England v NZ, Champions Trophy, Group A, Cardiff

Never write off Alastair Cook

England's captain has proved the doubters wrong on many occasions and continues to improve as a batsman and play a key role for his side

George Dobell in Cardiff

June 16, 2013

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Alastair Cook plays a ramp over the keeper's head, England v New Zealand, Champions Trophy, Group A, Cardiff, June 16, 2013
Alastair Cook demonstrated his expanded range of strokes © Getty Images
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If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that we should never write off Alastair Cook.

Cook proved the doubters wrong when, after a dismal time against Pakistan, he bounced back with a mountain of runs in the Ashes of 2010-11. He proved the doubters wrong again when he was appointed captain of the ODI side despite a modest record in the format and metamorphosed into a top-quality performer; he averaged 30.52 in ODIs before he was captain and 44.79 since he was appointed.

And he proved them wrong, once more, when he led his England team to a remarkable Test series victory in India despite losing the first Test. If you asked Cook to give birth, he would find a way to do it smoothly, brilliantly and without fuss.

The one format in which he has yet to prove himself is T20. Despite his protestations that he is a much improved player since he last played the format internationally in 2009 - he averaged 15.25 in four games - he has never won a recall.

Perhaps now he will. In a game reduced to 24 overs a side, Cook produced the match-defining contribution demonstrating not just the calm head with which we are so familiar, but that increasingly broad range of strokes. It was an innings that played a huge role in seeing England into the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy.

The days when Cook was a limited player, reliant on the cut, the pull and the nudge are long gone. During his period out of the England limited-overs side, he returned to county cricket with Essex and worked hard on developing his range of strokes. He even scored a domestic T20 century; one of only two England players to have done so. Ravi Bopara is the other.

This innings contained two straight sixes - the first time he has struck two sixes in an international innings - a paddled scoop for four off the medium pace of James Franklin and numerous skips down the wicket and manoeuvres into space. It was, in short, a good T20 innings.

Some caveats are necessary. Cook was dropped three times by Nathan McCullum, the last of them a chance so simple that it was almost harder to drop than catch and, even if he was to prove himself one of the best T20 cricketers in England, there would be a concern about adding to the workload of a man so central to England's plans in ODI and Test cricket.

Had Graeme Swann been fit - and England will take no risks with his tight calf for the rest of this tournament rendering him a major doubt for the semi-final - there would still have been only five members of the team that contested their last T20I - against New Zealand in February - involved in this game. Increasingly players, or management, are realising that it is not sustainable to play all three formats.

The dropped catches were not the only area in which England were fortunate. They were also the beneficiary of a key umpiring decision. Replays suggested Stuart Broad's delivery to dismiss Kane Williamson was as close to being a no-ball as can be imagined. On such moments games and trophies can be won and lost.

Generally, though, this was a fairly typical England performance. They did the simple things pretty well and they made fewer mistakes than their opposition. It sounds simple but batting like Cook, bowling like James Anderson and taking diving catches like the one Joe Root claimed to dismiss Brendon McCullum requires huge skill. Such skill that it tends to force opposing sides into mistakes.

 
 
The England bowlers proved a point in this game. They produced a display that should have reminded their critics that they possess rare skills
 

Cook later rated the team performance as "pretty good" but admitted England had struggled to judge what a par total might be in such an abbreviated game. "Maybe we set our sights too high," Cook said. "Our total was about par. But those first overs we bowled were fantastic and we kept taking wickets when we needed them. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were outstanding."

Certainly this was not a perfect England performance. The batsmen lost their last seven wickets for the addition of just 28 runs, including the loss of the final five in 12 balls for 10 runs, and Tim Bresnan endured another disappointing game with the ball and was out-bowled by the impressive Bopara. Bresnan's fourth over, which cost 19, contained a full toss and a couple of long-hops and, though he came back well, he may struggle to keep Steven Finn out of the side for the semi-final.

Eoin Morgan, who has passed 21 only once in his last 10 innings, also looks like a man in need of time in the middle. He may, in due course, reflect on his preparation for this event. Involved in the IPL until mid-May, he had not scored a run in England in any format of the game this year when he was selected for the first ODI against New Zealand. Bearing in mind the high-risk approach he is required to take, he is asking a great deal of himself to adjust to such different conditions so quickly.

