Alastair Cook has not pulled his weight for two years... If England continue to cling on to a failing captain this could get messier

  • Alastair Cook has been out of form for best part of two years for England
  • Captain scored 11 and 13 in the first Test against West Indies last week 
  • Cook was sacked as one-day captain before England's shoddy World Cup 

By Lawrence Booth for the Daily Mail

Published: 15:38 GMT, 20 April 2015 | Updated: 15:40 GMT, 20 April 2015

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According to Peter Moores, Alastair Cook has ‘found some form, with the way he’s hitting the ball and moving’. Moores said this after Cook made 11 and 13 during the drawn first Test in Antigua. It’s true that the scoreboard can mislead. But these are not auspicious times for English cricket.

All too quickly Cook is in danger of becoming the story once more. There was an interlude recently, when Eoin Morgan took his turn in the hot seat and England fluffed yet another World Cup.

But, with Paul Downton out of the way and national selector James Whitaker under pressure, the sharp-eyed attention of England’s cricket-loving public is now trained on captain and coach. Social media does not make for happy reading. And who, frankly, can blame social media?

The spotlight continues to shine on England captain Alastair Cook after the first Test against West Indies

The spotlight continues to shine on England captain Alastair Cook after the first Test against West Indies

Opener Cook takes on fluids in the heat of Grenada as England train ahead of second Test

Opener Cook takes on fluids in the heat of Grenada as England train ahead of second Test

Cook’s double failure against West Indies means he has now gone 33 innings without a Test century; in 21 of those, he has not passed 25. His Test average of 45.65 is lower than at any time since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes. And, since scoring a century against New Zealand at Headingley in May 2013, Cook is averaging under 29.

To point these stats out is not to indulge in a witch-hunt: it is to express concern that a player who is only 454 away from becoming England’s leading Test runscorer, and is already their leading century-maker, has for the last two years failed to pull his weight. A member of the rank and file would already have been dropped.

Protestations that Cook’s record is too good for the drought to continue are beginning to conjure up images of monkeys and typewriters: one of these days, they’ll nail Hamlet! And, who knows, Hamlet may be nailed as early as Tuesday’s second Test in Grenada.

The question is: are Cook’s increasingly sporadic successes the glimmer at the end of the tunnel, or the flickerings of a dying light bulb?

Cook scored a disappointing 11 and 13 in the first Test in Antigua last week

Cook scored a disappointing 11 and 13 in the first Test in Antigua last week

But England coach Peter Moores (left) said Cook's form has improved with the way he is hitting the ball

But England coach Peter Moores (left) said Cook's form has improved with the way he is hitting the ball

Many critics fear the light bulb scenario, and it’s hard to think of another international batsman of Cook’s standing whose technique has been so exposed by the simple tactic of pitching the ball up. Most batsmen dream about not being bounced. For Cook, it is the other way round.

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Here, though, is the bottom line: this isn’t working. Only once in the last two years has he hinted at rediscovering his run-making ways – when he scored 95, 70* and 79 in four innings against India last summer. Even then, he needed plenty of luck. Otherwise, his form with the bat has gone the way of many recent England captains, except rather more speedily.

England need to make their mind up as soon as possible about Cook. They failed to do so last year, sacking him as one-day captain after wasting two series – at home to India and away to Sri Lanka – confirming what everyone bar the ECB knew: that he was patently ill-suited for the job. Handed a hospital pass, Morgan endured a horrible World Cup.

Cook walks from the crease dejected after being dismissed against West Indies in the first innings

Cook walks from the crease dejected after being dismissed against West Indies in the first innings

Cook and Gary Ballance struggle to deal with the heat in Grenada at training on Sunday

Cook and Gary Ballance struggle to deal with the heat in Grenada at training on Sunday

The Test situation is more complicated. England went into the Antigua game on the back of three – almost forgotten – wins over India last summer. And while the team are winning, the captain can be forgiven much.

And yet. Many teams have beaten India at home: the result told us little about England’s chances in tougher assignments. And, after the West Indies tour, they have four of those in a row: New Zealand and Australia at home, Pakistan in the UAE, South Africa away. If England cling on to a failing captain, as they did last year, this could get a whole lot messier.

Cook’s captaincy, incidentally, is unimaginative rather than incompetent. Andrew Strauss was cut from a similar cloth, but had better bowlers (and world-class batsmen, including Cook and Kevin Pietersen, at the peak of their powers).

Cook is currently lumbered with an attack on the wrong side of the career curve: to claim only two lower-order wickets in the last two sessions of the Antigua Test was a shocker, regardless of the pitch.

Removing Cook as captain would mean promoting Joe Root quicker than anyone would like

Removing Cook as captain would mean promoting Joe Root quicker than anyone would like

But the main point about his leadership is that it is sucking the life out of his batting – or, at the very least, distracting him from the thing that earned him the captaincy in the first place.

Cook is only 30. In theory, he has five or so years left at Test level – if he merits selection. Yet if he keeps being dragged down by the burdens of office, he will not last the ride. The only way to find out if he’s capable of responding to opening bowlers hell bent on drawing him forward is to allow him to concentrate on his chiselling out unlovely but vital runs at the top of the order.

This would mean promoting Joe Root to the captaincy earlier than anyone would like. But English cricket is not in the position to be picky.

If England fail to win in the West Indies, the decision may be taken out of Cook’s hands. If they don’t, it’s hard to see why they should beat New Zealand, let alone Australia. No one can say they haven’t been warned.

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