England captain Alastair Cook listens to the presentations after losing on the fifth day of the second Test.

England captain Alastair Cook listens to the presentations after losing on the fifth day of the second Test. Photo: AFP

English cricket stands at a crossroads and after the latest setback in a turbulent seven-month spell, captain Alastair Cook has done little to suggest he is the right man to lead the side into a new era of success.

During last year's dismal tour Down Under, England were thrashed 5-0 in the Ashes series and followed that up by bowing out of the World Twenty20 at the group stage, culminating with an embarrassing defeat to the Netherlands.

Subsequently, controversial but influential batsman Kevin Pietersen was axed, coach Andy Flower stepped down and Peter Moores was re-hired in his place as part of England's plan to rebuild with Cook.

However, the new era kicked off with home one-day and test series losses to a modest Sri Lanka side, underlining fears that the reconstruction process was going to be a lengthy one and Cook's negative tactics were failing to yield positive results.

Under Cook, who took over as skipper following the retirement of Andrew Strauss, England have now failed to register a win in eight successive tests and look a team shorn of confidence every time they are put under pressure.

Australian spin great and former rival Shane Warne has flayed Cook's "unimaginative" leadership and the opener's woeful batting form has not helped either, with the gifted left-hander failing to score a century in 24 innings.

Calls to relieve him of the captaincy have grown louder with each passing failure as fans and former players, such as Geoff Boycott, have suggested that now was the time for the Essex batsman to step down.

Cook, a calm and composed figure at the crease when he is in form, has looked under increasing pressure and sensitive to criticism, as evident from the outburst he aimed at Warne after the drawn first test against Sri Lanka at Lord's.

Even former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene made a point of highlighting Cook's inability to handle criticism.

"I feel for Alastair but it doesn't help arguing with commentators," Jayawardene said. "That is something you can't control.

"You just need to control the things you can control out there and that is perform and carry your team through. I'm a great believer in forgetting things you can't control."

Cook could argue that his critics would appear to have short memories as he was the same man who heroically led England to a first series win in India for 27 years in 2012 and later retained the Ashes at home, drubbing Australia 3-0.

YOUNG BLOOD

As the captain of the side, Cook is overseeing a major transitional period and it only augurs well that new players like Sam Robson, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali have all impressed with maiden hundreds in the series against Sri Lanka.

At the same time, however, it increases the pressure on him to perform, something Cook himself is well aware of.

"At the moment the runs are hard to come by," Cook accepted after the series defeat against Sri Lanka. "It does put more pressure on me and I've got to use these next 10 days (before the start of a home series against India) well.

"I'll rest up, get back to train incredibly hard and hopefully score some runs against India in the first couple of games.

"Nobody is guaranteed a place in this England team, you've seen that with the young cricketers around now, they're pushing for places. That's the way it should always be."

Many believe that Cook, who has amassed over 8,000 runs in tests including 25 hundreds, is a better leader when he is scoring and the five-test series against India might present an ideal opportunity for him to silence his critics.

India, notoriously poor travellers, were thrashed 4-0 the last time they visited England and Cook will be hoping his side can get back to winning ways against Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men.

A lack of alternatives, with experienced batsman Ian Bell seemingly the only serious contender to take over as skipper, appears to have also given Cook a stay of execution as captain.

"Of the current crop of players, Cook is the right man," former England spinner Graeme Swann, who retired during the Ashes whitewash, told the BBC.

"I don't think Bell is the right man. I don't think the extra pressure would do him any good. Cook is more of a leader." 

- Reuters