England v India, 5th ODI, Headingley September 4, 2014

Cook at centre of England tangle

With their one-day plans in a familiar mess six months out from the World Cup, questions abound on England's priorities and strategy

A largely fallacious debate has done the rounds in the media, old and new, in the past few days, in response to the question whether England would rather win the Ashes than the World Cup. There is no reason why England should put one above the other. They should be seeking to win both.

Only by doing something ineffably stupid - entirely scrapping domestic one-day cricket perhaps, or banning the reverse sweep in case it created bad habits in Test cricket - would English cricket make the question relevant. It is a false dichotomy, a convenient excuse reminiscent of the football chant beloved by supporters of failing sides: "We know we're rubbish but we don't care."

There may be an underlying point to this and, as ever this summer, it concerns Alastair Cook. The implication is that for England to gamble by removing Cook from the one-day captaincy, and in essence call time on his limited-overs career, ahead of the World Cup would cause such disruption that it would destroy England's chances of winning the Ashes next summer.

If that really was so, it would say little about England's structure or about Cook's character. It is not as if the structure could not cope or that Cook's standing in Test cricket would be undermined at a time when split captaincy in English cricket has become the norm.

Neither would Cook, a man of high integrity, go into a prolonged sulk and feel so betrayed that he retired from cricket forthwith and opened a music shop. This, after all, as Moeen Ali became the latest player to emphasis, is a man possessed of immense mental strength.

The fact is that England's hierarchy has wedded itself too inflexibly to Cook ever since they presented him as a paragon of virtue to justify their decision to dispense with the Black Prince, Kevin Pietersen. In everything they have said, they have raised Cook's sense of entitlement to dangerous proportions. Just because the debate fuelled beyond these pages by the likes of Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan is regarded as essentially pointless does not mean that it should not be taking place.

To check this debate it would need England to win spectacularly in the final ODI at Headingley on Friday, to avoid a 4-0 India clean sweep and to pronounce that they had proved an ability to learn quickly, that India's trouncings had inspired them to new heights and that their World Cup challenge was back on traagain.

Then they will travel 12,000 miles much in the mood of the England football team, claiming that because expectations were so low they actually had a better chance of winning because they would play without fear. You don't have to be an expert on the World Cup in Brazil to know how that one worked out.

Moeen was unfortunate enough to be put on to the England coconut shy, two days after they had been walloped by India by nine wickets at Edgbaston. Do England care as much about one-day cricket, he was asked. "Definitely," he said.

That was where the discussion should rightly end. It would better to ask it of the media and the supporters. Reduced media interest in limited-overs cricket is one reason why England's domestic T20 has struggled to take root in the past decade and, as for England's supporters, India fans snapped up the tickets for this series so quickly that England could have claimed at Edgbaston to be playing in front of an away crowd.

At Headingley there will just be relief that the ground is full and the weather forecast is dry. After three ODI abandonments in the last five, added to the loss of another full house when the T20 fixture against Lancashire was rained off, Yorkshire, £22m in debt, would happily fill the ground with plastic dummies as long as somebody paid the entrance fee.

"Fear" was instead on Moeen's mind. He registered England's first half-century of the series at Edgbaston, an innings of impressive verve considering England's predicament. His return to Headingley, where he batted throughout the final day against Sri Lanka and came within two balls of saving the Test, was a reminder that he has proved himself not just a successful cricketer in his first season for England, but an adaptable one too.

"We can learn a lot from India," Moeen said. "Me sitting on the sidelines for the first two games, watching the way Indians bat, you can learn a lot from the way they approach it, with no fear and just back themselves. If there is a risk, they just take it. Sometimes it doesn't come off but as a team if we can all do that and execute the plan then we will be fine.

"Watching someone like Suresh Raina in the first game, they were in trouble and he came out and played the way he played. He took a few risks and they came off. He backed himself. I tried to copy it a little bit. I was just trying to get a score for the team, play how I play and not fear anything or anyone, just enjoy batting, put bat to ball, try and be different."

