Cook on sticky wicket with selectors after failing again

These are tough times for the Graham Gooch stable. Ravi Bopara has already been returned to home pastures after finding the going too hard on the Ashes gallops and now Alastair Cook is in danger of becoming the subject of a stewards', or at least a selectors', inquiry.

Cricket, and especially batting, looks such a simple occupation when everything keeps falling into place. But once on a bad trot there cannot be too may tougher ways of earning a living in professional sport than facing a ball that is hard, red and determined to make a mug of you.

Strikers, for example, can blaze three chances over the bar and still be a hero by netting the last-minute winner; tennis players could serve three double faults and get out of jail by booming down five aces; and, as for bowlers, one "jaffa" soon puts five long hops into the shade.

When it comes to batsmen, though, one mistake is usually enough to bring the curtain down. And Cook, like his Essex team-mate Bopara, has been making too many of them this summer during a series he had high hopes of dominating.

Gooch, the former England captain, is a source of great comfort and considerable inspiration to both players. And now, perhaps more than at any other time, they will look to him for guidance while seeking the answer to problems that have brought them down to earth.

Bopara is already back with Essex but can look forward to trying to end his international season on a high when he rejoins England for a set of limited-overs matches against Australia. For Cook, though, this final Test of the summer is his last chance to rediscover that old sparkle before the selectors turn their thoughts to a winter tour of South Africa – and one opportunity has already gone with yesterday's cheap and rather too predictable dismissal.

Even if Cook fails in the second innings of the Ashes decider, England will not want to call time – even temporarily – on a 24-year-old batsman who scored six centuries in his first 17 Tests and still averages above 43 after winning 48 caps.

But the selectors are forever talking, and quite rightly, about the importance of strength in depth. That being the case, the time has come for them to not only identify their next potential Test opener but also to send him to South Africa to keep everyone on their toes.

Cook is by no means the first batsman to come unstuck against Australia. Indeed, he joins an exceedingly long list. But, having struggled through most of the 2006-7 whitewash series, the left-hander had sights firmly set on putting his particular record straight this time.

A century in Perth was something for Cook to cling on to. Other than that, though, he failed to make a 50 – and the story has been similar, only a bit worse, second time around. Yes, there was an important contribution of 95 at Lord's, but seven other visits to the crease have yielded a none too grand total of 118 runs.

At times this series, Cook has perished playing across his front pad. The biggest problem, however, seems to be outside off-stump, as was the case yesterday when Peter Siddle exploited a lack of decisive footwork by finding the outside edge with a ball angled across the opener.

England will have time to let the dust settle after the fate of the Ashes urn has been decided. But, come the flight to South Africa, they will need a third opener-cum-No 3 on board, be it Rob Key or Stephen Moore, to have options at the top of the order.

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