Alastair Cook will not captain England at next year’s World Cup and will be replaced by Eoin Morgan – according to reports yesterday.
A powerful combination of wretched results, even worse individual form and Cook’s vociferous and influential chorus of critics appear to have made it increasingly difficult for England’s selectors to stick to their guns.
A meeting yesterday, in which they were expected to pick an initial squad of 16 for next month’s tri-series in Australia, to be trimmed by one for the main event, ended with Cook paying the price for his poor run of form.
The 29-year-old has made just one one-day international 50 in his last 22 innings.
Less than a week ago, England and Wales Cricket Board managing director Paul Downton was still saying he would be “very surprised” if – despite his “miserable” form – Cook was not confirmed as captain.
Another failure, and defeat, followed to make the margin of England’s series setback in Sri Lanka 5-2.
The selectors deliberated at length in September before naming him as captain in Sri Lanka and, in James Whitaker’s words, a “unique leader” who would unquestionably stay in charge for the World Cup too.
However, Cook conceded after his latest defeat that he could have “no complaints” if he was moved on.
As for a replacement, Morgan’s case was championed by the loudest voices moulding public opinion and raising the pressure on the national selector Whitaker, as well as his colleagues Peter Moores, Angus Fraser and Mick Newell.
There is an unmissable snag, however, in that the Irishman’s batting form – since a purple patch in Australia last winter – is not discernibly better than Cook’s.
If there were other alternatives, they have not been obvious.
Of those guaranteed a World Cup place if fit, 23-year-old Joe Root is a developing as a linchpin at No 4 and surely would not have welcomed the extra encumbrance.
Stuart Broad led England, in Cook’s absence, to their last ODI series victory but, along with his fellow frontline seamer James Anderson, is recovering from a knee injury. In Broad’s case, it required surgery, so it would have been a major gamble to appoint him captain.
Ian Bell could, for example, become the square peg England can no longer accommodate as a utility top-four incumbent – and, in his place, Gary Ballance, surprisingly omitted for Sri Lanka, may be the new marque.
Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen yesterday insisted he would listen to any offer to return, even if his international career looks over.
Pietersen wrote on Twitter that his “phone is on” and, in response to a fellow user asking if he would take a call from the England management, he replied: “Of course!”
It seems certain, though, he will not be included in England’s 16-man squad.
Elsewhere, the West Indies are staring at a heavy defeat after taking a battering from South Africa’s bowlers on the third day of the first Test at Centurion.
The hosts had declared on 552 for five in their first innings on Thursday, just as rain arrived to bring an early end to play.
But there was no meteorological salvation for the Windies on day three as they were bowled out for 201 in their first innings before closing on 72 for two following on.
That left the tourists still 275 runs adrift of making South Africa bat again and with two full days of play remaining. The star of the show for the Proteas was Vernon Philander, who has had a lean 2014 but claimed the wickets of four of the top six Windies batsmen.
He then snared Devon Smith for the second time in the day to give South Africa a great start to their second innings in the field.
However, injuries were one sour note for the hosts, with both Philander and Dale Steyn leaving the field to join Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, who sat out the whole day, on the sidelines.
Steyn, who picked up a groin injury, did return late in the day and will be eligible to bowl today if fit.
The West Indies made a solid start to their reply with a partnership of 72 between Smith and Kraigg Brathwaite but Philander took the wickets of both in successive overs.
Leon Johnson and Marlon Samuels also got into the 30s but the Windies lost their final five wickets for just 39 runs – Kemar Roach did not bat after picking up an injury on Thursday.
Morne Morkel offered good support to Philander with three wickets, and then had Brathwaite well caught by Alviro Petersen in the slips in the second innings.
Johnson will resume on 33 not out today, with Samuels unbeaten on 13.
Steve Smith hit 133 in his first match as Australia’s Test captain as the Baggy Greens took what could prove to be a vital 97-run lead in the first Test against India at Brisbane.
The home side were bowled out for 505, with Smith leading the way, while the lower order provided much frustration for the Indian bowlers.
The final five partnerships yielded 273 runs with Mitchell Johnson scoring 88, Mitchell Starc 52 and No 11 Josh Hazelwood finishing unbeaten on 32.
India finished the day 26 runs behind on 71 for one, with first-innings centurion Murali Vijay the only to depart having made 28.