Eoin Morgan Must Be Ready If Alistair Cook Continues To Fail

hayterThe last time England were hammered 5-0 by Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board responded by commissioning a report from Ken Schofield, the former executive director of golf’s European Tour, into how and why it happened and he responded with a 19-point plan to overhaul English cricket intended to make sure it never happened again.

No such action was deemed necessary this time, even though all agreed this latest walloping was far worse than that suffered in 2006-07 because the Aussie team that tore Freddie Flintoff’s to pieces still included Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden, rather than Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith and George Bailey, with all due respect to them.

But with the Ashes up for grabs again in just over 15 months and even allowing for the expertise of Jimmy Anderson to exploit English pitch conditions, those running the England team must know that, without enormous improvement in all departments between now and then, they will be there for the taking again come next July.

Feel free to add to the following list, but, as they prepare to begin the rebuilding, here are a few matters requiring the urgent attention of recently installed managing director Paul Downton, the new-look selection panel of James Whitaker, Angus Fraser and Ashley Giles and whoever the new coach turns out to be.

Carry On Captain?

A chastening winter has stiffened Alastair Cook’s resolve to lead them back to the heights they touched under Andrew Strauss and he has a record of overcoming setbacks and vaulting hurdles, but his struggles as skipper, with the bat and off the field in the messy sacking of Kevin Pietersen mean his reputation is well and truly on the line.

Sketchy details have emerged regarding the real reasons for KP’s disconnection and critics and supporters will argue until about who is right and wrong until Piers Morgan freezes over, but what is not in doubt is that Cook had lost patience with the man he did so much to re-integrate after Textgate.

Though the issue is officially “closed”, it will not go quietly until England start winning again and maybe not ever.

The powers-that-be have decided to invest heavily in Cook, are desperate for him to succeed, will continue to back him and results will not be solely down to him.

[pullquote_left]My XI for the first Test of the summer: Alastair Cook (capt), Sam Robson, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Tymal Mills.[/pullquote_left]

But he must show he can not only get players to follow him by example and trust but also by tactical astuteness and imagination. First and probably foremost, though, he needs to rediscover the batting form with which he has made 25 hundreds and estab- lished a Test average of 46.51. Could Strauss help here, or maybe Marcus Trescothick?

One of the arguments used to justify keeping faith in the Essex man as leader is the lack of credible alternatives. In itself it will be nowhere near enough.

Who can replace Pietersen?

In the eyes of his supporters, no-one, but somebody must and those who see Eoin Morgan as a viable option if Cook stands down, or must be replaced, hope the Irish left- hander can grasp what may turn out to be a career-changing opportunity.

Before Ben Stokes rose from the wreckage of the third Test in Perth, Morgan was the only batsman to score a century at No.6 for England since 2011, when he made 104 against India at Edgbaston. At the start of last summer former National Selector Geoff Miller made it clear his preference for the Indian Premier League ahead of early season Championship cricket had counted against him adding to the last of the 16 caps he won in February 2012, but his decision not to put his name forward for the draft this season is surely no coincidence.

There are still questions over Alistair Cook's leadership while England must replace Kevin Pietersen, right.
There are still questions over Alistair Cook’s leadership while England must replace Kevin Pietersen, right.

There will be a place for Joe Root in the new batting line-up and maybe also one of Sam Robson (for the unlucky Michael Carberry) and Mo Ali (for Jonathan Trott?), with Nick Compton, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Ravi Bopara and James Taylor all waiting for another crack. But, at 27, Morgan knows he may never get a better chance to prove he can hack it at the highest level, batting at No.5.

Will Jonathan Trott be ready to return?

England’s much-missed No.3 says he has set his sights on returning to the side for the One-Day International against Scotland in Aberdeen in early May, but the truth is no-one will know for sure what the future holds for him until he actually makes his comeback.

His insistence that burn-out rather than a stress-related illness caused him to fly home after the first Test in Brisbane caused confusion and left former skipper Michael Vaughan feeling “conned” over England’s initial explanation for his departure and Trott’s own insensitive comments about associated conditions have been unhelpful.

On his game, with a clear head and heart, he would be the ideal batsman around whom England could rebuild their batting, but they may feel they need half a season of him reeling off scores for Warwickshire before putting his recovery to the acid test and even then they will need to monitor him sympathetically but constantly for the remainder of his career. Or, harshly perhaps, they may feel they have no option but to take him out of the frame for good.

