Captain Cook discovers the recipe for disaster

AFTER every sporting annihilation there is a serious post-mortem to see what went wrong. Clearly, this England team has put in a shocker.

When a team capitulates as easily as England have on this tour, something tells me there are many problems within its structure and culture. Great buildings or structures just don't fall over that easily. Their strong foundations won't allow that to happen under any circumstances. England received two punches on the chin from Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson on day one at the Gabba and haven't got up from the canvas.

English and Australian captains are measured on how their team plays within an Ashes series. Recently, England have had a good run under Alastair Cook's reign, winning five out of his past six series. But the way England lost at the MCG showed England have lost the plot and it was mainly caused by the captain, coach and selectors.

First, the selection of Jonny Bairstow was a shocker. I firmly believe any Test team must have a specialist keeper. Bairstow isn't in the best six keepers in England and not in the top 20 batsmen, and yet he was selected in front of Matt Prior. I know Prior is out of sorts, but utility keepers don't work in Test cricket and Prior's record entitled him to play out the series as he is the best keeper in England.

The English batting has been woeful. Ian Bell or Kevin Pietersen must bat at three. I prefer Pietersen because I believe he needs a challenge. He looks bored. Also, I would field him at gully, instead of on the boundary, to get him involved.

Cook's captaincy on the morning of day three in Melbourne was the worst I have seen in Test cricket. With Haddin and Nathan Lyon at the crease, we saw fieldsmen spread all over the MCG, with bowlers having private meetings, and no direction from the captain. It was deplorable. After the first hour, England lost all momentum and that was enough for Australia to go in for the kill. It was almost a sackable offence there and then for Cook. But there were no leaders in the field putting up their hand to help Cook. They were playing reactive cricket.

All I saw was Pietersen asleep in the deep, Bell thinking of how to make runs, and their vice-captain taking out drinks.

So this smouldering wreck has been thrown on the lap of Paul Downton, the new managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board. His biggest job is finding out what went wrong and what can be salvaged from this mess. Should Cook stay as captain? Should Andy Flower stay as coach? Have they got too many staff?

Is Cook the solution or the problem? No doubt England have lacked direction and leadership this series. Captaincy can be learnt. Allan Border did and so can Cook. There are no other stand-out candidates within the England squad, as none of his teammates is captain or vice-captain of their counties. The only other candidate is Prior. So Cook is still the solution, in my opinion, but he must look towards others for help.

Cook can learn from his adversary Michael Clarke, who has a great mentor in Shane Warne. This relationship must not be downplayed as Warne challenges Clarke, and keeps him positive and instinctive. I feel Cook must take the same lead and look towards a David Gower, Mike Brearley or Mike Gatting for inspiration and advice.

Flower is under pressure. If this England team was an English Premier League team he would have been sacked by now. Flower was a tremendous cricketer and has been a successful coach. But he has suffered the most humiliating defeat. He must know that things need to change. He has to get his team back to the level it once knew.

He can put up new walls and create more discipline or loosen the noose, so to speak, and allow the players more freedom like Darren Lehmann has by letting the Australian players take more responsibility in their games and allowing them to play more freely.

Sadly for Flower, I think he has run his race and I would be looking for other possible aspirants. England's best option would be Warne, but they haven't got enough money. Other candidates to look out for are Michael Vaughan, Tom Moody, Justin Langer or someone from left-field such as Michael Hussey. I probably would lean towards Vaughan, who likes a challenge. The best cricket coaches, I feel, are guys who have been there, done that and Vaughan would bring back that strong English culture he had when he was captain.

Many touring teams seem to turn up their toes before they arrive. They simply don't prepare properly. If I were a touring coach, I would ask for three four-day matches at Test venues. I would then put up a $250,000 bounty to any team who could beat us. As a coach, you want your team to play competitive matches and put players under the pump before meeting the Australians in a Test series here. England looked like they were having a net in the touring matches before the Test series and thus weren't ready.

There are many other reasons England lost this series. Their quicks seem to be down on pace. Their batsmen got worked over and their fielding has been shoddy. And the tourists didn't help themselves with their ridiculous dietary menus and requirements. England have simply lost the plot and now need some tough leadership and direction, and that starts with Downton.

The story Captain Cook discovers the recipe for disaster first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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