England vs India second Test: Decent man, an indecent proposal

The Calvin report: Criticism of Alastair Cook has long gone beyond the pale but even he knows his time is running out

The firing squad features willing volunteers. Their weapons are locked and loaded and there is little inclination to offer the victim a protective blindfold. If the whiff of cordite is detected at Lord’s Sunday, or more likely Monday, Alastair Cook’s professional obituaries can be written.

He will be fortunate to survive defeat in the Second Test, especially if it is sealed by yet another batting failure in the second innings. The game is finely poised, the stakes have never been higher.

Cook has been a lightning conductor in this spell of stormy weather. He has been blamed for everything from England’s slow over-rates to the prevalence of hay fever. Criticism, initially linked to the agenda of those eager to peddle the myth of Kevin Pietersen’s commitment to a collective cause, has become self-perpetuating.

His predecessors have been on their satellite-linked soapboxes and decreed that enough is enough. His technique has been dissected and been found wanting. His task is unequivocal: he must bat today as if his career depends on it, because it probably does so.

He is not the type to make excuses, to highlight the dislocation that can ambush new fathers like him. He is a solid citizen, transparently decent, understandably popular yet uniquely vulnerable.

Read more: Plunkett breathes life into England
MCC groundsman's drag act inspires sweeping criticism
Tent Bridge pitch labelled 'poor' by MCC

Team huddles tend to be theatrical rather than statements of intent; strategies and bonding rituals are best reaffirmed in the privacy of the dressing room. But the one addressed by Cook in front of the pavilion as India set out in their second innings had an air of authenticity.

His earnestness was striking, and set the mood for two soporific but deceptively important sessions. It was also entirely in character. He has a farmer’s practicality and a refreshingly placid demeanour.

Captains with a more inflated notion of their importance would not contemplate the domestic drudgery of moving the bowler’s marker or ferrying the close fielder’s helmet to the other end of the pitch, as he did at the conclusion of every over.

Such is the virulence of the criticism he is obliged to face that some characterise such selflessness as an instinctive inability to prioritise and a reluctance to delegate. Yes, we are really getting that silly.

To prove the point, Shane Warne saw fit to castigate Cook for not making a bowling change after three overs of India’s response to a 24-run first-innings deficit.

His sycophants in the Pietersen Liberation Army, who tend to put the twit into Twitter, purred. More sensible souls, tired by the increasing absurdity of the personal attacks, passed the sick bag.

Cook’s problem, ultimately, lies in the disintegration of his batting technique. He scored more than 8,000 Test runs before he was worked out by the opposition, a minor miracle in this age of obsessive analytics.

That apart he, like any captain, can only play the hand he has been dealt. Moeen Ali’s inability to sustain the role of front-line spinner, for instance, leaves him with a dilemma from which he has little escape.

More exalted bowlers let him down in India’s first innings. The Jolly Green Giant of a Lord’s pitch has subsequently been neutered. The murk that hovered and lifted yesterday morning was replaced by mocking sunshine.

Cook may recite the modern mantra that he ignores the media yet he cannot fail to be aware that his future is a national talking point. Conventional wisdom suggests that he cannot afford to extend his sequence of low scores, which now leave him averaging 13.37 in 2014.

His sudden shortcomings as an opening batsman are close to being untenable, yet the sympathetic response by the cricketing public to his latest setback at Lord’s was significant. His popularity, a by-product of his modesty and obvious work ethic, is ironic given that under his captaincy England have become the team everyone loves to hate. Karmic retribution for their pitch-sprinkling arrogance at The Oval last summer has been swift and complete.

Admittedly, infuriating the Australians was so easy it became a matter of tribal pride. Yet to so completely alienate the Sri Lankans with boorish sledging, stage-managed truculence and attempts to intimidate was an avoidable handicap.

India followed the trend by being goaded into getting their retaliation in first. Their status, as the paymasters of world cricket, has bred an unmistakable sense of entitlement, and the supposed pushing match between Jimmy Anderson and Ravi Jadeja at Trent Bridge, which will be dealt with on Tuesday, has contributed to the tension which defines the current series.

India’s resistance to the DRS system, in defiance of global acceptance of such technological aids, is illogical and leaves them open to such examples of human fallibility as Ajinkya Rahane given out caught by Matt Prior off his armguard.

That effectively left India at 99 for 4, a position from which they recovered with relative comfort. Though Cook’s players are willing him to succeed, they know that only he can effect his escape from those who have him in their sights.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week