How much has Matt Prior left to give?

England expect big things of Jos Buttler in all forms of the game but as they put together their new team they may feel they need Prior’s experience a while longer, particularly as a strong vice-captain for Cook to lean on.

The ludicrous scheduling of back-to-back Ashes left most of England’s players clutching, but Prior suffered more than anyone because of the massive demands of the dual roles of wicket-keeper and senior batsman.

The Sussex man is still good enough to bat at No.7 but the question he must answer is how long he can put himself and his troublesome achilles through the rigours of life behind the sticks and not just survive but prosper.

If England feel the 2015 Ashes may be an urn too far for Prior, they will want to give Buttler time and opportunity to learn how to operate in Test cricket and see how well he can cope with whichever spinner they choose to take over from Graeme Swann.

Talking of which…

The timing and circumstances of Swann’s departure was viewed as mild desertion by many, even some within the camp, though to be fair to England’s former off-spinner once you are gone, you are gone.

Now the real fun begins, though, because Monty Panesar appears to have blotted the remaining clean page of his copybook with his eccentric behaviour on tour and the spin cupboard is not exactly groaning fit to burst with alternatives.

Like for like options include James Tredwell, but England recall what Australia’s batsmen did to him in the one-day series last summer, and not a great deal else.

Scott Borthwick is a talent but, while he took wickets in his debut Test in Sydney with his leg-spin, the Durham youngster is not close to selection as a frontline bowler.

Memories of Simon Kerrigan’s first go in the final Test at the Oval still bring his supporters out in a cold sweat and such is England’s desperation that a half-decent showing by slow left-armer Stephen Parry in the second ODI against West Indies in Antigua transformed him in some eyes from a 28-year-old county t20 specialist to a contender for a Test place.

Step forward Mo Ali? Wonderful on the eye with the bat, some within the management believe they may have stumbled on a live alternative to Swann with the ball.

The Worcestershire off-spinner does not lack ambition, has a nice loop and drift and the suggestion of a wrong ‘un. If England do fancy him for next summer they must surely pick him now.

Anderson, Broad, Stokes and…

Given full fitness and softer locker doors to punch, England’s attack for the first Test against Australia next summer will comprise their first choice new-ball pairing and the emerging all rounder. Who else?

England would love Steve Finn to find himself after a winter during which he became, in their word, unpickable.

Chris Tremlett has a great deal to do (translation: a snowball’s chance in hell) not only because his efforts in the first Test in Brisbane were so insipid, but also because any friend of KP’s is no longer a friend of theirs.

Tymal Mills could get a shot with England
Tymal Mills could get a shot with England

In Sydney, Boyd Rankin, the third of the giant pace trio charged with scaring the Aussie batsmen out of their wits, bore the look of a man to whom the exact opposite had occurred.

On form, Graham Onions should be given a shot but suffers from the thought that wickets are somewhat too easy to come by at Chester le Street and is considered primarily a back-up for Anderson. Chris Jordan has his backers, but Cook may push for his Essex teammate Tymal Mills for his pace and left-arm variety.

Not as tall as Mitchell Johnson, nor as tattooed, but genuinely quick and keen on making life uncomfortable for batsmen as he showed when duffing up a number of them in the nets, Cook included. It could be fun finding out.

Who’s in charge?

Ashley Giles has brought innovation and something resembling a smile back to the proceedings, is trusted by those who work with him and has a good relationship with Cook, but boy could he have done with his players exceeding expectations in West Indies and Bangladesh.

Even so, when the process of finding a new coach is stepped up once England return from the World t20, it would now be a surprise if the Warwickshire stalwart and Ashes winner was not asked to carry on full-time.

Downton has already demonstrated he is not afraid to take tough decisions, however and Gary Kirsten has some support, but while some believe his stated reluctance is a bargaining ploy, it is also making it easy for England to look elsewhere. Peter Moores would be Andy Flower’s preferred choice but might feel too much like a backward step for some at Lord’s.

Giles appears undaunted by the size of the task ahead, which includes Test series against Sri Lanka and India, the 2015 World Cup and then the Ashes, but he is no mug either.

Jobs like the one he is applying for have a tendency to make or break a reputation and whoever gets it will need luck and time. There is never any guarantee of the first, of course, and the sound of the ticking clock gets louder by the day.

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