The message - a message England's hierarchy will approve - was that the plans are fine, it is just the execution of those plans has been so poor; that "the guys are definitely out of form and maybe lack a bit of confidence". Exactly what causes this lack of form and confidence is a question worth posing.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 9, 2014, 11:20 GMT

    So, "England's plans are fine" are they? It's just "the execution of those plans has been so poor". Really? These plans are so "fine" that England have lost their last 4 home ODI series, and the only away series they won (in West Indies) was when they abandoned their "plans" and took the T20 side to play ODI's (as part of the warm up for the T20 world cup).

    If Peter Moores really believes this, he gets the King Canute award for swimming against the tide.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 18:01 GMT

    Half in jest. Why can't we have a mutual agreement, between the the teams. Let Cook captain India's TestTeam; and let Dhoni captains England's. And see whether this "exchange captaincy" produce better results for both. :-)

  • John on September 5, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    @dunger.bob: the difference between Australia and England is that Australia has recognized that short-format and tests are different games and they approach them differently. England still goes into ODIs with the old 'establish a base and accelerate' philosophy which young players brought up on T20 know doesn't work any more.

    England has the players to compete, but until they are given the freedom to go for broke in the knowledge that the times when they fail will not be held against them, then the ceiling is simply too low. You can't win enough ODIs to win a World Cup averaging 250-275. Someone's always going to top that. Aim for 350 every game and if you happen to string 3 or 4 games together when it happens, then bingo! You've got your World Cup.

    Warnie said it best: to win, you can't be afraid to risk losing.

  • Nerav on September 5, 2014, 9:19 GMT

    Englands obsession with a bilateral series is beyond me. A competition between the best teams in world or a competition between 2 teams (ashes) which arent even the best sides in the world. Everything in the english side is to accommodate this series and nothing else matters. All decisions are justified with we need to prepare for the ashes. Its a way to pretend nothing else matters I think. I doubt Austrians think only about the ashes.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 9:00 GMT

    Posted by ruester on (September 5, 2014, 2:18 GMT)

    I echo your sentiments, well put!

  • Bhuvanesh on September 5, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    Give Moeen the captiancy role!!!

  • John on September 5, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    @IndCricFan2013 on (September 5, 2014, 1:44 GMT) Maybe it is the difference in reverse for India in that their best SF players mostly seem unable to adapt to test cricket. Right now it seems the opposite for us

  • John on September 5, 2014, 8:00 GMT

    @dunger.bob on (September 5, 2014, 0:28 GMT) We should have a whole different ODI side (nearer to T20s in make up ) and that set of people should be prioritising that format and the test people should prioritise the test format. The only issues come when you have a player who plays both formats.

    I'd say - the way we're going about the job right now - we should only pick the very best ODI players who play test cricket and let the test players concentrate on that form of the game. I would say pre series that this may only mean Buttler and maybe Root but both seem unable to adapt back to the SF of the game. If your players can switch from one code to another then fair enough but only Ali seems to have managed that so far in this series and that may be based on the crowd reaction.. At least if we have a completely different set of players/staff we can't question their priorities.

  • Satish on September 5, 2014, 6:48 GMT

    Well the point finally remains that their Captain is looking out of depth in ODIs. England still have a chance to replace him and they should.

  • John on September 5, 2014, 5:13 GMT

    It seems fairly ridiculous to suggest that removing Cook from the ODI team would hurt England's chances of winning the Ashes. If anything, I think it would improve them. Without the added pressure that he's under as ODI captain, Cook can take some time to recharge and concentrate on his Test batting and captaincy. I don't see England having much chance at the WC regardless of who they pick right now. At least getting rid of this specter hanging over Cook would remove it from the whole team, as all this ongoing criticism much be affecting everyone. Forgetting the WC, Cook has now lost two home ODI series as captain and is woefully out of form with the bat. I wonder whether the management would have acted if there hadn't been such a storm around the issue, because now they don't want to be seen to backing down to outside pressure.

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