ALASTAIR COOK, the England captain, has found an unlikely supporter in former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, who believes the rest of the squad have failed to back their leader when required.
Cook's leadership has been widely criticised by those outside the England camp, with former captains Michael Vaughan and Michael Atherton calling for him to relinquish the role. Things have not gone Cook's way this summer, including with the bat, and matters came to a head following their 95-run loss to India in the second Test at Lord's - England's 10th Test without a win.
However, the 29-year-old has retained his place in the team and has the backing of coach Peter Moores ahead of the third Test, and Ganguly is loathe to see a fellow captain shown the door. The left-hander, who scored a century on his Test debut at Lord's, said: "It might just be a blessing in disguise if captaincy is taken away from him but I am never a supporter of a captain being asked to leave.
"I don't know what will happen to his future as captain but the English selectors will be horrified at the thought of losing Cook the batsman.
"The selectors must also realise that a captain is as good as his team and they should focus on picking match-winners even if they may not have buckets of runs in county cricket. Team selection is a lot more than choosing good boys and yes men. It's about flair, guts and creating winning situations for the team. In this England team, I see no one other than Ian Bell capable of doing that."
Cook has maintained he is keen to see through the challenges of the so-called new era, which followed their Ashes defeat in Australia.
And Ganguly, who himself steered India through a few lean periods and had a much-publicised rift with former coach Greg Chappell, feels it will be a while before the changes yield rewards, adding: "Where does England go from here? They panicked after the Ashes and I just get a feeling that English cricket's decisions depend on the Ashes and that is so wrong. Yes, they were ordinary in Australia but some of the radical changes they have made will hurt them for a while now."
Moores, meanwhile, admits he is yet to figure out whether England's whitewash Ashes defeat has left him with a clutch of cricketers with their best days behind them. Asked if the 2013-14 debacle may continue to have a long-term effect on a generation of cricketers who travelled south with such hope, Moores said: "It's one of those questions you can never answer. The winter was tough.
"For some people, it will forge them and make them better over time; for some, it might not. It depends how you respond to it. But it was a tough experience, of that there is no doubt."
Others who endured the Ashes are among those finding it most difficult so far this summer. Matt Prior was dropped in Melbourne, recalled in the Moores regime and - after four Tests - has decided he can no longer do himself justice while injuries compromise him.
While the wicketkeeper takes the remainder of the Test summer off - he will be replaced by debutant Jos Buttler, named in England's 13-man squad for Sunday's third Investec Test against India in Southampton - frontline pace pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad also have questions to answer. "We all know Test cricket is a challenge the longer you're in it," Moores added.
"The senior players have got to look at their own games and decide how they are going to come back and play to the level needed. They will be desperate to start to make a really big contribution. It's been a frustration for them, as well as everybody else."
England's 95-run defeat at Lord's on Monday leaves them 1-0 down, with three to play and much to prove.
To that end, Moores acknowledges he must ask as much of himself as he does the players. "Of course, I back myself as a coach. If I didn't, I wouldn't do the job," Moores added.
"If you're worth your salt, you're going to reflect on your bit - 'what could I have done better?' If you didn't, you're not going to keep improving. We ask players to improve, so coaches have to."