Match Analysis

Cook a lead weight for England's World Cup chances

England's much-derided formula for one-day cricket is being further undermined by the form of their captain. Maybe it is time Alastair Cook decided to stand down

Sometimes the greatest act of leadership is knowing when to stand down. So, just as Nasser Hussain's selfless decision to retire from Test cricket in May 2004 - a weaker man might have allowed the prospect of a 100th Test cap to urge him into another series - helped set the foundations for England's Ashes success the following year, so the greatest contribution Alastair Cook could make to England's ODI plans would be step down from the captaincy now.
Defeat in this match was inevitable long before the end of the first innings. It was inevitable once England scored just one boundary between the fourth ball of the 18th over and the second of the 44th. It was inevitable once it became apparent that Trent Bridge had, once again, prepared a slow, turning wicket that did the home team no favours. And it was inevitable once an England team without a spinner considered first choice by their county's Championship side, lost six wickets for 122 runs against 30 overs of spin from India's bowlers.
It is not that their strategy is necessarily wrong. England showed in the run-up to the Champions Trophy that their much-derided batting method of preserving wickets and accelerating towards the end of the innings can work. They were No. 1 in the ODI rankings in 2012 and went within an ace of winning their first global ODI event last year.
And, for all the talk of picking younger, more aggressive players, the likes of James Vince, Alex Hales and James Taylor, who constituted part of the England Lions team in the recent tri-series tournament against their Sri Lanka and New Zealand counterparts, it is worth remembering that, in two of the four games they played, they were reduced to 43 for 4 and 48 for 4. They lost both as a consequence. Having at least one solid player in the top three makes sense for England.
The problem is more England's execution of their plan. If they are going to pursue a strategy based around one of the top three batting through their overs, one of the top three is going to have start doing that. In the absence of Jonathan Trott, who along with Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann, remains a huge loss to the ODI side, England have nobody doing the job nearly often enough. Trott, it might be noted, has scored two centuries and a half-century in his last five List A innings, and has recently been cleared by the England medical team as available for selection.
At present England have the worst of all worlds: batsmen who play at a slow rate and who fail to see the job through. They offer neither stability nor impetus and instead offer the foundations of their own defeat. It was not just that England scored too slowly in this match, they also lost all 10 of their wickets.
Specifically, Cook's poor form is hindering his team. Cook has been out of form for more than a year. It is 37 ODI innings and more than two years since he registered a century. He has made one half-century in his last 14 ODI innings and that, an 85-ball innings of 56 against Sri Lanka, did England few favours as they lost the series decider. Since that century in June 2012, Cook has averaged 32.48 at a strike-rate of 72.79. England have won 18 and lost 17 of them. That is not a small sample size.
While everyone accepts that players' form will fluctuate, this has been too long a slump to dismiss as an inevitable dip on a long journey. Several good top-order batsmen in county cricket would, if given enough opportunity, flourish occasionally at international level. The measure of success is to do it consistently and Cook simply cannot claim to have achieved that. He has been selected for his solidity, yet is batting with obvious fragility.
His batting in this match was painful. He edged frequently - twice on 5, once on 6, again on 13 and 17 and 18 and 28 - as well as playing and missing on 2, 7 and 41. In between, he timed the ball so poorly that you could imagine his bat sponsors imploring him to rip their stickers from his bat in case people thought they were to blame for the dead, metallic sound made each time he connected.
It is hard to deny the conclusion that younger men such as Gary Ballance, with a List A average of 52.52 and a strike rate of 89.48, or Taylor, average of 52.33 and strike rate of 83.21, are being kept out of the side by an inferior player. While such grim form can be more easily accommodated in the Test side - Cook's survival instinct remains a significant asset in the longest format - it cannot in the shorter.
Equally, while Cook's passion for the role of captain is admirable, desire and good intentions are not enough. Almost every England supporter inside Trent Bridge would love the opportunity to captain their country, it does not mean they are the right person for the job. Ian Bell or Eoin Morgan, while hardly in the most impressive form themselves, are perfectly acceptable options as replacement captain.
The management's loyalty to Cook is admirable, but it must not be used as an excuse for inaction. Part of the selectors' fear is that, if Cook steps down in this format, it may weaken his position in Tests. It is true, certainly, that Hussain and Andrew Strauss found that to be the case.
But, unless England really are prepared to sacrifice their ODI plans in the naïve belief it may help their Test form, unless their management team is too weak to make the strong decision, unless they are hoping that, by some miracle, it will all come right on the night and Cook can lead them to glory in the World Cup, they are just treading water. Cook's presence at the top of the order - at least a Cook as demonstrably out of form as this - is impeding their hopes of progress.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo