England captain Alastair Cook has hit back at critics of his leadership, chief among them Shane Warne, and issued a robust defence of his credentials.
Cook has found himself in the Australia great’s sights for much of his tenure as skipper, with the former leg-spinner repeatedly attacking his tactics and style.
Prior to England’s 5-0 Ashes defeat Down Under, Warne branded Cook “negative” and “boring” and advised the ECB to ditch him in favour of the now-departed Kevin Pietersen.
Other commentators and analysts have called into question Cook’s perceived defensive nature in the field but Warne’s criticism has been by far the most prolonged and pronounced.
In the main, Cook has responded with equanimity but, on the eve of the second Investec Test against Sri Lanka, and with the timing of his declaration in the drawn series opener sparking fresh debate, the 29-year-old went on the offensive.
Questioned about the views of Warne, and others, by Radio Five Live’s Jonathan Agnew, he said: “Something needs to be done because, in three years, I’ve been England captain I have just, in my eyes, been criticised for a hell of a lot of that.
“Yes, when we lose games of cricket as a captain you get criticised but I’ve also won a lot of games of cricket for England, won more one-day games than anyone as England captain, won an Ashes, won in India away and that’s what I’m proud of as well.
“So to be criticised for three years, totally, with those results, I find quite hard to take to be honest with you. Support and positivity is what this England team needs.”
When Agnew asked if he believed it was personal, the Essex batsman added: “Yeah, I think it is.”
Cricket is unique in international sport for the sheer number of prominent ex-captains and prominent former players present on matchday media duty. On any given day of a Test in England as many as half a dozen of Cook’s predecessors are likely to be providing punditry at the ground, with overseas commentators such as Warne swelling the ranks.
When it was put to Cook that he might be tempted to pick any of their brains in a bid to inform his on-field decisions, he was underwhelmed by the idea.
“I think we keep it in house. With cricket tactics there is always a different way of doing it,” he said. “It’s trying to get the best result at the end of the day. Everyone will have a different view from it. That’s cricket. I’m doing it the way that feels right to me on the pitch and that is the end of it. I thought we did a good job last week.”
Discussions of Cook’s captaincy have diverted the spotlight away from the left-hander’s batting form, but that is an issue which he admits needs to be addressed with haste. He scored the last of his 25 Test centuries at Headingley against New Zealand more than a year ago, contributing 17 and 28 at Lord’s in the first Test against Sri Lanka.
Cook does not feel as off-colour as he did in 2010, when a major slump threatened his place in the team, but is desperate for a big score on his return to Leeds.
“It’s crucial isn’t it? I need to get back to scoring as many runs as I can,” he said. “I am doing all the hard work, I have just got to score the runs in the middle. I haven’t been converting scores, that’s more the frustration to be honest. I’m doubly determined to lead from the front and try to get a score.”
Sri Lanka are set to be without wicketkeeper-batsman Prasanna Jayawardene, who has an injured finger, as well as quick bowler Suranga Lakmal, who missed the first Test with a hamstring tear.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who scored a century on a lifeless Lord’s pitch, said after winning the one-day international series that his side were determined to leave England with another victory.
“We’ve been taking a lot of positives from that game, the way we fought, the way the boys showed their character, but our bowling, batting and fielding can still improve,” he said.
“It’s going to be our last game here in England for this summer and we look forward to giving them a good fight and, hopefully, winning it.”