Captain Calamity! Press turn on England skipper Alastair Cook
England on brink of series defeat to New Zealand - but at least we're not as bad as the Aussies
THE HONEYMOON is well and truly over for England cricket captain Alastair Cook. Since replacing Andrew Strauss as skipper last summer, the Essex batsman has been enjoying a blissful relationship with the British press, winning plaudits as his team won a Test series in India for the first time in 28 years.
But with England facing a humiliating series defeat to New Zealand, the tabloids have turned on the golden boy. "Captain Calamity!" is the Daily Mail's headline, while The Sun says that recent comparisons between Cook and the great Australian Don Bradman may have been premature. In fact in recent weeks, says the paper, "Cook has batted more like Donald Trump and taken a decision that even Donald Duck might have avoided".
The Metro, meanwhile, compares him to Baldrick, the butler of Blackadder fame whose cunning plans, alas, never quite lived up to expectations.
The decision that has brought all this opprobrium was the one to ask New Zealand to bat when Cook won the toss before the start of the third and final Test in Auckland. With the three-Test series all-square (the first Test was drawn, the second ruined by rain), the opening day of the decisive match was always going to be key and Cook's decision to bowl was, as the Metro says, a "a horrible miscalculation".
New Zealand went on to score 443 in their first innings, while England managed a pathetic 204 in theirs. Despite having the Kiwis on the rack at 8 for 3 in their second innings, England's bowlers – allied to a sloppy fielding display – allowed their hosts to declare at 241 for 6 with Peter Fulton cracking another century to go with the one he scored in the first innings.
That meant the tourists went into bat a second time needing to score a world record 481 in 143 overs to win the match and save themselves from an embarrassing defeat against the ninth-ranked Test side in the world.
England duly lost opener Nick Compton in just the second over and by the end of the fourth day they were tottering on the brink of defeat at 90-4 with Cook out for 43 shortly before the close, a victim of part-time spinner Kane Williamson.
Speaking on the BBC's Test Match Special, Geoff Boycott predicted that "England haven't got any hope of salvaging a draw" on the fifth and final day of the Test, which would mean their first series defeat to New Zealand since 1999.
Though Cook scored a century in the first Test, he has managed just 74 in his other four innings and the Sun says his predicament "shows how quickly cricket can bite even the world's best players on the bum".
But at least Cook can derive a crumb of comfort from events in India at the weekend where Australia slumped to a series whitewash in India. With the Ashes starting in July, England may be bad, but they're nowhere near as bad as the Aussies.