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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pankaj on June 20, 2014, 16:42 GMT

    Maybe it's time the Government intervened and took some of the heat off Alastair Cook.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 8:50 GMT

    Cook's body language,, facial gestures, lazy movement on field is not making any good for England. He does not have anything stand out skill as skipper which makes whole team motivated and inspired,,, he is out of ideas,, it seems 11 players has 11 ideas about game and they play accordingly

  • xxxxxxxx on June 20, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    How uninspiring for Ali to hear the captain and coach describe him as a "weakness" and "a cause for concern" after just one Test. No doubt, if these criticisms were made of the captaincy there would be complaints and calls for "something to be done".

  • James on June 20, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    Moen Ali promises to be another of those English players who can bat a little, bowl a little (In a long line of Bopara, Plunkett, Patel, Stokes, Bresnan, Yardy ---), but cannot do one of these well enough to be in the team. Cook as a batsman is okay but not really great (just as the Test Average of 46 and an ODI average of 38 will suggest). As a captain he definitely does not inspire. I would expect him to be back among the runs against India (who don't possess even one fast bowler- or a really good spinner- hence it should be comfortable going for Cook). In the India series, the English bowlers like Anderson can also be expected to be dominant once again against Indian batsmen clueless against spin. Once England starts winning again, the media pressure will ease and the supporters will start talking about Cook as the greatest player since Bradman.

  • John on June 20, 2014, 1:18 GMT

    History says Cook will come good again as a batsman. History also says that Moeen is a useful but not test class batsman and a second bowler on a county side (Worcestershire signed Ajmal before they knew Moeen would be picked as England's spinner).

    As those selling investment funds say, past performance doesn't guarantee future returns, but it's usually a pretty good indicator.

  • Tim on June 19, 2014, 21:31 GMT

    Strange how the England management start to criticize Moeen Ali's bowling after one test, yet other players can go test after test with no runs/wickets and seem immune. I agree while watching Moeen bowl at Lords I thought he did o.k. certainly more than a part-time spinner and against a team who play spin particularly well on a pitch that offered no help.

    Telling him that you'll have to do until we find a proper spinner is not exactly encouraging........

    Now if Cook was a spinner and someone said that about him he'd obviously feel justified in having a massive tantrum. Hmm

  • Mark on June 19, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    Sensible comments. Over the last 10 years I have read on here that Simon Jones is useless. That Marcus Trescothick should never again play for England (just before his 200 against South Africa), that Andrew Strauss is not an international cricketer (just before his 157). That Andrew Flintoff is not worth a place. That Cook can't bat. If you listened to the fans, not one member of this side would even be playing for his county XI.

    Cook probably should not have been saddled with the captaincy. Maybe Bell or Prior would have been a better bet as a short-term option while someone else was prepared: let Alistair Cook concentrate on scoring masses of runs and let someone else worry about the big decisions and facing the press.

  • Jonathan on June 19, 2014, 20:51 GMT

    We can but hope that both Ali and Ali proved their detractors wrong. There's really very little else they can do: Cook needs to get a ton, or at least hit the 80s, while Moeen needs to take some wickets on what should be a more spin-friendly pitch.

    There's little denying that England would like to have a front-line spinner (CodandChips don't go there we know you love Kerrigan you've said it enough times :P ), but let's see Moeen have another go before we all lay into him. Cooky... Well it's gone on for long enough that some laying-in seems not unwarranted, but what's that thing all the fans say? "Form is temporary, class is permanent"? Cook is a classy batsman, and he has the stats. to prove it, even as captain. Here's hoping he can shake off that bad form, or stress, or whatever it is.

  • No featured comments at the moment.