Cook and Root have let England down

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    England may have been denied the presence of their talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes in this Ashes series, but it is the lack of input from their two best batsmen which has crueled them.

    Captain Joe Root entered the Ashes as the world’s number two ranked Test batsman, while former skipper Alastair Cook is England’s all-time leading Test runscorer.

    In the absence of Stokes, due to his alleged involvement in a street brawl, Root and Cook needed to lead the England batting if the tourists were to compete strongly in this series.

    Australia’s quality bowling attack has been their biggest asset for many years now and England’s two most accomplished batsmen simply had to make them toil.

    steve smith david warner celebrate joe root wicket

    (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    Instead, Cook has continued his horrid run in Ashes cricket and Root is still yet to come to terms with playing in Australia.

    For many years now, Cook has escaped the level of criticism he deserves for his weakness against quality pace bowling. Again and again he receives plaudits for his long and undoubtedly fine career. But the reality is that he has long been very vulnerable against good pace attacks.

    Both Cook’s footwork and his range of strokes are limited. He very rarely strikes the ball confidently in front of square on either side of the wicket.

    His once imperious pull shot, the one he used to pummel Australia in 2010-11, is now only useful against medium pacers.

    That Ashes series, when Cook piled up 766 runs, was an anomaly. An extraordinary performance, but an anomaly.

    Across Cook’s other six Ashes series, he has averaged 28 with the bat. Since 2011, Cook has not had even one good series out of seven against Australia and South Africa, the only two teams he has faced in that time who boasted quality pace units.

    Whether at home or away, Cook has been unable to come to terms with the mix of genuine pace and generous skill boasted by the quicks from those two countries. So it has been this past fortnight as Cook has been worked over by the Australians.

    With 46 runs from three knocks, he has been a non-entity. In a top five featuring three rookie batsmen – James Vince, Mark Stoneman and David Malan – Cook has been the biggest failure, leaving that trio exposed to the marauding Australian attack.

    The Australians know that Cook only has two fruitful strokes these days – the cut shot and the nudge through the leg side. For an attack as gifted as Australia’s, that makes the English veteran very easy to shut down.

    It is hard to see how Cook will have any impact over the remainder of this series and, to be blunt, that won’t particularly matter as the Ashes are already all but gone.

    Even an epic knock from Root in the second innings of this Test is unlikely to save England.

    While Root is a fantastic batsman, there is no ignoring his woeful record in Australia. From six Tests down under, he has made just 267 runs at 26.

    Joe Root

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    It is the one major blot on his incredible Test record, yet even if Root dominates over the remainder of this series it will be too little too late.

    He needed to set the tone for his side early in the series, like his opposite number Steve Smith did at Brisbane as he hauled Australia out of the muck with a remarkable unbeaten ton.

    Root, meanwhile, had a chink in his technique exposed by the Australians, who noted the manner in which he often overbalances to the offside when looking to flick the ball off his pads.

    Twice at Brisbane he was undone in the same manner by pace deliveries tailing in towards Root and trapping him in front.

    Yesterday we got a peek at Root’s biggest weakness, his tendency to aim optimistic drives at wide deliveries better left alone. It is via such loose drives off either the front or back foot that Root regularly donates his wicket.

    In comparison to Smith, who is so hard to dislodge once well set, Root drives England supporters mad by throwing away starts with needless strokes.

    He has reached 50 a whopping 46 times in Test cricket, yet has turned only 13 of those knocks into centuries. Root may just have one final chance to swing this series over the next two days if England can go on to roll Australia very cheaply today.

    Australia have been left ever so slightly vulnerable by Smith’s bizarre decision not to enforce the follow on yesterday. The hosts had England down and out, with an opportunity to bowl at them again with a new ball under lights.

    Instead Smith handed that juicy scenario over to England, who gleefully accepted his offer and made the most of it.

    With the pink ball swinging and seaming all over the place, as it tends to do in the final session, England’s quicks looked more dangerous than they had all series. This ensured that Smith’s decision came back to haunt him.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco