England v Sri Lanka, 3rd ODI, Lord's July 3, 2011

Cook answers his critics, and opens a can of worms

His first one-day century as captain but another defeat for his team left Alastair Cook with a day of mixed emotions and plenty of questions

One step forward, two steps back sums up England's current situation. Alastair Cook's first one-day hundred as captain will be dissected both for its personal significance but also for its impact on the team. However, England didn't lose at Lord's because Cook spent most of the innings at the crease, but rather because no-one could complement his methodical accumulation with a more brisk pace.

For Cook it was a day with the ultimate mixture of emotions, although not quite on the extreme level felt by Nasser Hussain in 2002 against India, because this match never got as close as that epic. However, Cook still had to weigh personal success against team failure. His 119 off 143 balls was nowhere near the slowest one-day hundred by an England opener (and swifter than either of Michael Atherton's, who as Sky's compere, oversaw a rather terse toss and presentation with Cook), while many of the others have come in victory. If an opening batsman scores a century, the rest of the order should have the ability to play off his presence to push the total somewhere near 300, especially where the team has been told to play 'fearless' cricket.

Cook will not be leaving the one-day job any time soon. He probably has at least two years before the management consider a change of tact if things don't go to plan, so the team as a whole needs to formulate the best way to make the most of his talent. And that talent is building an innings to offer a foundation. Clearly he needs to develop his game, both from a strokeplay point of view and in terms of pacing an innings, but even Cook admits he's a work in progress. He needs some help along the way.

"It's nice for a bit of confidence to score runs but never nice in a losing cause," Cook admitted. "You want to score runs when you win, it's far more satisfying. We had a bit of a slow start then we kept losing wickets which meant you are always playing rebuilding cricket and that's not the way to get a big total."

The problem for England is that they have two other batsmen in the side - Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell - who play a very similar way to Cook. When Cook and Trott come together inside Powerplay overs, as they have at Headingley and at Lord's, the bowling side is not worried. Trott's one-day record is formidable, his average is 53, but he needs to know when to operate outside the 'bubble' that is rarely an issue in Test cricket. Finding the fielders for two overs isn't an issue in the longer format, but brings an innings to standstill in this version. One-day cricket is a game of risk-taking.

Today's opening ten-over Powerplay sums up clearly the difficultly facing England. Cook was 25 off 30 balls after ten overs, but England were only 32 for 2. Later, England took the batting Powerplay from overs 34-39, but Bell and Cook only managed 24 runs. In comparison Sri Lanka motored to 61 for 1 after ten and from there were always well ahead of the game. That, too, was with Sri Lanka losing their renowned trail-blazer in Tillakaratne Dilshan, but Mahela Jayawardene has shown that orthodox batting, with intent, still works.

One theory is that England should have a more flexible batting line-up which changes depending on who falls first. If Craig Kieswetter, who has a lot of pressure on him to score quickly, departs early then Kevin Pietersen could be promoted to No. 3. The idea has merits, but the issue is that if Trott doesn't bat in the top three he can't be in the team.

That, though, might be the tough decision England need to make. Selecting Cook as captain was going to create this problem. "Trotty has had a quiet couple of games but he averages 50 and strikes at 80 which are pretty good stats to me," Cook said. "We all take collective responsibility for not scoring enough runs."

In the current line-up Bell also looks lost at No. 6. His 30 off 46 balls was painful viewing from someone normally so free with his strokeplay. It was his 100th ODI but that experience didn't come across. There is a worrying similarity with Matt Prior: free-scoring at Test level, but unable to find the tempo for the one-day game. The boundary-clearing shots are in the locker - unlike with Trott - but he doesn't seem to back himself as much as in the longer format.

Pietersen, meanwhile, has fallen to the 'big' shot in all three innings of the series. The first, at The Oval, was understandable in a game reduced to 32 overs but his dismissals at Headingley and Lord's were wasteful. He's too good to be falling to Jeevan Mendis three times in a row, especially now he looks back in fine form. Does he feel it has to be him to find the boundary? If so he is right to back himself, but should consider that it's better him still being there after the 40th over.

England have played some good one-day cricket when Pietersen has been absent - the Champions Trophy in 2009 and then Pakistan last summer - but, currently, they are clearly not good enough to do without his power. His record shows that No. 4 and 5 in the order are his most productive positions and when he was at his best around 2007 he had a sixth-sense of when to cut loose. However, he has scored just two one-day international half-centuries since November 2008 which is a horrid waste.

After victory at The Oval, England will have hoped to avoid any tough questions for this series at least. Yet, to save the contest something has to change. They will be desperate not to show signs of uncertainty so early in Cook's tenure by altering tactics, but that can quickly verge towards stubbornness.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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