Runs are key in the debate over Alastair Cook's England captaincy

Cook is a leader who is successful when he can set an example through deeds rather than words

Headingley

A captain does not need to make inspirational bowling changes. He can survive without setting an unorthodox field that brings a wicket. Sometimes, all that is required is for him to do his job better than anyone else.

Once more,  Alastair Cook’s leadership suffered serious scrutiny as Sri Lanka moved into a dominant position. Some of his tactics today, when visiting captain Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath were batting together, were hard to understand.

Little faith was shown in the off-spin of Moeen Ali, even though he finished day three with figures of two for 32 from his 10 overs. As soon as Herath, a tailender, walked to the crease, England seemed to abandon any plans they had to take Mathews’ wicket.

As a tactician, Mathews is no Brendon McCullum, nor Michael Clarke. Indeed, some of his on-field calls appear to be questioned openly by Mahela Jayawardene, a former skipper. Jayawardene cannot, however, challenge Mathews’ contribution as a cricketer.

After a century in the First Investec Test at Lord’s, coupled with an obdurate effort in the second innings that helped Sri Lanka hang on for a draw, Mathews has excelled here.

He collected four for 44 in England’s first innings before producing one of the knocks of his career in the second. Mathews’ 160, made in five hours and nine minutes, was a work of art. He knew when to accelerate, when to sit tight, how to take the fight to the bowlers and how to manage Herath, a lower-order batsman with a sound enough technique.

But Herath should not be hanging around as long as he did to make 48 in a stand of 149 with his captain. When you can affect a match like that, who cares about funky fields? Mathews is the team’s all-rounder, and his work with both bat and ball in this game has been peerless.

Mathews’ brilliant hundred does not make him a better captain, no more than does his superbly intelligent spell of medium-pace bowling that finished off England’s lower order on Saturday morning. It does bolster his authority, though, and gives him far more latitude than he would have if he were in poor form.

Has Cook become a worse captain since he took the Test job in 2012 and led the team to victory in India, scoring three centuries in the series? Of course not. Like Mathews, Cook is a leader who is successful when he can set an example through deeds rather than words.

If runs start to flow for him again, he will be shown more patience. If the lean streak continues, and his late dismissal last night hardly helped his cause, Cook may find it difficult to see out the  summer.

The principal candidate to replace him would be Ian Bell, but Graeme Swann, a team-mate of both men, believes Cook is more naturally suited to the role.

“Alastair Cook is the right man to lead the team,” Swann told BBC Test Match Special. “I don’t think Ian Bell has got the personality and I think Cook is more of a leader than Ian Bell.

“Alastair Cook just needs to score runs. That would get a huge monkey off his back,” said Swann. “If you’re a genuine England fan you should get behind Alastair Cook and hope he and [coach] Peter Moores show us the fresh brand of cricket they’re bringing.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003