ali, Taylor and Ballance in the middle order soon.

  • dummy4fb on August 31, 2014, 13:11 GMT

    @Hjaltibonhoga on (August 31, 2014, 10:15 GMT):

    Parents, sometimes give their babies for adoption, when they find that they can't take good care of them. And also think, that the babies will be taken care of better by the adopted parents. That is what had happened to ODIs and T-20s.

  • Cricfever_PM on August 31, 2014, 12:24 GMT

    @Hjaltibonhoga:: I am not denying it that England have introduced either ODI or T20 format but their importance to ODI is not upto the mark, When you want to win the WC you have build the team for over the years and you have allow all the players to play both Test and ODI format, Cook made debut 8 years ago and still to play 100 ODIs, and this is the same case with everybody. The current team not looking to win the WC which is in due at Feb-March 2015. England yet to find partner for Cook at the top and there is no specialized spinner and their middle order looks vulnerable. It's Good for England to bring Trott, Ali, Bopara and bresnan and find place for them. Trott having good county season so for and it's time to call him to limited over format as we can't omit his success.

  • lancs-lion on August 31, 2014, 10:52 GMT

    Bringing Bresnan back for the T20 is a massive step backwards. Also, why pick Moin for the T20 but not the 50 over games? The whole one day side of things needs a complete re-think. If you are going to have 2 captains then surely give Cook a break, let him bat and give the one day captaincy to Morgan or Broad when he is fully fit. Confused.com

  • PeerieTrow on August 31, 2014, 10:15 GMT

    @Cricfever_PM: You say, "The reason for England's poor performance in ODI is not their players but their board and their people's mentality. You have to accept all the format of the game….. The day England players and their followers attitude changes that will be the day they will win the WC." You appear o be unaware that it was the English "attitude" to the game that is responsible for the existence of both the one day and T20 formats.

    The first ODI was played on 5 January 1971 between Australia and England at the MCG. The third test was abandoned due to rain and it was agreed that a one-off game consisting of 40 eight-ball overs per side would be played. ODI is born.

    T20 was originally introduced by the ECB in 2003 for professional competition in England and Wales. T20 is born.

  • wapuser on August 31, 2014, 10:13 GMT

    @ landl47 : Michael beven and dhoni come to my mind. Great at odis and below average at Test. Beven was actually mediocre at test

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