Paul Downton ends all the speculation by backing his captain Alastair Cook

England supremo says that struggling Cook will lead team at the World Cup

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The Independent Online

The conjecture, if not the argument, about Alastair Cook’s role as England’s captain in the World Cup was effectively ended last night. Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket, submitted a passionate and articulate defence for retaining Cook’s services in the face of a poor run of team results and dire personal form.

Since he is the man who calls the shots and will doubtless have spoken to the selection panel before expressing his views in public, only a slip of a computer key in transmitting the official squad to the ICC would probably preclude Cook’s participation. While offering support to Cook, Downton also reiterated that he had no regrets whatsoever about the decision to sack Kevin Pietersen as an England cricketer.

The nightmare scenario for England now is that Cook fails to make a substantial score either here today in the seventh match of the series against Sri Lanka, or in any of the four one-day internationals in the Australian triangular series before next year’s World Cup. If that happens, the side he leads will start the tournament in a parlous state.

“He is having a terrible time at the moment,” said Downton. “Nobody knows that more than him, nobody is more frustrated than him. Why do we still think he’s the best person for the job in Australia? In reality, in September the selectors got together and spent nearly a week kicking the tyres and working out ‘were we best to stick with Alastair?’ given that we were going to be playing a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with two new balls where his track record is good, and he has been captain for three and a half years. The only time he had a full-strength side, they got to the final of the Champions Trophy, and in fact they should have won it.”

Downton, speaking in Colombo before the conclusion of this series, insisted that England had made considerable advances since their disastrous tour of Australia last winter. He said they had rebuilt a Test side which could be extremely exciting for the next few years and that more positives than negatives had emerged from this one-day tour of Sri Lanka.

Having already demonstrated that he is not to be swayed by the siren calls of the baying mob, either in the form of the social-network sites or former England captains, he also seems aware that his own reputation and possibly job are on the line because of his loyalty to Cook.

“Yes, he is in miserable form but form can change and, just as we saw during the summer when frankly AN Other was going to be the next captain for England, we felt strongly that all his experience, all his toughness would come out,” said Downton.

“He’s 29, he has had a year where everyone has questioned his being every day. The fact is that he’s a remarkably strong guy and his track record will say that he will score runs. Everybody goes through a bad period, everybody. He is not captain forever, of course he is not, but to the specific question ‘who is the best person to take us to the World Cup?’, from the discussion we had in September, it’s Alastair Cook.”

What Cook has done before is not the issue that is exercising opinion, of course. He is due runs, but we will soon be entering those realms where it is suggested that if a bunch of monkeys sit at word processors long enough they will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.

Downton was as dismissive of Pietersen as he was supportive of Cook. He considers  the episode to be part of  the past and spoke of the surprise felt of Pietersen’s portrayal of a bullying culture in the England dressing room. “You can go on denying all sorts of things,” he said. “The reality was there was no formal complaint of bullying at all on anybody’s record during that whole period. All I’m interested in is what’s best for English cricket. That is the only driving force there is.

“All one has to do is read Kevin’s book to see how disaffected he was at the time. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to explain satisfactorily to some people what happened.  I’m sure we can’t look on it contentedly, and I’m sure we could have handled it better. But it is history, we can’t change it any more. Am I content we made the right decision? Absolutely.”

England, 4-2 down in this series, are likely to make changes today. Cook will not be among them. A win and runs would be handy but not necessary.