'Blocker' Cook has character to confound all his critics

The England captain's reply to comments made by Atherton could be made using his bat today
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The Independent Online

In the past week a standing joke has emerged in the small world that is the caravan following the England one-day team. It is that Mike Atherton, archetypal one-day blocker back in his day, has been avoiding Alastair Cook, whom he sees as his inappropriate successor.

Atherton has been beastly about Cook. Never less than trenchant in his observations as a television commentator with Sky, he has called Cook a blocker as an opening one-day batsman and a plodder in the field. He was especially harsh last Sunday morning on the programme Cricket Writers on TV in disparaging the Essex man's credentials as England's new 50-over captain. So forceful was he that he took the wind out of the sails of the studio pundits,of whom your reporter was one.

Since then, the world has waited for the showdown. It has not happened. A frequent part of Atherton's duties is to front the live coverage at the toss and again at the end. On both occasions, he would have had to interview Cook.

But so far there has been no convergence of the twain. Atherton apparently has not been on the rota for the job, but it looked highly convenient, since they could hardly have avoided a verbal dust-up. How opportune it would seem were Atherton to pop up in front of Cook armed with a microphone at Lord's today, where England and Sri Lanka meet in the third of five one-dayers.

He has plenty to go at, and Cook has handed it to him. In the first of the matches at The Oval, Cook made five, desperately unfortunate to be caught by the wicketkeeper after playing a leg glance, one of his go-to shots. Still, it tweaked the pressure knob a tad. In the second at Headingley on Friday, the new captain Cook set out to demonstrate what he could do.

For 52 balls, it looked as if he might yet show Atherton and everybody else that he had changed, that he could do this one-day stuff. He was mugged when the spinners came on, however,essaying an aerial cover-drive against Suraj Randiv that never looked as though it had the legs.

It was part of a ragged England performance. They were entitled to lose after Sri Lanka had scored 309 for 5, still highly likely to win more matchesthan it loses. Of the 325 one-day matches when the side batting first have scored 300 or more, 31 have been won by the side batting second. There have been 94 matches in which a side made between 300 and 309, and 11 of those have been won by the pursuers. Thus, England had around about a 10 per cent chance of overhauling Sri Lanka's score, the size of which never looked in doubt once Mahela Jayawardene, whose serene century was perhaps eventually the crucial difference, had been dropped on seven. If it begged the question of why Cook opted to bowl, it was the batsmen who ensured the ploy would fail.

If the bowlers were cannon fodder, they must still examine the need to take wickets in the middle overs, or allow the sort of carnage which resulted in the batting powerplay. The tourists walloped 59 in five overs and England, trying to keep the ball away from them, bowled seven wides.

For the foreseeable future, Cook is here to stay, and it would not be in the England management's nature to jettison him for a long while yet. They genuinely believe, unlike a plethora of pundits, that he can lead them to sunny uplands.

Cook is so resolute that he might very well confound his critics, though he would never say so. He is not the only batsman who invites rumination. Jonathan Trott has been prolific,but in reaching double figures for the 10th consecutive time in Leeds, a run that has included six fifties, he was not busy enough. His overall strike- rate of almost 80 partly defies hiscritics, but he has to take a game by the scruff.

Kevin Pietersen holed out again after looking like a million; he needs to win games for England again soon. Ian Bell looks worrying uncomfortable in the No 6 position: he doesnot seem quite sure of what heshould do.

Too much of a burden at present is being imposed on Eoin Morgan. He might well be capable enough to bear it, but as soon as he ran past one on Friday night and was stumped, that was it for England. It too often is.