10 Reasons Alastair Cook Should Resign as England Captain
Alastair Cook's England slumped to a demoralising defeat to Sri Lanka at Headingley on Tuesday as a Test that went down to the wire was decided on the penultimate delivery of the match.
Needing to face out just two deliveries to secure a draw, James Anderson ballooned a short-pitched effort off the bowling of Shaminda Eranga into the waiting hands of Rangana Herath to see the visitors claim their first-ever Test series victory on English soil.
Yet, despite the nail-biting finish in Leeds and the historic achievement for Angelo Mathews' men, the Test was more notable—at least for those partial to England—for the mounting pressure on Cook, with the captain's tactical approach during Sri Lanka's second innings drawing intense criticism from the game's observers.
Disappointingly, Cook's showing in the field on Day 4 at Headingley was the latest in a series of perplexing exhibitions of captaincy, increasing the speculation that the England skipper should step down.
With momentum growing for his resignation, we examine 10 reasons why Cook should opt to relinquish his position at the helm of England.
Cook Is an Alarmingly Poor Tactician
No aspect of Alastair Cook's captaincy has been as widely criticised as his tactical approach in the field.
For his harshest critics, the England captain actually doesn't have a tactical approach, instead being a man who walks blindly through countless sessions without working to a distinguishable method of attack at all.
That stance is probably too extreme, but the second Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley has exposed Cook's tactical deficiencies like never before.
Those who watched the visitors' second innings on Day 4 in Leeds are unlikely ever to forget the dire manner in which the 29-year-old led his team.
Somehow, a match in the balance was practically surrendered, with ridiculously defensive field settings and appalling bowler rotations serving to make Rangana Herath look more like Sanath Jayasuriya.
While his decision-making skills were questioned in Australia, his inability to orchestrate results at home to Sri Lanka is a damning reflection on Cook's tactical acumen.
He Still Hasn't Displayed Any Signs of Improvement in a Tactical Sense
Maybe what is more concerning than Alastair Cook's disappointing tactical acumen is the simple fact that he's still yet to show any signs of improvement since the disaster in Australia.
What happened in the most recent Ashes series was indeed lamentable, but had it served as a significant learning curve for the captain, then the whole episode could have been viewed as a harsh but necessary experience.
Instead, Cook has continued to use the same methods that proved so costly in Australia, allowing Sri Lanka to creep back into the recent contests in England in the same way that Michael Clarke's men were allowed to seize the initiative during the winter.
And while that regularly cited definition of insanity can often be overused, it's becoming difficult to fathom how Cook continues to believe in the effectiveness of methods that keep proving costly for England.
His Batting Form Is Non-Existent
Put simply, if Alastair Cook wasn't the captain, he likely wouldn't be in the team.
Since the beginning of the 2013 Ashes series on home soil, the England skipper has accumulated just 601 runs at an average of 25.04, going without a Test hundred in his last 24 innings.
If such a record had been compiled by any other member of the English top order, they would have been axed a long time ago.
In fact, they have. Kevin Pietersen (34.10) and Michael Carberry (28.10) have both averaged more than Cook in the same period of time, but both find themselves discarded for good.
Cook's place in the team, of course, could be justified if the side was still winning and he was captaining in the field to a high standard.
But neither of those things are the case.
The Public Have Lost Their Connection with Cook's Team
Examine the stands at Headingley behind Alastair Cook in the image above. How's that for a crowd? Can it even be called a crowd? Maybe more a small gathering? The sort you'd expect in the Football Conference.
As explained here, the English public have become largely detached from their national representatives under Alastair Cook, the team's methods and character completely failing to endear themselves to the game's fans in England.
Certainly, there are mitigating circumstances to this, including the lack of cricket on free-to-air television in Britain.
But it runs deeper than that. There's little to like about Cook's England; the team isn't at all cherished by fans, which is reflected by the public's scarce interest in the team in their series against Sri Lanka.
Remember, cricket should be alive and well in Yorkshire. With a strong county team and a number of representatives in the national side, Headingley should be one place where a strong rapport between the public and the team should exist.
That it's not, and that bigger crowds are found at the local Topshop, is a definitive sign that England have lost the public's support under Cook.
He's Struggling to Handle the Adversity
Alastair Cook finally cracked last week.
After continually shrugging aside the criticism regarding his captaincy, the England leader appeared to reach a breaking point after the first Test of the summer at Lord's, calling for "something to be done" about what he viewed as personal attacks by Australian legend Shane Warne, as reported by ESPN Cricinfo.
Whether or not you agree with Warne is largely irrelevant, as Cook's reaction was a clear indication that peripheral issues are becoming distractions in his mind.
Amid a turbulent period for England, the team's leader needs to be setting an example on the field and leading his side with a sense of conviction.
Doing neither of those and falling into public spats with commentators is almost the worst possible response, reinforcing the perception that Cook is struggling to handle the pressures of his high-profile position.
England Have No On-Field Identity Under Cook
Cricket teams are typically an extension of their captain's persona.
Under Michael Clarke, Australia are bold and relentlessly aggressive. Under Steve Waugh, they were bloody-minded and utterly ruthless.
Going back further, the great West Indian teams were lethal and hostile under Clive Lloyd and Sir Viv Richards, Pakistan were feisty under Wasim Akram and India became combative under Sourav Ganguly.
More recently, South Africa transformed into a unit full of hubris under Graeme Smith, while Sri Lanka have added a dogged resolve under Angelo Mathews.
Even England had a genuine sense of identity under Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss, the former leading a rather ferocious team before his successor made them methodical.
But what is Cook's team known for? What's the distinct brand of their cricket? Porous tactics aside, what distinguishes this English side from any other?
That there are no obvious answers to those questions shows how Cook has failed to take command of his players and failed to instill a mentality that can not only be relied on but also identified by those watching.
The Team Needs to Find an Assertive Leader Before the 2015 World Cup
Modern international teams don't necessarily need the same captain in the Test and limited-overs formats.
But England are in a situation where a dominant leader—or at least, a slightly more assertive one—needs to be identified as the team look ahead to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Based on the team's recent one-day international results in extended series—consecutive defeats to Australia and a series loss at home to Sri Lanka—it's obvious that Cook's England is enduring the same struggles in coloured clothing.
Additionally, in the same period as his batting woes in the Test arena, the left-hander has averaged just 31.77 at a strike rate of only 76.06—hardly the numbers expected of one-day openers in modern, limited-overs cricket.
Thus, replacing Cook as captain in the Test arena would provide the opportunity to do the same thing on the ODI stage, potentially boosting England's chances ahead of the World Cup.
Cook Is Heavily Responsible for Weakening His Own Team
As succinctly explained by George Dobell of ESPN Cricinfo, Alastair Cook "was the captain either unwilling or unable to accommodate the highest run-scorer in England's international history and, as a result, he has weakened his side and shouldered an unnecessary burden."
Essentially, Cook played a significant role in the axing of Kevin Pietersen, meaning he must accept the possible consequences of such a monumental decision.
If you're going to say that those selected are better suited to this England team than Pietersen, you must be held responsible if that standpoint produces extremely poor results.
That, of course, has been the case against Sri Lanka, as Cook's reluctance to work with the renegade batsman has severely harmed the strength of his side.
Viable Replacements Exist Within the Squad
Leadership transitions are often carefully planned, with potential successors regularly groomed for the captaincy well in advance of the handover occurring.
No country has completed that process quite as rigidly as Australia, with Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke all ascending to the position in a rather predictable fashion since the nation's rise under Allan Border.
But although that's typically viewed as the ideal method of transition, it's not the only way.
Within the current England squad, both Ian Bell and Stuart Broad are the sort of players capable of leading by example with their own personal performances. While thrusting the captaincy upon either player isn't desirable, the perception that alternative leaders don't exist within the team is somewhat misguided.
While Bell's excellence with the bat and calmer disposition make him the safer bet, Broad's more combative personality could add another dynamic to this team.
And if concerns regarding their leadership and tactical abilities exist, the question needs to be asked: Can it get worse than what was on show at Headingley this week?
The Body Language of the Team on Day 4 at Headingley Said It All
Perhaps more than most sports, cricket is a game that can be heavily influenced by the way a team enforces their presence. Even in moments when the match seems to be meandering, the persona of a team plays a key role in changing the complexion of a Test.
On Day 4 at Headingley, England carried out that task appallingly.
Faced with perplexing fields, Stuart Broad and James Anderson looked despondent. Those in the perplexing places looked less interested again.
Even Alastair Cook's sidekicks—who tend to enjoy the 29-year-old's captaincy-by-committee approach—showed little interest in sharing their ideas with the skipper.
The body language of England was so poor that it even got a mention during Sky Sports' broadcast of the match by former captain Nasser Hussain.
And while it would be too much of a stretch at this stage to say Cook has lost the dressing room, the way his players responded to his leadership on Monday suggested the current captain is providing little in the way of inspiration to his teammates.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.