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England in turmoil

By Stephen Brenkley

Alastair Cook, England's defeated captain, will carefully examine his future role. In the wake of England's surrender of the Ashes yesterday, after losing the first three matches against Australia by huge margins, he recognised some people would be scenting blood.

"I'll never feel let down by my lads, I look into their eyes, and I see what they do in training," he said. "Whether I could have done more, of course, that's the first place you look when you lose. As a captain, the buck stops with you.

"Am I managing the players right, am I doing the right things out in the middle? We have to have some honest chats, like we always do. It's so early to say stuff like that when the game's just finished and everyone's being emotive and it's hurting like it's hurting. These have to be cool, calculated decisions at the right time."

There was no doubt, listening to Cook in the immediate aftermath of the 150-run defeat in the third Test, that he will not continue as captain and opening batsman without deep thought. He has seen his own form suffer badly in both home and away Ashes series and recognises that something might have to give – if not the captaincy, then perhaps a move to No 3 in the order.

He said: "It's a tough place, my batting at the moment. I'm putting the work in, but not getting the results. You can see the feet aren't always going in the right place.

"I don't think the batting is affected by the captaincy. There's always a strain on it. But the challenge of being a captain is to deal with it. I can honestly say that when I go out as a batter, I'm thinking like a batter."

Cook (right) gave unequivocal backing to Andy Flower to carry on as coach and to return the team to something like their former glory. The results in the final two matches in Melbourne, on Boxing Day, and Sydney, early in January, may not be wholly academic in that regard.

Cook said: "He's an outstanding coach. Let's make no mistake. It's not down to him that we've lost, it's that we haven't had enough players in form. We haven't been good enough. That's why we lost. It's a hard thing to admit it, but we haven't been good enough."

Former England captain Ian Botham has hit out at the national side's batsmen for their repeated failures in Australia.

Botham believes the hard work of the bowlers was undermined as a result of senior players such as Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior under-performing.

"I feel a bit for the bowlers because they've only had two days in the whole series where they haven't been in the field and that's because the batsmen have not performed in the first innings. So if the bowlers are looking tired then I'm not surprised," Botham said.

"The batters need to look at themselves, I'm sure the bowlers will be reminding the batsmen 'We did our part boys, where were you?'

"To lose the Ashes is a massive thing when you've had it for three years.

"All credit to Australia, they never let England back in and when they went for the jugular they did it in style."

By contrast, Michael Clarke hailed Australia's Ashes victory as a special achievement to compare with their whitewash in 2006/07.

Clarke, a young middle-order batsman seven winters ago, marked his – and Cook's – 100th Test by leading his team to a famous victory and unassailable 3-0 lead, with two to play.

Echoing the thoughts already expressed by his wicketkeeping colleague at the safe re-deliverance of the urn, he said: "Today, as Brad Haddin said, we brought it home.

"To get the Ashes back is so special, because of the work these guys have put in."

Asked if this is therefore the proudest moment of his outstanding career, he said: "It's as big, there's no doubt about it.

"I certainly don't want to disrespect 2006/07 – that was a very special series at a very different time in my career. I was a lot younger ... a little bit older, a little bit greyer, this is certainly as special."

It is too, of course, for a generation of Australians who have previously had to get used to losing to England.

"I don't think you'll find one bloke in that dressing room who won't say that this is the pinnacle – playing Test cricket against England and winning the Ashes," Clarke added.

"That's always been the pinnacle for all Australian cricketers."

Clarke spared a thought too for Cook, who only four months ago had led England to a 3-0 victory over Ausralia on home soil.

Back then, it was Clarke who had to come up with all the explanations in defeat.

"I've read a bit of the stuff in the media back in the UK, and I know what Alastair feels like at the moment.

"It's not that long ago I sat in the same position.

"I think they're a very strong team, and the Australian players deserve a lot of credit for the way we've performed in this series.

"Alastair Cook is a fantastic leader. To play 100 Test matches, and have the record he has, I think he deserves a lot of recognition."

Clarke knows from personal experience that success at the highest level is hard-earned.

"Test cricket is extremely tough, and I know what it feels like to sit on the other side and not get the result you want," he said.

"But that doesn't mean you haven't got the best players there; it doesn't mean you haven't got the best captain.

"I believe Alastair Cook is a wonderful player and a very good captain - and I certainly don't believe he deserves the criticism I've read in the last few days. Nor do the England team."

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