‘‘Everything negative – pressure, challenges — is an opportunity for me to rise.’’ The English captain must be nursing extremely contrary thoughts at the moment: he is not only down he could also be out of the team.
The last thing Alastair Cook was expected to do was to lose at the Lord’s, where the pitch, unlike the one at Trent Bridge, was tailor made for British conditions. Cook is turning out to be the cricketing heir who never had the flare – his parched run of no century in 27 innings is proof of that.
Only a cricket buff stricken with amnesia would forget that earlier in the year he had lost to Sri Lankans in all formats of the game. But the malaise now runs deeper: England has lost seven of the last ten tests and this is easily their worst streak in 21 years.
So, Cook versus the world is the flavour of the season and there are no prizes for guessing who has got his face in the mud. That smile on Cook’s face when he caught Stuart Binny running backwards was a sight to behold but the fact that he should find solace in something as mundane as that reflects the state of melancholy he is in.
Although mid series sackings are a little outdated in English cricket, it would be a gross understatement to say that there is a simmering storm in the English dressing room. His captaincy will hang by a slender thread hereafter – what has made it worse for him is that Cook does not even have a fig leaf of his expertise as an opener to cover his inadequacies with, which were stripped to the bone when he took 93 balls to plod to a measly 22 in the second Test against India.
To add to the ECB’s predicament, an opening pair has not registered a century stand for 17 Test matches now. The potential deserving replacements for Cook at the top of the batting order could have been Michael Carberry and Nick Compton who were incidentally cast aside prematurely under his captaincy. The irony may amuse some but it is likely to embarrass the ECB no end: so, that leaves the board strapped for options with their arms tied behind.
Come to think if it, until the other day, the ‘new England’ was being built around Alastair Cook the captain and the prolific opening batsman who by all means was on his way to knighthood, and the lack of runs was simply an aberration! The delusion had its roots in a subterranean reality reinforced by the fact that Cook had 8000 runs at the age of 29 and was just about reaching his peak as a batsman. So, it was a case of class over form because form was sure to be rediscovered this summer at home, with two Asian ‘minnows’ — Lanka and India — arriving overseas for the traditional slaughter. It was at least expected to resurrect English cricket from the lows of the Ashes Down Under (a humiliating 0-5), but the balmy English summer was not to be. Instead it has been all gloom and doom, England has been a wounded animal there for the taking — Sri Lanka discovered that to their immense joy and now India is providing the finishing touches. Murphy’s Law — anything that can go wrong will go wrong — seems to be at work as problems mount for England.
If the inevitable change in captaincy is brought about to release some pressure and constant scrutiny of Cook as an opener, the only serious candidate for the job is Ian Bell, who has had prior experience at captaincy with Warwickshire but is perceived as more of a follower than a leader in the English set up. Also, his batting position of number four, instead of number three, which many believe is his to own, is emblematic of that. At the same time, although he doesn’t appear to be woefully out of form, he doesn’t quite have the numbers to show on the runs column since the Adelaide Test.
The other conceivable choice may have been Matt Prior, but he drops catches at the drop of a hat these days, and the way he is keeping the wicket he appears incapable of even catching a cold. Besides, his batting form has been a worry for over a year and the axe is likely to come down on him despite the lack of options. So desperate are these times that England may have to resort to picking James Foster or Chris Read who are fantastic gloves men but at the very fag end of their careers.
All these imponderables almost transport us to the dark age of English cricket, the 90s, when everything was so frantic and unsettled.