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May 27, 2014
Alastair Cook has taken a lot of criticism for England's recent slide but he could not be blamed for their latest batting calamity, as they subsided to 99 all out in Durham. Ruled out with injury, all he could do was watch on grim-faced at the procession of batsmen.
It is not yet confirmed whether Cook will take his place for the third one-day international at Old Trafford although a lengthy net - he arrived well before his team-mates on Wednesday morning - suggested his chances of a return are promising.
Such has been England's constant lurching from one failure to another since last summer, with only sporadic success to offer respite, the fact he has emerged unscathed in terms of his position is viewed by his detractors as a lack of accountability for what has gone wrong.
However, James Anderson - one of the few senior players left from a core that has been ripped out of English cricket - believes Cook was not given enough help in Australia when the going got tough, which was pretty much from day two of the Test series onwards.
"I don't think over the winter that senior players helped as much as they could with taking pressure off Cooky, a captain's job is difficult and he needs his senior players around him to share the burden," Anderson said. "When you're in Australia and you get on to a bit of a down slope, you can get a little bit insular I guess, start worrying about your own game perhaps."
Anderson, Ian Bell and, when fit, Stuart Broad are now the long-standing international figures alongside Cook - Matt Prior could be added to that list in Test cricket if his Achilles allows him to play again - and Anderson wants them to take some of the burden off Cook's shoulders as they face a race against time to try and build a team for the World Cup alongside reviving the flagging Test side.
"If we want to win the World Cup, we're going to have to start playing well quickly. I think the senior players have got a huge role to play," he said. "As a captain, it can't always be his job to discipline people or think of tactics or make bowling changes. It's everyone's job to be thinking about the game, how the team can improve and be offering that advice, it doesn't always have to come from the captain.
"That's where the senior players come in. When we've done well in the past is when we've had five or six guys who can stand up in the dressing-room and give feedback, that shares the burden and takes a bit of pressure off the captain."
As the senior pace bowler - a role he has held for a considerable number of years now - it is down to Anderson to set the tone with the ball whenever he plays. He has bowled nicely so far in the series, although there was an expectation of more early wickets at Chester-le-Street, and you would think a return to his home ground would fill him with excitement, but memories of a poor Test against Australia last year linger.
"You'd think so," he said, with the hint of a wry smile when asked about a happy homecoming, "but I've not played very well here in the last few international games. But certainly the first two games of the series I've bowled well and hopefully I can continue that."
You would also think that Anderson would know exactly what type of pitch to expect but he was hedging his bets, although he hoped the groundsman had had enough time to prepare something "that suits our fast bowlers".
That did not appear to be what Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, was seeing as he termed the surface "subcontinental" after a quick glance. He could be forgiven, though, for the notion after the surface they encountered in 2011, which certainly had shades of Colombo about it. Offspinner Suraj Randiv took 5 for 42 and Tillakaratne Dilshan opened the bowling. "Three years ago was a real subcontinental type pitch," Anderson remembered.
Not that it did Sri Lanka much good as they lost the deciding match by 16 runs in an absorbing encounter - something this series could do with after two one-sided matches. That was also a series where England had started well at The Oval then crashed to two heavy defeats before fighting back. It is debatable whether this current England team have the confidence, or belief, to come back from 2-1 down. Cook will be desperate that it does not come to finding out.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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