England may have closed day two of the second and deciding Test match with Sri Lanka at Headingley in a good position, 63 runs ahead of the tourists with still four wickets in hand, but it was the continual poor form with the bat of captain Alastair Cook that was the talk of the press box in Leeds on Saturday.
Cook, whose last Test hundred actually came on this very same ground against New Zealand last June, made just 17 from 59 balls before being caught at first slip by Kumar Sangakkara off the bowling of Dhammika Prasad in now familiar fashion early in the morning session.
And what made the skipper’s latest failure all the more glaring was that Cook’s new opening partner, 24-year-old Australian-born Sam Robson, made his maiden Test century in just the Middlesex player’s second match for England.
Meanwhile, Cook’s pre-match comments concerning Shane Warne are now looking even more bizarre, with the left-hander perhaps best advised to concentrate more on his plummeting Test average in the last three years than asking “for something to be done about” the former Aussie leg-spinner.
Alastair Cook's Test decline? 2011: avg 84.3 2012: avg 48.0 2013: avg 33.9 2014: avg 15.2 #ENGvSL— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) June 21, 2014
Back in 2011—after three run-laden series against Australia, Sri Lanka and India—Cook averaged an astonishing 84.3, thanks in part to a Test-best 294 against India at Edgbaston that summer.
However, 12 months later and the Essex batsman’s average for the year had dropped to 48, although Cook still enjoyed the crowning moment so far of his captaincy after racking up a mammoth 562 runs in just eight innings, including three tons, as England won in India that winter for the first time since 1985
In 2013, though, Cook averaged only 33.9 after two punishing Ashes in a row started to expose some of the opener’s old technical failings outside off-stump, while so far this year things have got even worse, with the skipper now averaging just 15.2 in the current series with Sri Lanka.
And it was former England opener Geoff Boycott who observed, while commentating on Test Match Special during the first Test at Lord’s, that unless you bowl either on Cook’s legs or wide of off-stump, then the 29-year-old now finds it desperately hard to score.
Meanwhile, the ever-alert Yorkshireman was also quick to spot on Saturday, while broadcasting on Channel 5, that Cook was still tending to present only half a bat face when playing his favoured off-side shots in a warning that the player failed to heed.
Should Alastair Cook remain as England captain?
So what now for the beleaguered England skipper? Well, first there is a Test and a series to be won at Headingley during these next three days, with England still in control of the match do not forget.
Meanwhile, a crucial second innings with the bat then awaits as far as Cook is concerned, and even a possible chance to silence his growing doubters with a game-winning knock.
But in the long run, Cook may have to consider possibly dropping down the order to No. 3, or even the dreaded option—as far as the skipper is concerned that is—of relinquishing the captaincy.
That may just help free Cook’s mind of all the clutter that is currently preventing the former run-machine from doing what he used to do so much of, scoring bucket loads of runs for England.