Alastair Cook’s soul-searching after England’s 218-run defeat in Adelaide included a personal check to clarify his team still all have the appetite for this winter’s Ashes battle.
Reassuring responses all round convinced him that, even from 2-0 down with three to play following shocks to the system here and in the first Test in Brisbane, England move on to Perth still capable of battling back.
It is a long shot, of course, to pull off a feat last and only once achieved 77 years ago – and then by Australia, not England – to triumph in an Ashes series after losing the first two matches.
Cook knows England got exactly what they deserved, and can hardly argue otherwise after twice being blown away by the pace of Mitchell Johnson.
The left-armer had conditions in his favour at the Gabba, but on a more docile Adelaide Oval pitch he was if anything even hotter to handle – with first-innings figures of seven for 40.
Two Johnson spells on day three effectively settled a match which England managed to extend into the fifth morning before losing their last four wickets in almost exactly an hour’s play, to Peter Siddle (four for 57) and Ryan Harris (three for 54), all out for 312 despite a belligerent 69 from back-to-form Matt Prior.
Cook was quizzed at his post-match press conference, among other pressing topics, about the enduring will to succeed.
“Sometimes, when you haven’t been playing well, that’s one thing you start looking at – whether we do have that,” he said. “I can only say, from speaking to the guys, and watching them – how much this is hurting – that we do.
“Only the guys will know that inside themselves. But I honestly believe we’ve got that.
“We’ve been outplayed – you can’t get away from that. But the only way we can drag it out is by getting that hunger, that desperation back into our game.”
Cook was at pains to stress that the collective intent most definitely pertains to Kevin Pietersen. England’s most gifted batsman helped to open the door to Johnson in the first innings, with a profligate flick to midwicket off Siddle.
Pietersen buckled down second time round, in company with the admirable Joe Root, until his nemesis Siddle got him yet again. Asked specifically about Pietersen’s commitment to Test cricket, at the age of 33, Cook made it clear he sought a guarantee on that score too – and again been gratified by the answer.
“Yes, I think he is. In fact, I know he is – after speaking to him. I thought he played very responsibly in that second innings. Again, he’s a senior player and he will be first to hold his hands up and say some of his shots – execution and selection – hasn’t been good enough. That’s pretty much [the same] for the whole of our batting line-up, and that’s the kind of honesty we need to go forward.”
Cook himself twice fell cheaply to Johnson, to a thunderbolt away swinger which knocked back his off stump in the first innings and then to a faulty hook to fine leg in the second.
The opener concedes that England’s batsmen, bizarrely dismissed via 20 leg-side catches so far in this series, have made some of their own trouble by diverting from tried-and-trusted methods.
“It’s simple – we’ve probably gone away from what we’ve done [previously]. I lead from the front that way, so I’ve got to make sure I’m better than that.”
He retains the faith nonetheless – as, he points out, England absolutely must – that the Ashes can still be retained, at least, if not necessarily won outright for a fourth successive time. “It’s certainly not impossible.
“A lot of people who will be sitting in this room, and outside, will probably give us no chance.
“But if we don’t believe that in our dressing room, if we believe the urn has gone, then it might as well have gone.
“Obviously 2-0 is not a great situation to be in. But if you look at a football game, the next goal can change it very quickly.”
After watching Root and Prior hint at a revival, albeit in a long-lost cause, Cook is encouraged. “It’s going to take a monumental effort from us to do it.
“But we’re the only guys who can turn it round. It was a better display in this second innings. [It was] by no means perfect, at all, but it was better than it had been. That’s a small step, only a small step, but it’s heading in the right direction.”
As for his own state of mind, as he approaches his landmark 100th Test in Perth on Friday, Cook does not try to disguise the impact of two crushing defeats. “I think that’s part and parcel of the job. There are some very tough moments for the captain, and we’re in the middle of it.
“We’re 2-0 down, and I’m responsible as the captain for that.
“Yes, it does hit you hard. It’s how you bounce back. Sport shows what character you can be.”
Former skippers not holding back as fears grow over 5-0 whitewash
FORMER captain Michael Vaughan believes drastic changes are needed if England are to avoid a 5-0 Ashes whitewash in Australia.
The tourists went down to a 218-run defeat in the second Test at Adelaide, that coming off the back of a 381-run hammering in Brisbane to leave them 2-0 down in the series.
Alastair Cook’s team have endured a tumultuous time Down Under so far with the captain’s form among that of many to come under question and batsman Jonathan Trott returning home due to a stress-related illness. Australia paceman Mitchell Johnson has also been giving England a torrid time, claiming man of the match honours in both Tests so far, and Vaughan finds it difficult to see where England will get a win from.
“Brilliant from Australia... Seriously this will be 5-0 unless something drastic changes in the England dressing room very soon,” he wrote on Twitter.
Sir Ian Botham is also fearing a drubbing and believes England need to show more hunger if they are to mount a recovery in the series.
“Ben Stokes was the quickest of the England bowlers, on debut,” he said. “There’s a message there. England have got to think about where they are going to go and say ‘how much do you want it boys? Do you want to go home 5-0 or do you want to make a fight of it?’
“That’s the question you’ve got to be asking the dressing room now. Australia wanted this so much.
“They’ve lost the last three series. England had a chance to set a record and Australia weren’t going to let them do it.
“From what I’ve seen here, they are the side who want it. They are the most hungry of the two sides. They want the victory and they are going out there and they are playing accordingly.
“We talked about their bowling before the series and how it looks; we thought it might be a bit fragile but we need to have a look at ourselves, when it comes to fragile.”
Geoffrey Boycott was even more damning in his assessment of England and believes wholesale changes are now needed to the core of the team which made it to the top of the Test rankings in 2011.
“I think the glory days have gone,” he said. “They’re like my [football] side Manchester United, they’re short of some quality players and some desire and heart. Sometimes you need a change and you have to be strong enough to make the changes. It doesn’t last forever.” He added: “It’s all beginning to unravel. We’ve had three series we’ve won comfortably. We’re going to get annihilated in this one because I think their mind isn’t right. I don’t think they’re there as a team.”
Captain Cook faced just 18 balls and scored four runs in Adelaide as he remains without a century in either of the back-to-back Ashes series thus far.
Andrew Strauss captained England to Ashes victory twice from the top of the order and he believes Cook will have a vital role to play in the remaining three Tests.
“He’s very much part of the solution to this with the bat,” he said. “He can lead by example.
“I think one of the things that we saw in this game was that Joe Root played in a very calm manner. There wasn’t any highlights cricket from him, there weren’t loads of hook shots and massive shots on the up and Alastair Cook, that is his natural game and it will be effective in Perth.
“If he can lead the way, if he can win the toss, England bat first and he gets a big score than that’s giving England an opportunity.”
Another former England skipper, Nasser Hussain, also had praise for Root after seeing him move up the order to take Trott’s place at No 3.
The young Yorkshireman made a battling unbeaten 26 batting at No 6 during the second innings in Brisbane and followed that with 87 in the second Test.
“The thing with the batting what’s disappointing me is the repetitive nature of dismissals,” Hussain added.
“People continue to get out the same way. Have a look at young Joe Root, 22-years-old, got out flashing at the Gabba first innings, he’s learned from that, he’s put that shot away.
“He put the sweep shot away here in the second innings, he doesn’t take on the short ball, it’s too high risk.
“So he’s learning from his mistakes and I just hope the England players do that.”