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England need revitalised Cook

Struggling under the weight of England demands, Alastair Cook has considered given up the one-day captaincy - but he remains the right man for the job

George Dobell

January 20, 2014

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Alastair Cook roars after catching Brad Haddin, Australia v England, 2nd ODI, Gabba, January 17, 2014
A break from cricket may help Alastair Cook rediscover his fire © Getty Images
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They say that mountaineers, having been caught in an avalanche, are sometimes so disorientated that they dig down rather than up in a bid to free themselves.

So it seems with Alastair Cook in the aftermath of another defeat in Australia. Struggling for equilibrium after another series had been snatched away from him by the avalanche that is Australian cricket at present, Cook admitted for the first time that he was considering his position as captain. Six months after leading England to the brink of their first global ODI trophy and 12 months before a World Cup that England have been planning towards for years, Cook must decide whether to stick or twist.

Much of this could have been avoided. Had the England management been just a little more flexible and a little more sensitive, Cook would have been sent home with other senior members of the squad at the end of the Test series. While his voice said all the right words about "challenge" and "excitement" ahead of the ODI series, his eyes said something quite different. He was obviously drained.

But instead of being given a rest, he was asked to lead a side lacking five of the players - James Anderson, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann - who had helped it to No. 1 in the ODI rankings, against a resurgent Australia. It was an impossible task. This was an accident waiting to happen.

Some respite may be at hand. Cook will not tour the Caribbean in February and March and will not feature in the World Twenty20 squad. But it would be wrong to think he is about to put his feet up. Not only will he be scheduled to have meetings with the likes of Andy Flower and Paul Downton, but he is also due to become a father in March. That is a wonderful event that will enrich his life beyond measure. But parenting is anything but restful.

Leaders among the pack

  • Eoin Morgan
  • Possibly the most likely alternative. Morgan has already captained England in six ODIs - three wins and two defeats - in which he recorded his highest ODI score. A guaranteed selection and reflective of the more dynamic sort of cricketer many feel England should embrace, Morgan should also remain fresh, with little likelihood of returning to the Test team.
  • Ian Bell
  • Bell has excelled as an innovative captain at domestic level, though whether he would feel the same freedom at international level remains to be seen. He was interviewed for leadership roles at the time the captaincy was split three ways and was the only man not to be given an official leadership role as either captain or vice-captain of a team.
  • Kevin Pietersen
  • Pietersen would be a hugely controversial choice and might feel, at this stage of his career, that he could do without the burden. But he remains close to Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach, and has the bonus of both experience and, on merit at least, a secure place in the side. England lost all five of his final ODIs in charge, in India in 2008, however, and it seems hard to imagine that he could be offered the role with Andy Flower in his current role.
  • Stuart Broad
  • Andy Flower dismissed the idea of a bowler leading the Test side recently but Broad, as T20 captain, must be among the candidates for the 50-over format. While Broad still has little experience, he has shown himself to be an astute reader of the game and is guaranteed his place in the side.
  • Paul Collingwood
  • Remains the only man to have led England to a global limited-overs Trophy - the World T20 in 2010 - and underlined his leadership credentials by turning a struggling Durham side into county champions in little more than 12 months. His powers as a player have waned considerably, though, and it is hard to see how he could be squeezed into a side. But the same might have been said of Mike Brearley in 1981.

Besides, in Cook's absence, other players will be given a chance to fight for his ODI place. The ODIs against West Indies, ridiculously scheduled as they are right before a World T20, will be utilised mainly to give the T20 squad a chance to find form. So the likes of Michael Lumb and Alex Hales will have the chance to show what they can do in the longer format. Bearing in mind Cook's wretched form in Australia, he could do without such a challenge.

Cook's decline may come to be seen as the latest example of burnout undermining the team's performance. And perhaps, in time, there will be little cross-over between Test and limited-overs players. The demands may simply be too great. For if Trott's breakdown represented the final stop on a journey of mental exhaustion, there are several other members of the squad a long way further down the road than should be the case. It is telling that, upon his return from Australia, one of the Test squad was met by the question from their young child: "Is daddy staying the night?" It is hard to avoid the conclusion that too much has been asked of too few for too long.

The administrators have much to explain. While they have been busy plotting the meritless carve-up of world cricket, they have allowed their most precious assets to be exploited to breaking point in the short-sighted search for a few dollars more. And yet, they take little responsibility for the debacle. Both Flower and Cook have said they will consider their positions in their own time: it seems remarkable that, for the plethora of highly paid managers filling offices at Lord's, players and coaches are still left to decide their own futures.

The shame of all this is that England were on the right track before this tour. While their ODI tactics continue to infuriate those who would like to conjure a Sehwag or Jayasuriya from the shires, all the signs were that they were building a team that could challenge at a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Their method, conservative though it may seem, saw them rated No. 1 as recently as August 2012 and took them to the brink of the Champions Trophy in June 2013. Had Pietersen or even Swann been available for the final, perhaps England might have gone the extra step.

England's ODI tactics do not need re-visiting. They simply need to play better. With Finn - rated the No. 2 ODI bowler only six months ago - Pietersen and co fit and firing (yes, that is a leap of faith) they still have a method that can challenge against the best.

But the man who Cook has missed most is the man who perhaps best represents England's controversial ODI tactics better than anyone. Trott's ODI record will continue to vex some but the fact he is averages nearly 20% more than anyone who has ever represented England in the format (having played a minimum of 20 innings) and, with him in the side, England have won 19 of their last 26 matches. Without him they have lost eight out of 10.

Without these men, Cook was sent into battle without ammunition. What he requires now is time to rest and reflect on the impossible task he was given. If Cook was the right man to lead England's ODI side in June 2013 - and all the evidence suggests he was - then there is little reason to believe he is not the right man to lead them in June 2014.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by rsurex on (January 22, 2014, 20:05 GMT)

Luke Wright* is the attacking option available as an opener & he is an all rounder.... he's been performing really well in Big Bash..... JOE ROOT could have used in the middle order, BOPARA can send as no 3/4 he should bowl more overs.... England heavily rely on Morgan..... Interesting to see if England set to chase....COOK

Posted by CodandChips on (January 22, 2014, 17:47 GMT)

@dunger.bob Engalnd may have only played one extra test, but think of the ODIs. Whereas Australia change their ODI and test side every series, the core of the English team often remains the same for a lot of the year. Only this series and last have players been rested on bulk. Generally the likes of Anderson, Trott, Cook, Swann and Root all make the core of both the ODI and the Test team. Compare to Aus- in India you had Henriques and Maxwell in the test side. Wade was keeping. In the English ashes you had Khawaja, Agar, Pattinson, Bird all playing. In the ODIs in England you had Fawad Ahmed. Warner didn't play the ODIs in England, like most of your test squad. And on the mental side, the CT13 must have been mentally scarring. Losing the best chance of winning a 50 over competition in that way, at home as well.

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (January 22, 2014, 9:37 GMT)

He has no idea - replace him with someone who has a cricket brain

Posted by   on (January 22, 2014, 6:55 GMT)

yes. of course

Posted by oze13 on (January 21, 2014, 22:29 GMT)

More chance of reviving a dead duck! Can't believe he's still Captain. As clueless a Captain as there has ever been!

Posted by dunger.bob on (January 21, 2014, 21:57 GMT)

@ Ted Striker : So England have played one more test than Aus. That's kind of my point mate. That's 90 days play out of a possible 400 or so. Yeah, that's an unimaginably heavy workload. The poor things. .. All I can say is that they should try what I do for a living. They'd never get out of bed they'd be so had it.

Posted by durhamfootman on (January 21, 2014, 19:53 GMT)

with respect to george dobell, England do need to revisit their ODI tactics. New fielding restrictions and 2 balls have been introduced since England were top of the rankings and reaching CT finals. These are changes introduced with the specific purpose of increasing ODI scores. Englands 'safety first and score 250' policy will lose more matches than they win under the new rules, and the quicker England realise this, the better, or they will risk being humiliated again, in the WC next year.

Posted by jb633 on (January 21, 2014, 15:51 GMT)

@BradmanBesrEver

http://www.espncricinfo.com/india-v-australia-2013/content/story/623496.html.

There is the absolute undeniable proof about excuses coming from your camp. It is absolute garbage that your fans don't make excuses when your losing. The absolute proof in the pooding is in the link above. You cannot deny fact, it is there for you to have a look at. You are no different to any other cricketing nation, hot when you hot and ice cold when your not. You have been hot all sumemr and congrats for that. Don't start making non sensical statements though.

Posted by milepost on (January 21, 2014, 15:27 GMT)

@Ted Striker are you for real? A very modest difference in schedules and that's why England haven't won a game all tour? @dunger.bob has nailed it.

Posted by   on (January 21, 2014, 14:14 GMT)

In England's current situation, we have a clash of egos potentiated by an insecure captain. If a captain is assured and confidant he can manage the match winners (KP in this instance). History is full of examples, Imran-Miandad and Ponting-Warne are examples of not so distant past. The captain is neither confidant nor a good man manager. Worst he takes instructions from Flower and hence will never be respected by nonconformists like KP. He has to take reigns to assert his authority and earn respect. If England were wise, they would have changed the coach. They have taken all that could be taken from Flower. It is time to move in a new direction under new coach.

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