Sri Lanka vs England: Alastair Cook safe barring a mutiny

Cook made two vital errors but it will take a lot to see him demoted

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The Independent Online

It is difficult to imagine what might separate Alastair Cook and the England captaincy. Perhaps an oxyacetylene blow torch might do it but Cook is so inured by now that he would not feel the heat.

He made two errors of judgement on Saturday which probably cost England the match and the series against Sri Lanka. In any rational assessment it would also mean the end, finally, of his joint tenancies as the team’s leader and opening batsman. But rationality fled so long ago that it appears to have been forgotten.

Cook clings on as if welded, chained and then clamped. England have already named him as captain of the World Cup side in Australia in February. Nothing can prise them apart, and although the coach Peter Moores was equivocal in a television interview after the match, the selectors’ backing seems guaranteed. The team are hardly wont to mutiny which is what it would take.

Maybe they are right, maybe England will peak exactly when it matters. But this crushing defeat by 90 runs in the sixth one-day international which put them 4-2 down in the seven match series demonstrated that there is hardly a propitious sign in sight.

“It’s tough at the moment,” said Cook. “Not scoring the runs I would like is not a great place to be as a captain, you want to lead from the front and when it’s not happening for you it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s more frustrating for me than anyone else. I’m a better player than I am showing at the moment, I’ve just got to keep going.”

The question is whether he should be permitted to keep going, either for his own sake or the welfare of the team. By the 21st over of Sri Lanka’s innings yesterday, the tourists had made the home side eke out every run. All they wanted was for their premier batsman, Kumar Sangakkara, to make one error and the dam may be breached. It was not likely but they had to keep plugging away. Once would be enough.

And then Sangakkara played too early in driving Ravi Bopara and the ball went straight to Cook fielding at mid-off. Somehow, he misjudged either in flight or pace and it hit him in the chest. Sangakkara was on 41 and Sri Lanka on 91 at the time. By the time he was eventually out 24 overs later he was, gloriously, 112 and his side were on 243 for five from which perfect platform they went on to make 292 for seven.

Even that score did not make them impregnable on this pitch and with an England side revitalised after their unexpected victory two days earlier out came Cook to open. To his third ball he walked across his stumps, attempted a leg side nudge and simply missed a straight one. He was out lbw.

There was nary a moment thereafter when England were in the game. They lost by 90 runs, bowled out with 51 balls of their innings still left. Few of them, with Joe Root an exception, looked up for the struggle.

It was as poor a result as any under Cook, which is saying something. England have lost five successive one-day series in which he has been captain. In 19 innings this year, he has scored 491 runs with only one fifty and as pertinently, England have lost 12 of those matches.

Agreeing that his drop was the turning point, Cook said: “We came into today with some high hopes, especially the way we played on the same ground two days ago. But we knew we had a lot of work to do on our one-day game and days like today show that to be consistent we still do.

“It’s probably a good job I’m off social media and in the middle of Sri Lanka at the moment where the internet is not so great. It comes with the job. This is a time for a good reality check for us as a team.” And would he still lead the team in Australia? “Yes,” he said. Some might wonder who checks the reality checkers.