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Match Analysis

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

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

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