AT what point does an ongoing concern become an out-and-out crisis?
Alastair Cook has not scored a Test century for 22 months and 31 innings.
He has managed just three hundreds in his last 78 innings in all cricket – two of them for Essex in Division Two of the County Championship.
He has lost the England one-day captaincy after totalling just 119 runs in six games against Sri Lanka last winter.
And playing for MCC against Yorkshire in Abu Dhabi yesterday, he managed only five to go with three runs in the first innings in a disappointing start to the new season.
It seems strange to be reflecting in such fashion about a man who has scored more Test hundreds (25) than any other Englishman, who was the second-fastest behind Sachin Tendulkar to 5,000 Test runs, and who should go on to become England’s highest Test run-scorer of all.
But the facts are the facts and it would be an injustice to players such as Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth – by no means a certain starter against the West Indies, despite looking much more likely than Cook to score runs at present – to ignore the bad ones simply because they are inconvenient.
Great player that he has been and, for his sake, hopefully will be again, these are worrying times for Cook and his supporters.
In a few days, he will lead the 16-man England squad to the Caribbean for a three-match Test series in which his need for runs is acute.
If he does not score them, and if he fails to produce in the subsequent two-match Test series at home to New Zealand, there will be much unsettling talk about his place in the team – never mind his position as captain – going into the Ashes, just as there was much unsettling talk about his place in the one-day side.
Cook hit three fifties in four innings against India at the end of the last Test summer, something that should give him confidence now as he prepares to return to the five-day arena.
But what he would have given for a confidence-boost against Yorkshire at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, where the champions were in no mood to extend charity to him or the MCC in general as they swept to a nine-wicket win inside three days.
MCC started day three on 13-0, 138 behind in their second innings, and were soon in further trouble when Cook perished after 25 minutes, caught at mid-wicket by Rashid off Jack Brooks.
Compton and Michael Carberry added 50 for the second wicket in 17 overs before Lyth had Carberry caught at slip by Tim Bresnan.
Compton played nicely for 74 but his dismissal – caught behind off Will Rhodes – triggered a collapse from 125-2.
Rashid had Daryl Mitchell lbw, Zafar Ansari played-on to Brooks, Rashid pinned James Hildreth lbw and Steve Patterson trapped Chris Rushworth to leave MCC 210-7 at tea.
The last three wickets went for the addition of only 10 runs after tea as Brooks had Sam Billings caught behind and Rashid had Matt Dunn and Graham Onions caught at mid-wicket by Rhodes off successive balls.
Rashid finished with 4-72 and Brooks 3-22.
It was then over to Yorkshire’s answer to the “Three Ws” – namely, the “Three Ls”, Messrs Lyth, Lees and Leaning, who made suitably light work of a target of 70.
Lees was caught behind by Billings off Adam Riley but Lyth and Leaning saw their side home.
Lyth sealed it with successive fours off Riley, ending on 46 off 65 balls with seven fours, while Leaning finished on 13.
MCC and Cook had been completely outplayed by a Yorkshire side who, on this evidence, will take all the stopping again in the Championship this season.