ALASTAIR COOK is experiencing the toughest moments of his professional career, by his own admission, but remains determined to lead England out of their long losing run.
The manner of England’s 95-run defeat to India was especially dispiriting in the second Investec Test at Lord’s, after a century stand between Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali began to hint at a famously unlikely win – only for Ishant Sharma to induce a hapless collapse from 173 for four to 223 all out.
Sharma bounced out a succession of batsmen on the way to a career-best seven for 74, as English hopes evaporated and a 1-0 lead was India’s by mid-afternoon on the final day.
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Cook continued his conspicuously long run of poor scores with two more failures at the top of the order - and has now overseen seven defeats in England’s last nine Tests.
That sorry sequence includes last winter’s Ashes whitewash, of course – a shocking and embarrassing dip in fortunes, which brought an overhaul of management hierarchy but the retention of Cook as captain to try to forge a new era alongside returning coach Peter Moores.
They have begun, however, with defeats in all three formats against Sri Lanka and a latest setback which puts them on the back foot already in this five-match series.
Many high-profile observers were insisting, even before England lost here, that Cook must be relieved of his duties.
But he still wants to try to put things right, starting – in this hectic and draining summer – in the third Test at Southampton at the weekend.
“I haven’t had any tougher times in my career than at the moment,” said Cook.
“It gets harder and harder the longer it goes on.
“But I don’t think walking away from it would be the way to go.
“Until somebody taps you on the shoulder and says ‘we don’t want you to be captain’, or ‘we think there is a better man’, or my position does become untenable, I want to be carrying on.”
Cook believes it would simply be wrong to surrender mid-series.
“If I’m not scoring runs by the end of the series, and we’re losing more games...
then I’m clearly maybe not the man,” he added.
“But I’ve been speaking to Mooresy over the last couple of days, and we still think we can turn this round.
“I’m just as determined as I was at the beginning of this game. Five days is a long time in sport. But I’m still here, and I still want to throw everything into being captain of England.”
Either runs or a victory might have kept his detractors quiet, but the lack of either just gives them more ammunition.
Cook added: “A tough loss, in good conditions for us, does keep making it harder – and not scoring runs is getting tougher and tougher.
“I’m not going to hide, and say I’m waking up every morning the best I’ve ever felt in my cricketing career.
“Everyone has doubts. It would be only natural when you’re out of luck – when you’re on your own, or away from it... of course you have doubts.
“But it makes me more determined...
that I’d just love to win this series.
“How much satisfaction that would be.”
There is precedent to cling to, for Cook and England – who fought back from a deficit to prevail in India in his first series in charge two winters ago.
“The beauty of a five-match series is you have the chance to bounce back,” said the 29-year-old.
“We lost the first match in Ahmedabad, and no one gave us a sniff we’d win that series and we won it 2-1.”
While Cook must search for consolation, his opposite number Mahendra Singh Dhoni need do no such thing as he reflects on only India’s second Test victory at HQ in what he senses will be his last opportunity to do so.
“This is a result of hard effort... and it was fantastic to see the determination the guys showed,” said Dhoni.
“It’s very special.
“This was a Test match when there was pressure on us. It seems it will be my last at Lord’s, for sure... so it’s definitely memorable.”
Cook, by contrast, could only ponder on where it all went wrong after at least four of Ishant’s victims were compliant in their own downfall.
“You live and die by the sword you choose to take,” he said of the attacking options which failed for Matt Prior and others.
“It is a very high-risk strategy, and it didn’t come off.
“We keep giving ourselves opportunities in games, and we’re not taking them.
“We need to knock down that door.