THERE is, of course, a chance that it will all turn out right in the end, that Alastair Cook will rediscover his batting form and lead England to glory at next year’s World Cup.
But there is much more of a chance – assuming that Cook gets the green light to carry on as captain when the selectors meet today – that he will continue to flop and his side suffer further humiliation in the tournament in Australia and New Zealand in February and March.
Whatever the decision of the selection panel, due to be announced tomorrow in the form of a 16-man squad for the tri-series against Australia and India in Australia next month, which will be trimmed to 15 players for the World Cup itself, the Cook saga has seriously undermined the team’s preparations, which continued with a 5-2 series defeat in Sri Lanka.
England are in the throes of an unprecedented period of one-day cricket, one in which they have had plenty of time to finalise their plans, and yet they have spent much of it caught up in a circus of their own making surrounding Cook’s credentials as captain and batsman.
For “the Cook problem” has not just crept up on England overnight, like Father Christmas sneaking down the chimney. It has been going on for months, like a dripping tap in the kitchen that you know you really must get sorted out but which you hope will somehow magically resolve itself, negating the need to hire a plumber.
England’s selectors have been hoping that Cook will somehow magically resolve the fact that he has not been scoring runs for so long now that his own particular tap has seemingly malfunctioned altogether and the water flooded the bathroom floor.
Somewhere amid the floating wreckage would appear to be England’s World Cup hopes – not to mention the credibility of the selectors and Cook himself.
The selectors, alas, have brought this situation on themselves, needlessly damaging England’s prospects.
If they sack Cook now, they will look silly and be accused of bowing to public pressure, with England managing director Paul Downton and head coach Peter Moores saying only last week that they wanted Cook to stay in charge, while if they do not sack him now they will still look silly.
As Michael Vaughan said of Downton and Moores in his newspaper column: “In one way I applaud them for sticking by their man but it has gone too far and 99.9 per cent of England supporters, as well as current and former players, can see that. The problem is the 0.1 per cent, which is Downton and Moores, do not see it.”
Of course, it is easy to be critical and less so to be constructive, but nothing Downton has done hitherto – not the botched sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the blind backing of Cook or even the appointment of Moores as coach – fills this particular writer with confidence.
The interview Downton gave to the BBC’s Simon Mann in Sri Lanka last week, in which he bristled at Mann’s perfectly reasonable questioning regarding Cook’s future and the Pietersen debacle, was a classic example of accentuating the positives to the point where one loses the right to be taken seriously.
English cricket needs honesty and dynamism at the top and Downton, Moores and Cook are out of step with the contemporary beat. Contrast their approach with Australia’s and the power-axis of coach Darren Lehmann and captain Michael Clarke, and England are so far behind the times that one half expects them to travel to the World Cup by boat.
It is not just Downton and the selectors, however, who must shoulder the blame for “the Cook problem”.
Cook, nice guy that he is, has been selfish in my view for not facing up to the realities of his form and swallowing the metaphorical cyanide pill.
After the Sri Lanka tour, Cook talked of the difficulty in telling someone who deserves to be in the team that he is not in the team simply because he, Cook, needs to find some runs and confidence. Worst of all, Cook said it as though we should have felt sorry for him rather than the dropped player.
That is not championing the interests of the team; it is championing the interests of Cook, who should stand down himself if no one will push him.
Elsewhere on these pages, you will read that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale has been voted runner-up in Yorkshire’s Sports Hero of 2014. Gale, who led Yorkshire to the County Championship last summer, showed true leadership early on in the campaign when he dropped himself because, in his own words, “I was the only one not scoring any runs”.
Gale’s selfless act enabled young Alex Lees to keep his place and, ultimately, enhanced Gale’s authority. There is a lesson in there somewhere.
If not Cook, then who? Personally, I would like to see Joe Root given a go.
In an ideal world, one would wait until he is older and more experienced, and there is always a chance his form could suffer.
But Root, 24 on December 30, is a mature character whose record/age are strikingly similar to that of Steve Smith, and the Australians – once again displaying dynamism – have not been slow to give Smith a go in the absence of the injured Clarke.