Alastair Cook's patchy form is least of England's problems - back him to score big at Lord's

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Alastair Cook was undone by Ravi Ashwin twice at Edgbaston.

Ollie Pope’s call-up to the England Test team ahead of the second match of the series against India was further proof the country’s selectors are looking to the future and the next generation.

The 20-year-old, a veteran of just 15 first-class matches, is set to have the opportunity of a lifetime this week at Lord’s so early in his fledgling career.

You have to applaud national selector Ed Smith and his close confidants such as James Taylor for identifying someone like the Surrey batsman – clearly showing they are taking in county cricket on the regular (despite applying a dagger to the heart of the domestic game, the opinion of many, by the left-field and controversial selection of Adil Rashid).

Regardless, Pope’s inclusion went to show how light England’s talent pool is at the moment. That is no disrespect whatsoever to the up-and-coming batsman – it is great to see young Englishmen getting their chance. But can you expect them to perform from the get-go? Not really.

With Pope coming in to replace the out-of-form Dawid Malan and possibly slot in at No6 with the rest of the middle-order being rejigged, there is more emphasis on England’s senior batsmen to deliver – especially given Ben Stokes’ expected absence at the Home of Cricket.

The most senior of them all is Alastair Cook.

The 33-year-old opening batsman, who let’s not forget is sixth in the all-time Test run-scoring charts with 12,158 to his name and only 243 shy of overtaking Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara, was undone by Ravi Ashwin’s off-spin not once but twice, and bowled on both occasions, during the Edgbaston match.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 7 : Ollie Pope speaks to Joe Root and Alastair Cook of England during a training session before the 2nd Specsavers Test Match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 7, 2018 in London England. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

New boy Ollie Pope speaks to Joe Root and Alastair Cook on Tuesday at Lord’s.

He was on the receiving end of an absolute ripper in the first innings, the offie’s equivalent of the ‘Ball of the Century’, but by his own admission struggled to get to the pitch of the ball and exert a strong enough forward stride when his stumps were knocked off second time around.

Cook’s place in this England XI is assured. Firstly, there is no sense in spiriting away one of England’s best-ever players and two, there are a genuine lack of alternatives out there.

But, like he has been throughout his entire career since making his Test debut at Nagpur in March 2006, and now a record 155 consecutive Tests later, Cook is always in the spotlight, at the crease at least.

His form and dismissals have always garnered more column inches and comment in an England shirt than anyone else, probably bar Kevin Pietersen and latterly Joe Root. His captaincy, too, took a pummelling reminiscent of the Mike Atherton days of the 1990s.

Scoring runs is usually the best remedy and answer and he needs a few in this series.

Michael Vaughan alluded to as much, and even added during his Monday night phone-in show on BBC Five Live  that Cook was not ‘undroppable’ under a new regime willing to make a brave call.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 26: Alastair Cook of England runs out to bat during day three of the 1st NatWest Test match between England and Pakistan at Lord's Cricket Ground on May 26, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Cook averages 43.55 at Lord’s.

He has a point and Cook could do with improving on his haul of 13 runs in two innings in Birmingham, though he did score two fifties in three knocks against Pakistan during the two-Test series in the early part of the English summer.

That was a big improvement given last winter he averaged just 5.75 against New Zealand and was dismissed for under 20 in 10 of his 13 innings overall.

His 244* knock against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the fourth Ashes Test aside, Cook was all at sea for the first three matches. That said, who didn’t struggle against a lightning fast Baggy Green pace attack?

Cook’s apparent deficiencies outside off-stump have been highlighted for years but isn’t that how most openers get out? It’s harsh to say he has a real weakness against good line and length pace, but obviously left-armer over has caused him plenty of trouble. The Australia attack, and Pakistan duo Mohammed Amir and Hasan Ali, being proof of that recently.

But for all the chatter, Cook remains unflustered. If anything, ahead of his 26th Test at Lord’s – a venue where he has played at more than any other and scored more hundreds (four) and fifties (12) than any of the 47 other grounds he’s set foot on in the world – is feeling more relaxed now than he did before.

He has and has always loved batting, that is all he knows, aside from his farm life. As the senior statesman of this side Cook should relish the chance to help his side go 2-0 and set the example for the young guns to follow this week.

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Stuart Broad needs to rewind the clock and other things England need to focus on during Lord's Test

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Broad was off-colour for most part at Edgbaston.

England were put through the grind in the opening Test against India at Edgbaston but managed to overcome the visitors by 31 runs at the end of a see-saw battle.