But generally, the England bowlers proved a point in this game. Harshly accused of ball tampering in the days ahead of the match, they produced a display here that should have reminded their critics that, whatever the allegations, they also possess rare skills. On a pitch on which New Zealand's seamers had struggled to gain any assistance, James Anderson, in particular, generated sharp seam movement. Some former players and opponents who have condemned them without evidence might do well to reflect that just because they are unable to master a skill, it does not mean no-one else can. England used to take such an attitude to reverse swing and mystery spin; they have become a much better side since they stopped criticising and started admiring and learning.

It is worth speculating about what would have happened if rain had forced an abandonment of this game and England were eliminated from the tournament. It seems safe to assume that some would have condemned England's method with the bat and insisted on rebuilding the side ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

So it is worth remembering that England have currently scored two of the three highest first innings totals in the tournament to date and that, in the 601 ODIs they have played, they have only lost 11 times when they have posted a target greater than the 293 they managed at The Oval against Sri Lanka. As Cook said, "the bowlers did not get it right at The Oval." The facts simply do not support a negative verdict on their batting.

England will not be among the favourites when the semi-final line-up becomes clear but, with only two more wins required to lift the trophy, now is not the time to change their approach.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by   on (June 18, 2013, 13:07 GMT)

well dropped 3 times, england is here for bopara too. but feeling sorry for new zealand . but well done black caps, no hard feelings. blue will face red in finals.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2013, 1:01 GMT)

There is noway you can have Cook in T20s when Hales & Lumb have done so well. Hales has even got 99, he is a perfect T20 opener, has more range of shots & is naturally aggressive unlike Cook who was just lucky to be dropped by McCullum thrice and then got those lucky runs at the end to improve his SR. He is not a T20 player @all & then his technique might suffer even more as a test player because in these formats you get a habit of playing the balls away from your body which you should not in tests as it moves more. He is the test captain & ODIs too- it would be good if he can do well in them first, his team has just beaten a mediocre Aussie side and then defeated Kiwis with some luck & great bowling which is ENG `s strength & not batting as Top3 are damn slow & their this conservative plan would be exposed sooner or later by a better team- by India probably on Sunday) ECB should make sure that they don`t spoil the makeup of the T20 side which is one of the best in the world right now.

Posted by   on (June 17, 2013, 21:30 GMT)

gsingh7 - Fair enough, but the batters are the ones getting the criticism, and so far they're the best in the tournament.

Posted by CanGrit on (June 17, 2013, 20:00 GMT)

Cook was so lucky in the last match, thats why he was able to score what he scored! A top order batsman dropped 3 times I wold have expected him to score a century!! He is not a T20 player, it's better for him to stick with just ODIs and TESTs.

Posted by landl47 on (June 17, 2013, 13:22 GMT)

Cook has shown the ability to identify what he needs to improve on in his batting technique and then to work on it until he succeeds.

Now he needs to use the same analytical process on his captaincy, especially in ODIs. At the moment he is too defensive, allowing the opposition to pick up 5 or 6 an over without risk. England's bowlers have the ability to take wickets, but they aren't specialists at bowling really tight lines and lengths like, say, Clint McKay of Australia. More attacking fields would suit England's bowlers better.

Hopefully, Cook and Giles will sit down and watch the film of the Sri Lankan game and see how Sanga and Mahela were able to move the scoring rate along as ball after ball was fielded in the deep. Then Kula came in, swung the bat and it was all over. England could and should have won that game with a more attacking mind-set.

Show us you've learned that lesson, Cooky.

Posted by gsingh7 on (June 17, 2013, 13:17 GMT)

dan minsford--- england also gave most runs of any team in this ct. two sides of a coin , mate

Posted by   on (June 17, 2013, 11:05 GMT)

So far, England has scored more runs in this Champions Trophy than any other team.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (June 17, 2013, 10:41 GMT)

It's when you ask an Aussie fan what they think of Cook that heads turn. 766 runs in the last Ashes series, and although quite extraordinary, both sets of fans expect more of the same from him this time. Should be a great series.

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