JASON GILLESPIE believes Alastair Cook can lead England into next summer’s Ashes series and beyond.
Gillespie is backing the under-fire captain to answer his critics during the five-match Test series against India that starts at Trent Bridge today.
But the Yorkshire first-team coach stressed that Cook must learn to be more positive and proactive.
And he identified these key areas where he needs to improve:
First and foremost, score more runs to justify his place: Cook has gone 24 innings without a Test century.
Get better tactically: Cook came in for widespread criticism for his tactics and field settings during the 1-0 Test series defeat to Sri Lanka.
Show more faith in spinner Moeen Ali: the Worcestershire man was under-used during the Headingley Test.
Manage his bowlers’ workloads better: Cook bowled his pace men for lengthy spells against Sri Lanka.
And Gillespie, who said the India series gives Yorkshire stars Joe Root and Gary Ballance a great chance to cement their own Test places, encouraged the embattled leader: “If in doubt, always take the positive option”.
The former Australia fast bowler made clear: “I think Alastair Cook can lead England into the Ashes series and beyond it too.
“He’s been under immense pressure, but I don’t feel he’s done as bad a job as people are making out.
“At the same time, he’s got to learn and take the bull by the horns.
“He can do it, but he needs to be a bit more proactive.
“This is clearly a big series for Alastair in his leadership role.
“And, if he keeps making the same errors, that is where England have got an issue in my view.
“If we see a continuation of what happened against Sri Lanka, then England will be starting to think, ‘Is this guy the best man for the job?’
“At the moment, quite rightly in my view, they’re backing him.”
Cook’s poor form with the bat is at odds with his outstanding record for England.
He is their fifth-highest run-scorer in Tests with 8,125 at 46.99.
But Cook has not hit a Test century since the Headingley game against New Zealand last year and sorely needs some runs against India.
Gillespie believes it is only adding to the pressure on his shoulders.
“The reason Alastair is under such pressure is because there have been times when tactically he hasn’t got it exactly right, recent results haven’t been great, and he hasn’t scored as many runs as he would have liked, but he’s too good a player to go much longer without big runs,” he said.
“Class players are class players – simple.
“Alastair is the sort of player who, once he gets a hundred, will just go bang, bang, bang and the floodgates will open.
“Hopefully, a few good scores will have a positive effect on his leadership also.”
One of the hallmarks of Gillespie’s time at Yorkshire has been his emphasis on trying to play positive, attacking cricket.
He is urging Cook to do the same.
“I’ve always believed that fortune favours the brave,” he said.
“Speaking from a Yorkshire point of view, when Andrew Gale (the captain) and myself have a chat, I always say, ‘If in doubt, take the positive option’.
“Alastair needs to back his spinner a bit more and make sure he doesn’t overwork his fast bowlers, particularly with five Tests in a short space of time.
“But he’s still a relatively young captain, and I would certainly back him to learn from what’s happened in the recent past.”
Gillespie sees no reason why England cannot beat India.
He is also backing Root and Ballance to nail down their spots.
“It’s an important series for Joe and Gaz to embed themselves in the England side and feel completely at home, a great opportunity to cement their places.
“I think they can do that because you’ve got two wonderful lads there who’ve started their Test careers strongly.
“England can definitely come out on top this time if they play to their potential.
“India’s batting is strong, but I’m not so sure about their bowling, which is more workmanlike, and I don’t expect their spinners to be as effective over here.”
Rain frustrated Gillespie’s men on day two of the County Championship game against Durham at Headingley.
Only 40.2 overs were possible as Yorkshire took their overnight 367-7 to 426 all out, Durham reaching 50-1 before rain arrived at 3pm.
Tim Bresnan fell to the day’s ninth ball, caught at second slip; Steve Patterson fended a vicious bouncer behind, and Ryan Sidebottom slog-swept to deep mid-wicket, his last-wicket stand of 46 with Jack Brooks helping Yorkshire to maximum batting points with one ball to spare.
Mark Wood captured 5-87 for Durham, who had Mark Stoneman caught behind.