With their tails up in the five-match series, Joe Root and his men will be in confident mood when they travel to Lord’s for the second Test.

Despite their thrilling win in Birmingham, England have areas of concern. Here, we look at the key areas they can improve upon.

FILL VOID LEFT BY STOKES’ ABSENCE

Ben Stokes was one of the protagonists of England’s win at Edgbaston, apart from man-of-the-match Sam Curran. The all-rounder’s bowling displays in both innings were pivotal in the hosts’ victory and it will be sorely missed at Lord’s due to his ongoing court-case over the Bristol night-club brawl.

England have recalled Chris Woakes to the line-up and he should fill the all-rounder’s spot. Woakes, though, will need to quickly find his rhythm after spending a lot of time on the sidelines of late due to injuries.

Woakes will have his task cut out in ensuring England do not miss Stokes.

Woakes will need to adequately fill Stokes' shoes at Lord's.

Woakes will need to adequately fill Stokes’ shoes at Lord’s.

STUART BROAD NEEDS TO STEP UP

James Anderson was as menacing as ever at Edgbaston while young Curran gave a terrific account of himself with the ball with his three-wicket burst in the first innings. However, Root and England must be disappointed by Stuart Broad’s contributions.

Broad went wicket-less in the first innings before snaring two in the second. For a man of his experience, his efforts left plenty to be desired. With Woakes returning from injury and Curran’s Test career just two matches old, Broad will need to get back to his best to ensure England do not slip up in the pace department.

Broad has always enjoyed bowling against India in English conditions and he will need to rewind the clock to compound India’s problems.

Broad needs to rediscover his old self.

Broad needs to rediscover his old self.

BATTING WOES

With batsmen from both sides found wanting in the first Test, there is plenty of concern when it comes to England’s batting.

The foremost being Alastair Cook’s form at the top. The senior batsmen fell cheaply to Ravi Ashwin in both innings in identical fashion to continue his poor Test form. Normally, a batsman in Cook’s current form would have been dropped but England have really struggled to replace Cook’s long-time opening partner Andrew Strauss and thus do not really have the luxury to question Cook’s spot. As the veteran opener showed through his century in the warm-up game for England Lions, he still has it. What he desperately needs is a big score to raise his morale and relieve some pressure off his current opening partner Keaton Jennings.

While Root’s struggles to convert his fifties into centuries continued at Edgbaston, the England skipper remains the most dependable batsman in the side along with Jonny Bairstow.

What will be a worry though, is Jos Buttler’s non-show in the first Test. The 27-year-old has enjoyed an outstanding summer so far but he could only muster one run in two innings at Birmingham. England will hope his Edgbaston effort was an aberration and not a sign of things to come in the remainder of the series.

Jos Buttler will need to chip in with some runs at Lord's.

Jos Buttler will need to chip in with some runs at Lord’s.

OPPORTUNITY FOR OLLIE POPE OR MOEEN ALI

Dawid Malan was, unsurprisingly, axed after the first Test after the Middlesex batsman’s struggles for runs continuing. That he dropped some vital catches in the slip cordon would not have helped his cause.

That has given an opportunity to young Ollie Pope. The Surrey youngster is being billed as the next big thing in English cricket and it will be interesting to see if Root does give him an England debut at Lord’s.

The England skipper though, could be tempted to go in with the experienced Moeen Ali instead. Moeen’s ability to bowl off-spin which troubled India greatly in their tour of 2014 could swing it in the all-rounder’s favour at Lord’s.

Ollie Pope could be in line for an England Test debut.

Ollie Pope will be eyeing an England Test debut.

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England all-rounder Ben Stokes faces trial, accused of affray

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Magnificent: Ben Stokes was the key man in the first Test against India.

England cricketer Ben Stokes will go on trial on Monday, accused of affray.

The 27-year-old all-rounder and two other men, Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 27, all deny the charge.

Stokes, Ali and Hale are jointly charged with affray in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol on September 25 last year – several hours after England had played a one-day international against the West Indies in the city.

The charge states that their “conduct was such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”, contrary to section 3(1) and (7) of the Public Order Act 1986.

A 27-year-old man allegedly suffered a fractured eye socket in the incident, at which fellow England cricketer Alex Hales was also present.

The trial before Judge Peter Blair QC, the Recorder of Bristol, is expected to last between five and seven days in courtroom one.

Stokes missed the Ashes after being suspended from playing for England. Without him, England lost the Ashes to Australia 4-0.

He has since played in the Test series against New Zealand, Pakistan and last week starring as England beat India at Edgbaston.

Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham; Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol; and Hale, of Burghill Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, are on bail.

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