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 173-4 to 223 all out.
Sharma bounced out a succession of batsmen on the way to a career-best 7-74, as English hopes evaporated and a 1-0 lead was India’s by mid-afternoon on the final day.
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 next 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.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan has added his name to the list of former players questioning whether Cook should continue.
Other high-profile ex-England figures such as Geoffrey Boycott and Alec Stewart have suggested the pressures of leadership have become too much for the Essex man to handle.
And former Yorkshire star Vaughan agrees.
“We have reached the stage with Cook when he cannot be enjoying cricket. You don’t when you are not playing well and the team is struggling,.
“It is easy for the England and Wales Cricket Board hierarchy to say it is going to stick by him but it has to ask what is best for the team and for Cook. The ECB has a responsibility to Cook the person to do the right thing and if that means taking the captaincy away then so be it.”
For the 39-year-old the situation smacks of deja vu after he also found it hard to both lead England and perform as an opening batsman.
“I went through terrible moments opening the batting and captaining the side. I could not buy a run in my first series against South Africa and really struggled in Sri Lanka. It was killing me going to my room at night hating this job,” he added.
Vaughan found a new lease of life after a frank conversation with then-coach Duncan Fletcher led to him moving down the order.
“He looked me in the eyes over coffee and said what about dropping down the order to give yourself space and time to gather your thoughts and make the transition from captaincy to batting,” Vaughan said.
“That one chat with Duncan saved me as a captain. If I had been stubborn and carried on as before I would not have lasted in the job because my form would not have been good enough to stay in the side.”
Although moving down worked for him, he does not believe that is an option for Cook, who managed only 10 runs against India on Friday. Instead, he thinks the best course of action may be to remove the shackles of captaincy in the hope it frees up Cook to do what he does best: score runs.
“English cricket has to get him back to batting consistently at the top of the order. He needs a bit of honest feedback. The ECB and Alastair cannot be stubborn and just carry on because they fear giving in to his critics. Plenty of great players have had to relinquish the captaincy to carry on being a player,” he said.