ENGLAND captain Alastair Cook was yesterday handed a one-match suspension for maintaining a slow over rate during his team’s win in the third one-day international against Sri Lanka.
International Cricket Council Match Referee David Boon also fined him 20 per cent of his match fee from the ODI, which England won by five wickets on Wednesday.
The suspension means Cook will miss the fourth match of the seven one-day internationals in Colombo on Sunday.
The penalties were imposed because Cook was guilty of the offense for a second time within 12 months, the ICC said in a statement.
England, though, are now hoping that Eoin Morgan’s extra responsibility as captain in Cook’s absence may somehow help the Irishman rediscover his form with the bat.
The ban leaves England’s management with plenty to ponder. They have already confirmed the first and most important decision, that Morgan will be in charge as they seek to level the series at 2-2.
Other quandaries, such as whether to deploy Alex Hales alongside Moeen Ali in an experimental opening partnership or to recall experienced, utility top-four batsman Ian Bell, will test the tactical nous of coach Peter Moores.
Before those calls are made, Moores has suggested a return to leadership duties may help Morgan arrest his slump.
Since his prolific series in Australia last winter, the middle-order lynchpin has made just 207 ODI runs in 13 attempts over nine months. It is a jarring shortfall, with an average of under 16 compared to his career output of more than 37.
“He will be frustrated, very disappointed that he hasn’t yet managed to impact on the series,” said Moores, who nonetheless does not find it difficult to keep faith in the 28-year-old’s abilities.
“He’s a really top-flight one-day player, a real key for us. It will be interesting next game, as captain. Maybe that is a nice catalyst for him. He’s getting fully stuck in, and working at it. With four games to go, if he catches fire, he might end up top runscorer. The captaincy may be a healthy distraction.”
Coincidentally, perhaps, Morgan’s highest score in that sorry sequence since early March – albeit only 40 – came when he was last needed to lead the team in place of Cook, who was unavailable because of back trouble and sat out a hapless performance in a 157-run defeat against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street.
England prevailed by five wickets on Wednesday night to reduce the deficit here with four to play, but Morgan had little to do with it.
He made his way down to number six on the list, below Ravi Bopara, at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium – and contributed only a single before Jos Buttler and Joe Root clinched the match.
But Moores said of Morgan: “He’s a good player, crikey. He’ll have been through periods when he’s not quite hitting it [as he’d like]. But he’s the sort of player we’re very excited about. The key is to believe in yourself, and go out and play – and Eoin will do that, I’m sure.”
Cook too has struggled for runs, and to convince his doubters that he deserves to be the man leading England to the World Cup this winter.
But he gave an indication he may be returning to form in an 84-run opening stand with Moeen as England won just their second ODI in nine – only to discover afterwards that, after a similar offence in Cardiff last summer, he faced a mandatory ban for the poor over rate. There is also a 20 per cent match fee fine for the captain, and 10 per cent for the whole team.
Moores said of the suspension: “It’s a shame for Alastair. It is frustrating for him, and for us. I thought he played beautifully last night. He timed the ball really well.”
Cook will not be subject to any more bans, unless England transgress again.
Moores said: “One thing is that it cleans the slate for him, before we go to a World Cup – because he had that ban hanging over him, if we were slow one more time.
“So it’s a bit like bookings in football. Once you’ve actually been banned, you go back to zero.”
The coach will not be amused if there is a repeat in the near future.
“It is avoidable. We’ve had our issues with it, so it’s something we’ve got to tidy up,” he said.