Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Cook feeling heat as questions are raised of his future in captain role

Alastair Cook has failed to find his form

Alastair Cook's future as the England captain is in deep jeopardy after two heavy defeats in the Ashes series.

Once he could do little wrong, but Cook is now the struggling leader of an embattled team who are confronting a sporting disaster.

Many observers, including the former England captain, Michael Vaughan, are suggesting that they could lose 5-0 to Australia. The tourists went down by 218 runs following their 381-run reversal in the first Test. Cook's personal contribution with the bat was four runs.

"I need to score more runs, we all do," said Cook. "But there are only so many times you can tell the lads to do it, and if you're not doing it, it makes it harder.

"I'm there at the top of the order as a batter, and I haven't been scoring enough runs. I need to go and change that."

Cook was dismissed in both innings by England's nemesis, Mitchell Johnson, bowled by a sizzling, swinging delivery in the first innings and then misguidedly hooking the bowler's third ball in the second down long leg's throat.

Since the start of the home series against Australia in the summer, Cook has made 359 runs at an average of 25.64.

When he first assumed the captaincy, it seemed that the position enhanced his scoring credentials rather than diminished them. He made hundreds in his first five matches when captain of the team and in seven of the first 11.

It is ironic that his tactical leadership of the team has improved vastly and is attracting plaudits from unexpected quarters.

But it is not field placings, bowling changes and Churchillian speeches that ultimately count. It is results. The chances are that he will survive because he still has the loyalty of his team, but the intensity of an Ashes series invariably heightens emotions and the quest for culpability.

There is also the issue of England's discipline. It is not entirely their fault but they are caught up in a sledging war which they are losing.

The match referee, Jeff Crowe, decided not to pursue charges against the England debutant Ben Stokes and Johnson for making inappropriate and deliberate physical contact after they had collided on the fourth day.

The players both pleaded not guilty and Crowe cleared them of the charges after a hearing.

"I am satisfied in respect of both players that their physical contact was not deliberate," he said. "Both players, however, could have done more to avoid each other and they have been so counselled."

It has frequently been an unedifying spectacle and it will be no different in Perth where the third Test starts on Friday.

The magnitude of the losses has cast a huge shadow on the departures from their roles of Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, and Geoff Miller, the national selector. They have frequently expressed their pride in the systems in place.

Cook has not given up all hope of retaining the Ashes urn that England have claimed three times since 2009. But history is against him. Only Australia, once in 1936-37, have come from two behind to win. England now need a minimum of a draw and two victories.

"It's certainly not impossible," Cook said. "A lot of people who will be sitting in this room, and outside, will probably give us no chance. But if we don't believe that in our dressing room, if we believe the urn has gone, then it might as well have gone.

"Obviously 2-0 is not a great situation to be in. But if you look at a football game, the next goal can change it very quickly."