Alastair Cook says England’s priorities ‘don’t make sense’ in wake of New Zealand Test defeat
Cook, who was England captain when they were overturned by Sri Lanka in a thrilling penultimate-ball loss at Headingley seven years ago, said he had huge sympathy for his successor, Joe Root, who has been deprived of his first-choice XI in each of England’s last eight Tests, dating back to the tour of Sri Lanka in January.
None of England’s other IPL-contracted players were made available for the New Zealand series either, meaning that proven performers such as Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali were also unable to balance a side that Root conceded was “lop-sided” even before their eight-wicket defeat. And Cook, speaking at the launch of Yorkshire Tea’s #NationalCricketWeek said that the situation that England have got themselves into “doesn’t make much sense”.
“Clearly it was disappointing,” Cook said. “England have got themselves in a tough situation for the winter. It was going so well, winning in Sri Lanka and then they’re 1-0 up against India. To then rest and rotate players, ever since that moment they’ve ended up chasing their tail – ending up with a fifth-choice wicketkeeper [James Bracey], an unbalanced side even though people were playing the [T20] Blast.
“You’ve got a Test captain who hasn’t been able to play his best side, yet we seem to be playing a full-strength side in the T20s against Sri Lanka,” he added. “The decisions don’t look like they’ve been made correctly. Of course they’re trying their best to make the right decisions for the right reasons, but when you’re playing for England, you get judged on end results most of the time, so you’d have to say it hasn’t worked.
“I genuinely feel sorry for Joe Root because he hasn’t had his best players available. You can’t buy that experience of guys like Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali. Those kind of players make a big difference.
“When you look at it in isolation, it doesn’t make that much sense what happened, but how they got there you can kind of half understand. It’s been a tough one, and they just got found out against a better team in that New Zealand series.”
New Zealand have gone on to further demonstrate their excellence by enjoying the upper hand in what limited play has been possible in the World Test Championship final against India at Southampton. And with five home Tests against India to come, Cook remains confident that England can make swift amends for their loss – citing their 4-1 series win in 2018 as proof of their enduring prowess on home soil.
“They just got found out against a better team over those 10 days of cricket,” Cook said. “India [away] was a different lesson, but it was a tough lesson. They didn’t bat well, and it was frustrating to watch from the side.
“These players I would say are the best players,” he added, referencing the top five of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Root and Ollie Pope, who played in both Tests against New Zealand. With the notable exception of Burns, who made a century at Lord’s and a further 82 at Edgbaston, they all under-performed, particularly in the second innings at Edgbaston, where England were bundled out for 122 after their bowlers have given them a chance of a fightback.
“You could change maybe one or two, but these guys have been consistently performing for their counties,” Cook added. “They’ve all scored Test hundreds in the past, except for Dan Lawrence. But it just seems like, when the pressure is on, they haven’t yet found their method yet to be able to respond to that.
“Whether that’s confidence, because they’re quite a young batting side except for Rooty … you’d rather, say, Ollie Pope had a few more experienced players around him. But I was frustrated. A lot of people talk about the techniques, but these are the techniques that score them a lot of runs, and have scored them Test hundreds. But when the pressure’s on, they haven’t found a way to withstand that pressure, and therefore played some poor shots.”
The return of Stokes for the India series will provide a massive injection of experience – he made his comeback for Durham on Sunday after breaking a finger at the IPL – and Cook expected the team’s returns to improve as a consequence.
“It will be a better side with the players coming back against India,” he said. “They’ll clearly be better balanced which, I think, is a massive issue for them and forced some strange selections against New Zealand, like no spinner on a dry wicket.
“India have shown how good they are at the moment because they’re in the World Test Championship final but, over five Test matches in England, England are hard to beat at home, and I’m expecting a very tight battle.
“India would have been here for a long time as well so could get mentally fatigued by the end of the tour. India will start pretty well but, consistently over five games, to beat England at home is a monumental effort. So I think if England hang in with India early on, there’s no reason why they can’t win.”
“It’s a superhuman effort. He probably didn’t bowl quite as well as he would have liked in those two games, actually. But to play as many Tests as he has and to still look like he’s got the hunger and the desire is amazing.
“We know he’s got the skill to do it and, speaking to him afterwards, he was looking forward to the India series to carry on. It is extraordinary to do what he’s done over such a long period of time. England fans, players, media have to appreciate him while he’s still here.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket