England v India: Alastair Cook under siege in numbers game
Without a win for 10 Tests and a captain who hasn't scored a century in 27 innings it's getting desperate
The figures 10 and 27 are a potent combination. If they rise by one and two respectively in the next five days, they will become toxic.
England have gone 10 Test matches without a victory, Alastair Cook has been 27 innings without a hundred. The team have lost two series, they are behind in a third, Cook's batting average this summer after seven innings is 16.43. In both cases it seems to be going from bad to worse.
The growing cause of those who insist it is time for Cook to depart as captain was joined yesterday by Kevin Pietersen in his new newspaper column. Other former captains such as Mike Atherton and Michael Vaughan had already put in their tuppence-worth.
Cook was not for dwelling on the resignation or anything like it at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton yesterday, where the Third Test of the Investec series against India begins today. He has been given a job to do; he still thinks he is the man to do it.
"As I keep saying in every press conference, I am desperate to carry on because I love being England's captain," he said. "It's a huge honour."
As for Pietersen's comments, they changed nothing in Cook's view: "The last three or four weeks everyone's been saying that. It's no difference who else says it.
"I've just got to stay true to myself and say how good it would be if I could get through this as a person, as a player, as a leader, and take huge strides from it. If I don't get through it, it is what it is".
There have been worse sequences without both wins and centuries. After beating Australia in December 1986 England went 18 matches of which they lost seven and drew 11. For the first 14 of them they were lead by Mike Gatting, who was overthrown not by lack of result or form but because of some dalliance with a barmaid which found its way into the tabloids.
The last England batsman to go as many as 27 innings without a hundred was, surprisingly, Pietersen, from May 2009 to December 2010, when he broke the run with a spectacular 227 in Adelaide. But there has never quite been a set of circumstances like these. For much of the 1980s and 1990s England were something of an endearing laughing stock. They lost, but no one minded much, because they were expected to.
Two things happened. In 2005, miraculously, after a period of vast improvement, England regained the Ashes after 16 years. The nation was joyous. Losing them again 18 months later was shocking, not because of the defeat but because of the nature of the 5-0 whitewash.
An enquiry was launched after which systems and structures were put in place. Before too long England, with a hiccup or two regarding Pietersen, were cocks of the walk. So cocky were they that not only did they win the Ashes three times in a row and became No 1 in the world, they appointed the next captain.
Cook was to be Andrew Strauss's successor from a long way out. That was part of the systems and structures. It was all intended to make sure England stayed at or near the top, that there would never again be humiliation on a grand scale.
And thus the present state has been reached. England are ranked in the middle of the Test table now, and could slip as low as sixth if they cannot get back into this series against India.
The structure is such that they cannot find a spin bowler in the entire country who is worth picking. What an indictment of the system that is.
The players look weary. A win might change everything, but they have forgotten how to win. There is small reason for optimism. Four of the batsmen have scored centuries this summer, and the selection of Joss Buttler as wicketkeeper-batsman sets the pulse racing. He should have been in before.
A word here about Matt Prior, whom Buttler has replaced. The last part of Prior's Test career, if that is what it proves to be, did not go entirely as he would have wished. But for three or four years he was a wicketkeeper-batsman for the ages, a true team man who cajoled the boys in the fields and always batted to fit the state of the match.
He was some batsman in full stride, and his spring-heeled agility was wondrous behind the stumps. The heels were what did for him, the Achilles stretched to breaking point. Buttler is a welcome addition, but Prior is only the most recent in a litany of splendid wicketkeepers he follows.
Cook needs runs, England need victories. And both need those things desperately.
England A N Cook (capt), S D Robson, G S Ballance, I R Bell, J E Root, M M Ali, J C Buttler (wkt), B A Stokes, S C J Broad, L J Plunkett, J M Anderson.
India S Dhawan, M Vijay, C A Pujara, V Kohli, A M Rahane, M S Dhoni (capt, wkt), R A Jadeja, S T R Binny, B Kumar, I Sharma, M Shami.
Umpires M Erasmus (SA) & R Tucker (Aus).
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