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Alastair Cook's Batting Slump and Captaincy Struggles Are 2 Separate Issues

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20:  England batsman Alastair Cook leaves the crease after being dismissed as the India fielders celebrate during day four of 2nd Investec Test match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 20, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Tim CollinsFeatured Columnist IVDecember 12, 2016

Back and across, tentative push forward, hang the bat and feather a little nick. 

The clever songwriters among us, the type who come up with the quirky football chants, could surely make a tune to that effect for Alastair Cook

After all, it's becoming rather predictable, isn't it?

Four times in seven innings so far this summer, the England captain has been dismissed by edging a full delivery around off-stump to the wicketkeeper or the slips cordon—an occurrence that repeated itself against India at Lord's on Sunday.

The other three occasions have seen Cook bowled, twice dragging on when looking for his back-foot delight that wasn't there, the other a direct result of trying to shuffle across to cover the delivery that has become his nemesis, seeing his leg stump disturbed. 

Like a bowler consistently dragging them too short, a fielder routinely grassing a certain type of catch, a golfer with the hooks or a striker continually blasting them over the bar, Cook's issue with the bat is a technical one.

It's not about "scrambled brains," the in-vogue term used to describe the struggles of England cricketers under pressure at present. It's not about the burden of captaincy. Nor is it about juggling too many duties or dealing with too many voices.

Cook's current technical issue is as glaring as his tactical ineptitude as captain, but they're a pair of issues that are separate from one another rather than heavily entwined. Prior evidence tells us that.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 18:  England captain Alastair Cook leaves the field after being dismissed by Bhuvneshwar Kumar of India during day two of 2nd Investec Test match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 18, 2014 in London, United
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Indeed, if you were to examine the batting records of prominent Test captains throughout history, you'd find that captaincy has rarely hindered a player's form with the willow.

As explained in detail here, ascension to the leadership has typically coincided with a sharp upturn in performance for Test batsmen. When he first took to the helm of England, Cook was just the same, racking up 1,311 runs, with seven hundreds, at an average of 69 in his first 11 Tests as skipper.

So much for the burden of captaincy. 

But notable former captains such as Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan continue to circulate the consensus that Cook needs to relinquish the leadership in order to return to his previous excellence as a relentless run-getter. 

Such hypotheses, of course, garner momentum when they're put forward by respected observers. But in Cook's case, they simply overcomplicate the fundamental of the captain's slump with the bat: His technique has been undone by the world's bowlers. 

Examine the left-hander's year-by-year Test record in the table below. While his plummeting average is indicative of his decline, it's Cook's slumping strike rate that is perhaps more telling. 

Alastair Cook's Test Batting Record Year-By-Year Since 2010
YearRunsAveSR
20101,28758.5054.76
201192784.2750.51
20121,24948.0341.89
201391633.9242.54
201412914.3339.44
ESPN Cricinfo

Around the world, Test bowlers from New Zealand to India, from South Africa to Australia, have uncovered the weakness in Cook's idiosyncratic technique, drilling into his deficiency on the front foot in the channel outside off-stump with unrelenting regularity. 

The results speak for themselves: The England captain's scoring rate has dried up, leaving little in the way of room in which to wiggle. Or score.

Just look at his innings on Sunday. Facing 93 deliveries, the 29-year-old accumulated just 22 runs at a strike rate of 23.65, striking only two boundaries in more than two hours. Clearly, the captain competently switched his focus to the task at hand with the bat given the length of his stay at the crease. The issue is that he can no longer accumulate runs the way he once did. 

Back-of-a-length offerings are few and far between. Balls on his hips are scarce. Efforts angled toward his pads are almost nonexistent. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20:  Ishant Sharma of India celebrates dismissing England captain Alastair Cook during day four of 2nd Investec Test match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 20, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Gar
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Instead, seamers as unremarkable as Ishant Sharma (Test bowling average of 37.79), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (30.21), Shaminda Eranga (32.44) and Dhammika Prasad (50.82)—all of whom have found Cook's edge this summer—simply nibble away on a full length outside off-stump, understanding the left-hander's wicket will inevitably arrive. 

Those men, remember, aren't lethal Mitchell Johnsons or Dale Steyns, just moderate Test bowlers with equally moderate Test records. 

However, in our search for more complex reasoning, the pervading view is that Cook's slump lies with the captaincy. Certainly, such a stance would be comprehensible if either history suggested it's been the case before or had the left-hander's dismissals been rash and violently unpredictable in their nature.

But neither of those things are true. Cook's continual failings are almost identical. There's no escaping that.

Technically flawed as a batsman and tactically flawed as a leader, Cook's immediate future now hangs in the balance. 

Just don't be fooled into thinking Cook's flaws are interrelated. They're two very separate issues being exposed simultaneously.

 

All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo

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