Last week’s humiliating defeat by 95 runs at the hands of India at Lord’s constitutes a nadir in the recent history of the England cricket team.
The result capped a dismal period of form for England since their Ashes triumph in 2013. After drawing the opening Test of their current five-Test series against India, England have now not won a Test match since they defeated Australia on the 13th of August last year.
Since that result, the team were whitewashed by the Aussies at the 2013-14 Ashes, they saw coach Andy Flower resign and they bid a tumultuous farewell to the former captain and all-time leading runs scorer across all formats, Kevin Pietersen.
This decline has to be abated, and that process can begin by resolving the issue of the captaincy.
Alistair Cook has been harshly treated in some sections of the media following the dropping of Pietersen and England’s recent slump in form. His tactics can at times appear overly conservative (what Shane Warren slammed as “negative”) or at worst incompetent.
However, the ECB invested a massive amount of time, effort and reputational stock in his appointment, and it does not appear likely that they will cut Cook loose at a time when the rest of the team is chronically underperforming, too.
As Pietersen observed, via The Telegraph, “At the moment only politics are keeping Cook in a job because the ECB backed him so much that it would be yet another PR disaster if it sacked him now.”
The question, though, has to be asked: If not Cook, then who?
Is Eoin Morgan the answer? He may well be an interesting option for the captaincy one or two years down the line, but the idea of putting a player who has only been involved in 16 Test matches in charge of a team that appears to be in need of wholesale restructuring seems as misguided as it does unfair.
As BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew noted, “As long as Cook really wants the job then he should see out this series because England have invested so much in him and there really is no viable alternative.”
Furthermore, there is serious speculation that Cook lacks the support of significant senior figures in the dressing room. This animosity appears to be borne from the fact that he has proved so willing to blood talented youth in big Tests—as the rise to prominence of players like Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Chris Jordan and Sam Robson demonstrates well.
In this respect, England can be seen to need Cook as captain. He is a personality capable of riding out the contemporary barrage of criticism and seems to possess the patience and will to build for the next generation of the English cricket team. Calls for retiring the captain, with a gold watch and target coupons, are premature.
For when one thinks back to the whitewash at the Ashes, it was the seven supposedly top-class senior players (the likes of Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad) who led the capitulation.
Only the youngest, 28-year-old Broad, emerged from the rout with his reputation intact, and his prominence has grown considerably under Cook’s captaincy.
Ultimately, the problems that face English cricket are a product of the institutional incompetence that has been allowed to run rampant in the halls of the England and Wales Cricket Board for far too long a time. Those are the administrators who sacked Pietersen and appointed Cook in the first place.
The reform of the ECB, however, will be a lengthy (perhaps never-ending) process. The English team simply need to work within the competitive conditions that have been handed down to them from above if results are to improve in the short term.
This begins with backing Cook as captain for the remaining Test matches with India and supporting the integration of youth into the starting order.
For now, it is the only way forward.