Alistair Cook can lead England to victory, but only if he makes some tough choices first.
The dust has settled in Ahmedabad, inevitable condemnation after England's defeat is all but complete. Former England captains are done arguing over who should be dropped. I've read blame game articles aplenty, engaged in friendly fire and tweeted my frustrations away.
England were comprehensively beaten by 9 wickets on day 5 of the first test. An error admitted by Coach Andy Flower in selection meant Alistair Cook had to make do with a bowling attack a spinner short. Once India had posted a 500+ total inside two days the damage had been done.
The question is, can England bounce back? Answers perhaps lie with England's reluctant hero, Captain Cook. Fair to say he's had an eventful last month or so.
Cook's baptism of fire before Test
Tackling Knot theory in Euclidean space as I did once upon a time might have been an easier task for Cook than the first assignment he was given as England captain.
Sorting out the KP "reintegration" was an awkward distraction for the newly appointed skipper, ahead of an important 4 match series against India. One he tackled without fuss or complaint.
Credit must be given for whatever was said behind closed doors, because on the field the process appears to have gone smoothly. Diplomacy is a pre-requiste for any successful captain. Cook has started well.
Cook dealt 2-7 off suit
Without dwelling too much on losing the toss, its importance cannot be overlooked. It is by no means a guarantee that if England batted first they'd cope any better against a more balanced Indian bowling attack.
However one can argue, without scoreboard pressure and nearly two demoralizing days in field they may not have panicked as much. Having a rookie opener, out of form Trott, "re-integrated" KP, and a Pregnant Bell didn't help either. Despite being dealt a cold hand Cook seemed unnerved in both innings, a testament to his cricketing poker skills and a great omen for England.
If the first hand was 2-7 off suit the second wasn't much better. Cook did the best he could in the first session given the lack of discipline by his front line bowlers. Sehwag was the thankful beneficiary with a run a ball 117 which gave India ample time to get ahead.
As batsmen fell around him Cook's temperament was exceptional in both innings, albeit far more fruitful in the second. The question was raised before the series whether the captaincy would hinder his prolific run scoring, he has answered emphatically.
As Boycott said in a post match interview, England batsmen could do worse than watch how he bats and follow suit. When Boycs starts complimenting you, you must be doing something right.
Cooking with gas
Cook has shown his metal in his first test as fully fledged captain, but he's got to push on. Yes he can score runs under captaincy pressure but to win the series he needs to emerge from his shell and be more imposing. His tactics on that first morning suggested he was not in favor of Bresnan selection, rather stuck with him. Well I put it to you Chef, speak up in team selection meetings from now on!
You're the leader of the pack now, so go make some tough decisions. He'll need to for sure if England are to win the series from here. True England's recent success has been based on consistency in selection. But that strength could prove their weakness if they do not adapt quickly.
With Finn ruled out through a recurring thigh strain and Bell on paternity leave a few of those tough decisions revolve around potentially replacing Broad and Compton.
Whilst it might be harsh on the latter and unlikely to happen, Compton has looked out of his depth. True he hung around for a little longer in the second innings but it was hardly convincing. Technique geared to score county runs in seamer friendly conditions are not pre-requisite for success in India.
As for Broad, his appointment as vice captain was premature in that it makes it awkward if/when he's dropped. Broad's omission is demanded by his hit the deck hard style of bowling, which has been proven to be ineffective given his pace and pitch conditions in India.
Meaker's pace and skiddy bowling demeanor can be an unsuspecting weapon against India. Whilst it's difficult to suggest changes without knowing conditions in Mumbai, where the next Test is held, the logic behind these changes remain conclusive.
Regardless of whether they make the changes mentioned. England can rest assured safe in the knowledge that in Cook they have a captain, who leads by example and has a bright future ahead.
image: © gareth1953