England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 4th day June 23, 2014

Bell defends Cook captaincy

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England performance 'absolutely gutting' - Bell

Ian Bell has rejected the suggestion Alastair Cook is on the brink of resigning the England captaincy and said it was the performance of the players rather than any tactical shortcomings that have cost the side in Leeds.

Bell, England's unofficial vice-captain and the man most likely to be appointed captain should Cook step down, was one of the batsmen dismissed on the fourth evening of the second Test as England finished on 57 for 5 chasing an improbable 350 for victory.

While Bell praised the century by Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews as "one of the best" innings of its type he had witnessed, he also accepted that England had "failed to execute their skills" or take their chances in allowing their opposition back into the game. In particular, he conceded that England's bowlers had pitched too short and the fielders had failed to cling on to a succession of opportunities.

"It looks like we're going to lose this Test," Bell said. "And that is absolutely gutting. But there is absolutely no doubt [that Cook will continue as captain]. I don't think the tactics were wrong. I don't think he could have done anything more.

"Our plans were to get the ball full and we didn't quite do that. I don't think the bowlers will sit there and say they got it right. It felt the kind of wicket that, with anything short, you wanted to make the most of it.

"And we, as batsman, had an opportunity with the bat to bury them in the first innings. We didn't take it and I think they showed what good teams do: when people are down, you have to keep them down.

"We had chances in the field and we put them down. You can't do that with good teams. You can't give those world-class players opportunities or they will hurt you. They've been outstanding today, but we've been really disappointing. We've been outplayed. They recognised today was a massive day and they've won it.

"As a group, we've got to help him [Cook]. We've got to get right behind him and start performing as a team. He's got more hundreds than anyone in an England shirt and he's been one of the best batsmen I've ever played with. Form is temporary. One innings and he'll be flying again. So I'm not worried about his batting at all."

Bell offered warm praise for Mathews' century, but admitted that England had erred tactically in giving him singles in the hope of attacking his lower-order partners. Instead, Bell, suggested, they should also have attempted to dismiss Mathews.

"Hats off to him," Bell said. "It was an incredible knock. He's played arguably one of the best knocks we've seen against us, certainly shepherding the tail. I can't remember one, since I've been playing, that was better than that towards the back end, the way he has played with the bowlers.

"But you look back with hindsight and I think if you want to stop someone like that scoring runs you get them out, don't you? You don't just try to stop them scoring. But I hope tomorrow that we've got five guys who can show what it means to wear an England shirt and come out with some pride and at least do something.

"We've been working really well and there's this one really bad day we've had in the last eight or nine. In a two-match series, you can have one bad day and lose it. If this was a five-match series, we could fight our way back in, but we can't."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo