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May 29, 2014
Alastair Cook became England's most successful ODI captain with the overwhelming victory over Sri Lanka at Old Trafford, but he was not taking much credit for the remarkable turnaround after the 99 all out at Chester-le-Street, instead praising his team-mates for "putting their necks on the line for me".
Cook missed the Durham match due to a groin injury - he admitted watching on "was not pretty" - and his return could not have heralded a more emphatic upturn in England's fortunes as Sri Lanka crumbled to 67 all out, the second lowest completed ODI innings against England, and the runs were knocked off in 12.1 overs.
At various points throughout Sri Lanka's innings England's fields looked more like those that will be on show during the Test series next month. Dinesh Chandimal was greeted with three slips and a short leg, and then Cook also added a leg gully for good measure as Chris Jordan targeted the lower order with hostile short deliveries.
The lack of an attacking mind-set has been one of the criticisms levelled at Cook during his captaincy tenure, but no one could argue he did not take the match by the scruff of the neck once England had Sri Lanka struggling.
There will be tougher scenarios to test Cook and to see whether he can become a gambling type of captain, but he sensed the moment to go for the "jugular" although put the praise on his bowlers for allowing him to do that.
"I gambled a little bit, but luckily every time I was thinking about taking Jords off he took another wicket," he said. "The overs were counting down and I was wondering how long I could keep him going but the decision was taken out of my hands.
"At the time they were six or seven down I was going to go for the jugular and would have bowled out our seamers. If we didn't get the wickets then Ravi and Tredders could have done the job, but luckily we didn't get that far."
"You're only as good as your bowlers and we got backed up by some very good bowling. We had the chance to put Sri Lanka under some real pressure. We bowled with real intensity and Sri Lanka found it very hard and I could afford to set attacking fields."
But Cook said leadership was not just coming from him. The day before the Old Trafford match, James Anderson said senior players let Cook down in Australia but now the captain was seeing a renewed sense of kinship in the side.
"Maybe this summer they are determined to help the youngsters," he said. "I'm in a lucky position at the moment because the guys are putting their necks on the line for me and are helping me out on that side. You do need a strong group of players who are prepared to do that."
He also thought that his team had caught Sri Lanka "napping" on a day where the forecasts had not given much chance of any cricket. Instead, within a period of less than an hour the covers were off, the toss had happened and Anderson was threatening with the new ball.
But given the nature of this one-day series so far it would be dangerous to presume that even though the victory was record-breaking (England had never had so many deliveries left in a run chase) it means they are now clear favourites. Durham will serve as a warning to that, as does the expectation of warmer, sunnier weather for Lord's which should make Sri Lanka feel a little more confident.
Cook admitted that inconsistency is likely to be a feature of a team being rebuilt, but hoped that the swings in performance would not be as dramatic as over the last week. "It was a realisation to the guys that after one good performance, you have to keep going at 100% or you get found out," he said. "There will be some inconsistency with the less experienced guys, but that doesn't mean you can pass off every poor performance on that."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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