ALASTAIR Cook is experiencing the toughest moments of his professional career, by his own admission, but remains determined to lead England out of their long losing run.
The manner of England’s 95-run defeat by India was especially dispiriting in the second Investec Test at Lord’s, after a century stand between Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali began to hint at a famously unlikely win – only for Ishant Sharma to induce a hapless collapse from 173 for four to 223 all out.
Sharma bounced out a succession of batsmen on the way to a career-best seven for 74, as English hopes evaporated and a 1-0 lead was India’s by mid-afternoon on the final day.
Cook continued his conspicuously long run of poor scores with two more failures at the top of the order – and has now overseen seven defeats in England’s last nine Tests.
That sorry sequence includes last winter’s Ashes whitewash, of course, which brought an overhaul of management hierarchy but the retention of Cook as captain to try to forge a new era alongside returning coach Peter Moores.
Many observers were insisting, even before England lost here, that Cook must be relieved of his duties. But he still wants to try to put things right, starting in the third Test at Southampton next weekend. “I haven’t had any tougher times in my career than at the moment,” said Cook. “It gets harder and harder the longer it goes on. But I don’t think walking away from it would be the way to go.
“Until somebody taps you on the shoulder and says ‘we don’t want you to be captain’, or ‘we think there is a better man’, or my position becomes untenable, I want to be carrying on.”
Cook believes it would simply be wrong to surrender mid-series. “If I’m not scoring runs by the end of the series, and we’re losing more games, then I’m maybe not the man,” he added.
“But I’ve been speaking to Mooresy [coach Peter Moores] over the last couple of days, and we still think we can turn this round. I’m just as determined as I was at the beginning of this game. I’m still here and I still want to throw everything into being captain of England.”
Either runs or a win might have kept his detractors quiet, but the lack of either just gives them more ammunition. Cook added: “A tough loss, in good conditions for us, does keep making it harder – and not scoring runs is getting tougher and tougher. But it makes me more determined that I’d just love to win this series. How much satisfaction that would be.”
While Cook must search for consolation, his opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni need not as he reflects on only India’s second Test victory at Lord’s in what he senses will be his last opportunity to do so. “This is a result of hard effort and it was fantastic to see the determination the guys showed,” said Dhoni. “There was pressure on us. It seems it will be my last at Lord’s, for sure, so it’s definitely memorable.”
Cook, by contrast, could only ponder on where it all went wrong after at least four of Ishant’s victims were compliant in their own downfall.
“You live and die by the sword you choose to take,” he said of the attacking options which failed for Matt Prior – who announced after the match that he was standing down from Test cricket for the rest of the summer for fitness reasons – and others.
After an encouraging morning when Root and Moeen built their partnership to 101, Moeen was first to go, not to a pull but a gloved catch to short-leg from the final ball before lunch.
England’s descent became swiftly terminal when Root followed Prior and Ben Stokes back – all caught hooking – in a Sharma spell of four wickets for nine runs in early afternoon.
The transitory optimism of 173 for four therefore dissolved horribly to 223 all out, with Jimmy Anderson’s chaotic run-out at the end mirroring England’s recklessness after lunch.