England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley June 19, 2014

Poor form makes Cook sweat

At the ground where Kevin Pietersen once remarked that "it isn't easy being me" it has started to look a bit difficult to be Alastair Cook.

The England captain built his reputation on his ability to remain calm under pressure. He was the man to whom England threw the ball in the field when they were trying to make it reverse swing: so little did he sweat that they knew it would remain dry.

But, without a win in seven Tests, without a century in 11 Tests and 13 months and on the receiving end of some caustic words from high-profiles critics and Cook looked as if he was, metaphorically at least, starting to sweat in Leeds.

You can understand why Cook would be frustrated. Less than a year ago, he concluded his first year as Test captain with an Ashes win to follow a Test series victory away in India. His century against New Zealand was his 25th in Tests, which meant that, at the age of 28, he had scored more than any other England player. Much of that success seems to have been forgotten.

And you can, to some extent, understand why he feels that some in the media have an agenda. A year ago he led England to victory at this very ground in three days of cricket only to receive criticism for tactics dismissed as "negative". When victory and a century is not enough, a captain can be forgiven for wondering what more they have to do.

The catalyst for Cook's outburst - and in the context of the placid Cook, his comments about Shane Warne do constitute an outburst - might have been the relentless criticism he is attracting from the likes of Warne and Piers Morgan - who has taken to referring to Cook as "captain weasel" - but the longer-term damage has been caused by an erosion of Cook's position of authority by his modest form with the bat.

It matters not that this new-look England team are loyal to Cook. He will feel, naturally, that he is not fully pulling his weight while he is not contributing as he would like with the bat. And, having taken a very big decision over the future of Pietersen, Cook could have done with backing it up by reasserting his own worth as a player.

In the 11 Tests since the start of last summer's Ashes series, Cook is averaging just 25.81. He has passed 50 six times in 22 innings - which is just about okay - but he has not passed 72. By Cook's standards, it is a poor run. It is not, though, the worst run of form he has endured. As he put it, in 2010 he "didn't know where my next run was coming from."

"At the moment we do think this is the best side ... It is a cause for concern and something we need to address as quickly as we can"
Alastair Cook on England's spinner issue

"This is slightly different because then I was getting score of one, seven, two," he said. "I really didn't know where my next run was coming from.

"I saw a stat on my batting. It said that in my first 10 or 12 games as captain, I scored seven hundreds [it was actually seven in his first 11 Tests as captain] and in the next 12 games or so I'd scored seven 50s and no hundreds [actually 11 Tests with six 50s].

"So the difference is that I haven't been converting those scores. That's more the frustration to be honest. But it just makes me doubly determined to lead from the front and try to get a score."

Cook's long-term record suggests a return to form should be imminent. He is, after all, only 29 and there is no reason to think the powers are waning.

But it does seem fair to wonder whether the burden he has placed upon himself by taking the Pietersen decision - a decision for which some will never forgive him - has become too cumbersome for a man with a young family and almost a decade's international cricket behind him. The somewhat irritable manner in which he reacted to gentle media questioning on Thursday suggested a man who was tiring with some aspects of the role with which he is confronted.

Fading confidence has, no doubt, been a major factor in Cook's struggles. Just as it must have been for Moeen Ali, in his debut Test, to hear some of the nonsense spoken about his bowling.

A lack of confidence was the main reason Moeen Ali did not unveil his doosra at Lord's. And it is a situation that will not have been improved by England's lukewarm words of appreciation about him as a bowler in the days since. Having heard the coach, Peter Moores, describe the spin position as "a weakness" after the Lord's Test, Moeen on Thursday heard his captain describe the lack of spin options as "a cause for concern" It can hardly have inspired him with confidence.

"We know we need a good frontline spinner to balance the attack," Cook said. "You don't become a really good side without one.

"At the moment we do think this is the best side, so you might carry on seeing this side play until it feels that someone is ready to play. It is a cause for concern and something we need to address as quickly as we can."

Moeen is not a part-time spinner. While it is true that he has bowled relatively little this season - Worcestershire have signed Saeed Ajmal as an overseas player and Moeen has, at times, been absent with England squads - since the start of 2012 he has claimed 91 first-class wickets at a cost of 32.18 apiece. For a man who is still developing his skills and who plays on a New Road pitch offering him little, that is a record worthy of more respect than it is receiving. It is worth remembering, too, that when Graeme Swann took a five-wicket haul against Australia at Lord's last year, he became the first English spinner to do so in an Ashes Test at the venue since Hedley Verity in 1934.

Judging Moeen's bowling on one Test on a placid pitch might well prove to be as unwise as writing off Cook's abilities as a batsman after a modest few months.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo