For Alastair Cook the moment of truth may already be at hand. Not a year into his captaincy of England's one-day team, three years before the next World Cup in which it is intended he should lead them, it is becoming clearer that if he wants job security he should become Health Secretary.
Some time in the desert during the next fortnight he has to guide his team to an oasis where victory lies. If England capitulate for the second time this winter, the scrutiny under which Cook has found himself since being appointed last spring may become too much to bear for selectors, management and the man himself.
England have four one-day internationals against Pakistan, beginning in Abu Dhabi today, and it is imperative that they not only contrive to win at least one but to compete on something like an equal footing in the others.
Cook has never gained full acceptance, at least outside the dressing room. In the view of sceptics, his prime defect in the ODI arena is his batting. The statistical evidence is all in Cook's favour. When England were still in the one-day dark ages, neither he nor they had a clue. Limited of shot and strategy, he poked around, averaging 32 with a strike rate of 68. But since taking over the side permanently last June, Cook has scored more runs than any of the other batsmen (600, 82 ahead of Jonathan Trott) at a greater average (46.15, three points ahead of Trott and Eoin Morgan) at a tidy lick of 93.17. His scoring rate is behind Craig Kieswetter and Eoin Morgan, but ahead of Kevin Pietersen.
As a captain, Cook cannot quite shake the idea that he does it by numbers. When England were being walloped 5-0 by India last October he occasionally looked at a loss.
His position may well take some heat off Pietersen in the next few days. Pietersen has been elevated to open the batting in the hope that it will make him again the player he once was.
Teams for today's first ODI, at the Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi (start 11am GMT)
England (from): A N Cook (captain), K P Pietersen, I J L Trott, R S Bopara, E J G Morgan, C Kieswetter (wkt), S R Patel, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J W Dernbach, J M Bairstow, D R Briggs
Pakistan (from): Misbah-ul-Haq (Captain), M Hafeez, I Farhat, Y Khan, A Shafiq, S Afridi, U Akmal (wkt), W Riaz, S Ajmal, A Rehman, U Gul, S Malik, A Ali
Umpires S Taufel (Aus) and A Raza (Pak).Reuse content