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Downton defends handling of Cook sacking

Alastair Cook was caught in the deep off Tillakaratne Dilshan Getty Images

England were harbouring growing doubts about Alastair Cook's future as one-day captain even as they expressed absolute faith in his leadership during the tour of Sri Lanka, according to the man who oversaw his removal ahead of the World Cup.

Paul Downton, managing director of England cricket, has admitted that Cook's loss of form had become so extreme that the plan to rely upon his track record in Australia, and trust his technique against two white balls, was increasingly open to question as the tour progressed.

Downton, who was one of Cook's most vociferous supporters, also took the opportunity to bury the notion, particularly prevalent on social media, that his role as managing director of England cricket makes him an all-powerful figure able to safeguard and remove captains as he sees fit.

"There seems to be a myth that I'm in charge of everything," Downton said. "I'm at the heart of an England management team of which the selectors are an integral part. We obviously talk very regularly but it's not a confrontational or adversarial situation at all.

"I'm very clear in my mind that my job is not a dressing room one and I'm not a selector. I will offer help if I can and as long as the processes are working well I'm happy. I don't go to every selection meeting. I go at the invitation of James [Whitaker] and the selectors and if asked I will provide an opinion. I don't look in any way to interfere with what the selectors decide because they watch far more cricket than me and are better qualified than me.

"But I am a cricket person and I can sometimes offer up a different perspective but as long as the process is thorough, which it always has been, then I'm happy with whatever decision the selectors come up with."

Downton also defended his actions in defending Cook so emphatically in Sri Lanka when he knew that his reappointment could not be taken for granted. With six of the seven ODIs completed, and the series already lost, he described Cook as the "natural leader", said he would be "very surprised" if he was replaced and described change as "risky". He put that down to the need to display loyalty whatever the circumstances and rejected the suggestion that the change of tack had been embarrassing.

"My job in this role is to support our team and our captain. We had one game left to play when I said that and we couldn't predict the outcome so for me to be questioning Alastair going into the last game would have been wrong. But plans have to change if they're not working and, while it wasn't my decision, I completely endorse what the selectors have done because I think it gives us the best chance going into the World Cup.

"He's very raw and of course it's a blow to have the captaincy taken away from you. Hopefully in time he will reflect that he wasn't scoring runs and he was putting himself under an awful lot of pressure" Paul Downton on Alastair Cook

"What I said then was that the decision to make Alastair captain in Sri Lanka had taken a lot of discussion with James and the other selectors. The decision that Alastair was the right man to take us to Sri Lanka and by implication the World Cup was made because of his track record over a long period of time in Australia against two white balls and because of the type of cricket we wanted to play out there.

"That was the plan and we thought consistency was the best thing to do. We could also see some young players coming through and stability at the top end with some shot players around him would be the way to go. But as Sri Lanka continued it just became clearer that he wasn't performing and if a plan's not working eventually you have to change it."

"Embarrassment doesn't come into this. This is not about personalities. It is always about what's best for English cricket. It was very clear to my mind and others that Alastair during the Test summer was absolutely the captain to back. It's always been more debatable in one-day cricket."

Cook remained convinced that he remained the best candidate to lead England into the World Cup, Downton admitted. No matter how persistent his lack of runs, or how trenchant the criticism, his ambition never wavered. "He had a dream to lead England at the World Cup and it's been taken away from him a month away from its fulfilment," Downton said. "He still believes he's the right man for the job but the selectors had to make a decision in the best interests of English cricket.

"'He's very raw and of course it's a blow to have the captaincy taken away from you. Hopefully in time he will reflect that he wasn't scoring runs and he was putting himself under an awful lot of pressure. And that he will now free up his mind and focus on Test cricket which is what he does best anyway. I hope he'll come round to thinking this is the best thing for him and the best thing for English cricket."

Even when he was appointed as England's one-day captain more than three years ago, championed by the MD of English cricket at the time Hugh Morris, team director Andy Flower and national selector Geoff Miller - all of whom have since moved on - Cook felt to many observers like a Test player seeking to hone his one-day game. The appropriate leader in the supposedly superior form of the game, his task was to adapt to other formats for the sake of continuity.

So would English cricket ever give equal weight to limited-overs cricket? "We have to find a way," said Downton, well aware that England will host the Champions Trophy in 2017 and the World Cup two years later. "We do need to go to these tournaments as one of the favourites. To have two captains gives us the chance to develop a one-day side in a slightly different way. Eoin is a natural one-day cricketer and he has the opportunity now to establish himself as the one-day captain."