Alastair Cook hopes to draw a line under a selection issue he described as “slightly messy” and now wants the focus to be on squaring the series with Pakistan following some honest chats among the squad in the wake of their defeat at Lord’s.
Cook had hoped to pick James Anderson for last week’s 75-run defeat in the series opener but the selectors insisted England’s record wicket-taker prove his fitness in county cricket following a shoulder injury. The England captain now goes into Friday’s second Test at Old Trafford with one clear, if not entirely simple, decision to make.
With Anderson back, and joined by the all-rounder Ben Stokes, the seamers Steven Finn and Jake Ball have been dropped from the side at Lord’s. It leaves Cook and the head coach Trevor Bayliss to mull over whether England should play a leg-spinner at home for the first time since Chris Schofield 16 years ago. Adil Rashid is that option, for what would be his fourth Test cap and first in England, at the country’s happiest Test hunting ground for slow bowlers.
Cook confirmed that despite a lean six months with the ball, Moeen Ali remains his first choice spinner, and therefore Rashid will only play in place of a batsman. James Vince, who averages 18.66 from his first four Tests, is the likeliest candidate to step aside. The captain knows, however, that his batting line-up was at fault for the 1-0 deficit England now face, rather than a bowling unit that had been affected by selection wrangles.
“We didn’t play the greatest game of cricket at Lord’s,” said Cook, after England trained on Thursday. “So then people then start jumping on things which were less important [such as selection]. It’s been a bit of a sideshow.
“If we’d played really good cricket, and won – the 11 guys picked were certainly capable of that – then that story wouldn’t be blown up like it has been. It’s happened. It was a slightly messy affair – no one intended it to be like that – and we’ve got to move on, and play better cricket.”
To do so, Cook knows his side must chiefly overcome the leg-spinner Yasir Shah and at Old Trafford this week they have used the Merlin bowling machine in the nets for a tune-up. From the captain, who claims a message to play gung-ho cricket has never been issued by himself or Bayliss, comes a reminder that life gets easier against high-class spin the longer batsmen stay in.
He said: “A lack of runs cost us at Lord’s. None of us got a hundred and we didn’t have those 100 partnerships that we talked about. The guys are in a good frame of mind, having practised hard and spoken very honestly. But it is very easy to sit down talking it through, it is about playing.
“The one thing Yasir does well is he doesn’t bowl many bad balls, which is the skill of a great spinner; the number of wickets he has taken in his first 13 Tests is up there with the greats. He is obviously the linchpin of their bowling attack. They rely on him and if we can play him better, it will put pressure on their other bowlers.
“I remember facing Muttiah Muralitharan for the first time and the first 30, 40 balls you are thinking you are never going to score a run. But the more time you get, the more you get more in. It is about getting through that first 30 balls.
“Of course, when you lose a game of cricket, your confidence is dented. But we’ve got some really good cricketers in that team who will be hungry to bounce back. We have lost before and put in a very good performance a week later.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010