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Cook's Ashes challenge

Cook's Ashes challenge

In his latest blog for Lord', World Cricket committee chairman Mike Brearley looks ahead to the Investec Ashes series and the challenges that England skipper Alastair Cook will face.

"With a New Zealand Test and ODI series already negotiated and the Champions Trophy currently providing a riveting and demanding challenge, Alastair Cook must already feel he’s having a busy summer. But of course the real highlight is yet to come.

I do think Cook errs on the side of caution

"The Ashes have been the metaphorical elephant in the room in so much of what has been written and broadcast about this summer’s cricket, and Cook is likely to come under greater scrutiny than ever during July and August.
"He started with a major success, in India, where he also had to oversee and manage the rehabilitation back into the team of his star batsman, Kevin Pietersen. This was a tough test for a captain, and his temperament and skill as a player is unquestioned. The hiccup in New Zealand, where England were lucky not to lose the series, was followed by emphatic wins in the two Tests here. He retrieved a win in the final game of the ODI series after two losses, and has delivered a convincing team performance against Australia and a respectable (though losing) one against Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy.
"Cook as a batsman is beyond reproach; he has an ability to learn that is rare – and it is serving him well. However his captaincy – particularly in the Headingley Test against New Zealand – has been criticised, particularly by members of my generation, as being unduly cautious.

"One aspect was in his not enforcing the follow-on at Headingley. I think that some of the concern stemmed from a belief that, in the situation England were in, an Australian team would have gone for the jugular and enforced the follow-on.
"I do think Cook errs on the side of caution– in fact, with the exception of Brendan McCullum, such an attitude is common amongst today’s captains. Maybe the modern statistical analysis in which players are immersed, resulting in plans being developed for each player, in part explains some of the more cautious field-placings, and captains will receive a substantial amount of input into the likelihood of different results depending on declarations, batting fourth and so on.
"With regard to that follow-on, I personally cannot imagine not enforcing it.

"But I have two questions for the critics: would they have had the same attitude had the opponents been Australia and the situation identical in the last match of the series? I imagine that, with the Ashes at stake, and a lead of one match, ruthlessness would have been construed as ruling out defeat at any cost, even if one thereby risked missing out on a likely win with the bad weather forecast. In which case, Cook might retort, it is hypocritical and patronising to criticise him for lack of ruthlessness against New Zealand.

"Second, James Anderson and Stuart Broad both had to be rested in the ODIs against New Zealand following this Test because of slight injuries; had New Zealand batted again, and scored heavily, how much worse might these injuries have been?
"On the other hand I have two questions for Cook. One is: would he have acted differently had the sides been level in the series? I hope so. And, second, would he have taken the other option had New Zealand not added 50 for the last wicket? Again, I hope so, as then they would have had no real chance of getting far enough ahead to threaten England on the last day.
"Cook came through the difficult challenge in India with flying colours. Now he can enjoy the benefits of playing at home. There is though a quid pro quo: England have the tag of being overwhelming favourites. There will be a lot of pressure."

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