Winter of despair raises stakes for Cook and Moores
All bets are off in English cricket at the moment with the pending arrival of new ECB chairman Colin Graves, a man set on rattling the sport in the UK into ruder health. Some key figures could be shaken out if England do not deliver in the West Indies and Alastair Cook and Peter Moores were acutely aware of the pressure as the tour party left for the Caribbean with the stakes raised after another winter of woe.
Faith in English cricket sunk to a desperate low after defeat to India at Lord's last summer, a result that followed an Ashes whitewash and home series defeat to Sri Lanka. Recovery briefly followed, but the lift following the turnaround against India has been wiped out once more after being dumped out of the World Cup at the group stages. England are left to claw back their reputation all over again.
After his sacking as one-day captain, Cook can be exonerated, to a certain extent, from the World Cup debacle but now he is back to pick up the pieces. That includes dealing with questions on Kevin Pietersen, who will return to county cricket after the first Test and doubtless deflect a degree of attention away from England in the process.
Cook was naturally keen to wash his hands on the debate that has increased the pressure on England to perform against the world's eighth-ranked Test nation.
"Contrary to what you may read in the media I'm a long way away from that decision about Kevin," Cook said. "It's down to Paul Downton, chief executive Tom Harrison, and Colin Graves, it's not down to us. We've got 16 guys going to West Indies who are desperate to start turning round English cricket from what's happened over the last three months.
"We need to get back to winning ways and it's about a brand of cricket and trying to win this series. It's about 16 guys and the support staff. The ECB will have to deal with everything else."
Moores pleaded that the focus should be on the players actually in the tour party: "This is about focusing on an England team. We have not mentioned the fact we have new players here today and the frustration for me is there are people whose dreams are being made by going on this trip but are not being mentioned.
"People who have worked so hard for years to get their chance - Adam Lyth, Mark Wood - are not getting any airtime at all. We have some very good players like Gary Ballance, who was ICC young player of the year. That was exciting news. I understand Kevin is a huge subject but Cooky and me cannot be drawn into that. We have got to focus on what is ahead which is three Tests."
Moores, having overseen the World Cup shambles, perhaps has more to lose if England fail against West Indies. Graves has given no assurances over his position.
"I think we all know we're in a results business," Moores said. "I'm just focusing on what's in front of us. For me and Alastair it's pretty clear. We've got some new players coming in and we've got Jonathan Trott coming back. We've got to make sure that the side moulds quickly.
We've got a couple of practice games and we go straight into the Test series and we don't need to go any further than that."
Both men could go no further than the third Test if England do not perform. Cook relieved the pressure on him with three half centuries in the final three Tests against India last summer but has still only made 899 runs at 29.96 in 17 Tests since the start of the 2013 Ashes with no centuries.
"What I have got to do is score runs at the top of the order and set up England wins," Cook said. "They were not hundreds but you saw 90s, 80, and 70s in those last three Tests and runs at the top of the order always make England a harder side to beat. You are paid to score runs and I would love to lift up that bat again.
"It is just about winning. We want our players to focus on keeping things simple. To win games of cricket you have to play attacking cricket with discipline and skill. You have to be totally committed and that is what we are going to try and do while we are in the West Indies."
Alex Winter is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo He tweets here