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'No point in chopping and changing for the sake of it'

Kyle Coetzer has been plying his trade on the English county circuit long enough to have witnessed the fashion in which the ECB's finest veer between triumph and tristesse on a regular basis.

Alastair Cook has been criticised for his lacklustre captaincy, but others must also shoulder the blame. Picture: PA
Alastair Cook has been criticised for his lacklustre captaincy, but others must also shoulder the blame. Picture: PA

Yet even the Scotland captain, one of life's pragmatic characters on his peripatetic route from Aberdeen to Durham and thence Northamptonshire, admits he has been surprised by the speed of England's descent from the heights of last summer when they regained the Ashes with something to spare.

Already, following their defeat against India at Lord's on Monday, a result which was their 10th consecutive Test without a win, the knives are out for captain Alastair Cook. Ian Bell is the bookies' favourite to replace him, though he has barely scored a run this summer and that neatly sums up the travails surrounding the home camp as they attempt to regroup in the aftermath of another international failure.

As Coetzer declared, batsmen such as Cook and Bell, and bowlers in the mould of Stuart Broad have not suddenly become useless overnight. What has happened is that they have been involved in an awful lot of cricket over the past two years and have hit the summer game's equivalent of the wall in the marathon. The question now is whether they can transform their fortunes - and quickly - before they plumb new depths.

"I have played against all these lads and they are quality performers, no doubt about it. But they are not hitting their straps at the moment, they are struggling to bowl sides out, and once the pressure builds up, you can get sucked into a spiral, and it is difficult to get out of the trough," said Coetzer, who believes that the loss of three key individuals - Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann - has exacerbated the situation.

"That trio's record on the Test stage speaks for itself. They were all high up in the ICC rankings and capable of producing match-winning innings or bowling spells and I think any country would have had difficulties replacing them immediately. Look at India a few years ago when [Rahul] Dravid, [VVS] Laxman and Zaheer [Khan] left the team. These were big shoes to fill and it's not really surprising their results were poor for a while.

"The positive aspect for me is that some of the youngsters have come in and done well for England. Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Sam Robson and Moeen Ali have all proved at different times they can handle the step up to Test level. It is the more experienced figures in the side who have found things tough, but that happens. I don't think there is any player who hasn't gone through a lean spell at some point. The trouble is that two or three of them are enduring it at the same time."

Most of the heat has been directed at Cook, who has been criticised for what many perceive as conservative tactics, leading by rote and an unwillingness to experiment. Yet, although he is terribly out of nick with the bat, he wasn't to blame for his compatriots' abject display on the first morning at Lord's when such stalwart campaigners as James Anderson and Broad failed to exploit a green wicket and let the Indians off the hook.

That has been a familiar refrain for the English since they were bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the Australians Down Under during the winter and it is undeniable that Cook was one of those whose confidence slumped against the blistering pace of Mitchell Johnson. But Coetzer spoke with Cook when their ensembles locked horns at Mannofield in May and refuses to cast too much blame on the Essex batsman.

"He's a fine player and a fine man and I have no doubt we will see him scoring runs again before long, because he produced phenomenal feats with the bat for years on end," said Coetzer. "He will be fully aware that the media are scenting blood and his position is under scrutiny, but I don't think it helps anybody to be constantly chopping and changing for the sake of it.

"England are in transition, and India have taken advantage of that, but fortunes can change swiftly in cricket, as happened in a few months between the two Ashes series in England and Australia. It might just take one victory and England will be on the rise again. At the moment, they have problems. But they also have potential. It would be far more worrying if the latter wasn't true."

In the short term, the axe has already fallen on Matt Prior - though he has ostensibly stepped out of the side for fitness issues - and possibly Ben Stokes, with Jos Buttler and Chris Jordan filling their shoes.

Cook may cling on until the end of the series, but he needs runs for himself and success for his team and he needs it very quickly.

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