Does Alastair Cook deserve to be booted off from captaincy?

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Does Alastair Cook deserve to be booted off from captaincy?

Alastair Cook has come under fire after England lost the series against India 3-0 in a humiliating fashion with still a Test left to play in the series. But how fair is it for the critics to drag the England captain through the mud for all his side's failures?

“Has Alastair Cook resigned yet?” tweeted England's most vocal critic Piers Morgan just two hours after their 3-0 series loss against India was confirmed on Monday morning. “Cook has to decide; is what he's doing making England a better side?” added former skipper Nasser Hussain.

Former cricketers such as Michael Vaughan and Geoffrey Boycott also got into the mix to criticize the team's performances pointing out countless things that were wrong with the visitors. Yes, England's performance has been abysmal in the tour, but is it fair enough to put all the blame on Alastair Cook?

First of all, let's look at how the team has responded to the captain's call in the series. In batting, there have been just few notable performances from the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and of course England's most consistent batter in the last three years—Joe Root. Moeen Ali and Cook's hundreds at Rajkot and Jos Buttler's fighting 76 in the fourth Test at Mumbai are the honourable mentions. Apart from these few good knocks, there were no signs of the England batsmen working as a unit. And if we looked at England's batting coordination in the series, they have put up just five  century partnerships (if we are being generous by rounding off two 99-run stands as century partnerships) with the three of them coming in the first drawn Test at Rajkot.

Apart from few good performances, England have failed as a batting unit © Getty

Comparatively, the Indian tail-enders have had better understanding among themselves, putting up five 50+ partnerships and one massive 241-run partnership involving rookie Jayant Yadav, across eight innings in this series.  It is mostly up to the captain to devise the gameplan with the coach for each session and relay it to his teammates before they go out in the middle. And so far, Cook seemed to have failed in explaining the plan to his batsmen properly or did not have one to go with in the first place.

Then comes the bowling department, which was laid bare by the Indian batting led by skipper Virat Kohli. The English pacers were actually better than their Indian counterparts for the first two Tests having bagged three wickets more than the Indian pacers. But when Stuart Broad, who was mostly responsible for this disciplined performance with six wickets to his name, got injured during the second match, it appeared there was no one to help the team. Ben Stokes seemed to be the only one trying to make an impact with his five-wicket haul in the third Test. And by calling up James Anderson directly into action after a four-month lay-off, England shot themselves in the leg. Adding to his poor performances on the pitch, England's top wicket-taker of all-time has only added on to the team's pressure with his comments about Virat Kohli. 

Calling back Anderson without any match practice after a long lay off has backfired for England © Getty

But the biggest issue with England's bowling is the failure of their spin department. In all the four Tests, there was hardly a day where the spinners were unable to show any impact. The English spinners have failed exactly were the Indians have come out trumps.  A simple example is Adil Rashid's spell in the fourth Test at Mumbai. While Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav constantly bowled in the rough patches around the crease to rip through the England batting, Rashid, being the only genuine spinner in the side, did not care to look for those dusty areas until the end of the second day. And by the time the Yorkshire leggie started bowling in the correct areas, Virat Kohli had spent enough time at the crease to understand his length and took him to the cleaners. Cook had to finally turn to Joe Root to make some impact which pointed out to England's flaws in selecting the right starting XI.

While Zafar Ansari is only three-Tests old and getting injured during the Mohali Test was unfortunate, picking up just two genuine spinners for the series shows the over-confidence Trevor Bayliss and Alastair Cook have in their pacers. Moeen Ali might be considered a genuine off-spinner, but the way Cook has used him so far shows that he does not trust the all-rounder with the ball. And it was once again a mystery why Cook did not opt for the services of Liam Dawson for the fourth Test when it was evident that the pitch was a complete turner.

Over bowling Adil Rashid and not selecting Liam Dawson is the biggest mistake Cook has made on this tour © Getty

Adding to this, his decision to over-burden Rashid on the deteriorating Wankhede pitch was a terrible decision. The 28-year old bowled a spell of 28 straight overs which resulted in total exhaustion while also made him predictable for the Indian batters. Though the selection of Keaton Jennings in place of injured opener Haseeb Hameed proved to be good, England have clearly missed out on at least 70-90 runs by going for Ben Duckett instead of all-rounder Chris Woakes in the first two Tests.

And when it came to his individual performances, Cook has failed to lead from the front. Despite starting the series with a brilliant century at Rajkot, it was mostly Cook's lesser experienced opening partner, whether it was Haseeb Hameed or Keaton Jennings, who took on the responsibility of scoring big. His performances have taken a nosedive after the first Test and the temperament he showed against India during their previous tour in 2012 was completely absent.

As a batsman, Cook's performances have only gone downhil © Getty

Even with the DRS, there was a complete lack of judgement in Cook's reviews. It was evident when he went on to review a supposed edge off Jayant Yadav in the fourth Test. After listening to Ben Stokes, who was positioned near the gully region, Cook did not seem to notice that the bowler of the ball James Anderson was not confident about using the review. This shows that there is some serious miscommunication between the players and the captain.

With England's history of replacing their captain regularly, it is hard to disagree with Nasser Hussain who pointed out, "Historically, it's around now that's the cut-off period - after about four years, 40 Test matches as captain; whether it be (Andrew) Strauss, (Michael) Atherton, Hussain, (Michael) Vaughan. If Cook has the energy, carry on with the job. But if not, go now and give (Joe) Root a chance."

With Joe Root having the experience of leading Yorkshire for the past one year and now being the vice-captain of the side, it appears Alastair Cook's time as the Test captain has to end. It is better for England to move on to a captain with fresher ideas. They succeeded in the limited overs format by appointing Eoin Morgan as the ODI and T20 captain. It could very well work in Tests.

It is time that the captaincy is passed on to Joe Root © Getty

It would also not hurt the team to promote someone as committed as Ben Stokes to deputize Root ahead of the much-important Ashes next year. But as the team's most consistent and most experienced Test batsman, Cook's presence in the England dressing room will be indispensable in helping the younger players in the side. He had the privilege of leading the World's No.1 Test side when he took over the reins back in 2011. Now it is time for Cook to hand them over to someone who is ready to take up the mantle.

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