It is more important for Alastair Cook to rediscover his batting form than turn into a tactical genius, says Nasser Hussain.
Cook’s captaincy has been branded as “boring” by Shane Warne, while, writing in his Telegraph column on Sunday, former England skipper Michael Vaughan urged the 29-year-old to adopt more attacking fields.
Hussain, speaking on Cricket Writers on TV, said that Cook is now a cannier skipper than he was during the Ashes whitewash over the winter, but reckons England’s main requirement of their captain is to rack up the runs.
“I often get asked whether you can teach leadership or have to be born with that gut feeling for the game – and we might find that out this summer with Cook,” said Hussain, who skippered England between 1999 and 2003.
“In the last six months he has been out-captained by Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum and that has put him under the microscope and got commentators on his back.
“There are signs that he is learning as a captain – there is now a plan B with his bowlers, which there wasn’t in Australia, and he is setting cleverer fields.
“I don’t think he will ever be a Mike Brearley-esque, Stephen Fleming-esque tactical captain, but his role is to lead from the front, like he did when England won in India.
“England didn’t win that series by Cook using ingenious fields and tactics. They won it because Cook went out and smacked 180 with the bat.
“So what England really need is their captain to find form with the bat again.”
One call Cook and the England selectors may have to make, however, is how they replace the spin of Graeme Swann following the bowler’s retirement mid-way through the Ashes drubbing Down Under.
Monty Panesar and Scott Borthwick played a match apiece in Australia – the former figured in game four in Melbourne, with the later debuting in the five-day arena during the final encounter in Sydney.
However, Worcestershire’s Moeen Ali was given the nod for the maiden Test of the English summer with Sri Lanka, seemingly due to his qualities with the bat, which were evident as he scored an elegant 48 in the first innings.
Yet Hussain remains unconvinced that Moeen, who has a first-class bowling average of 40.43, can operate as a frontline bowler and feels a number of county twirlers could push the former Warwickshire man for his place.
“England’s batting looks strong at the moment – although the top three have not yet fired – so you could move Matt Prior up to six, put Ben Stokes in at seven, and get your spinner in,” added Hussain.
“Luckily for England the Sri Lanka Tests are at grounds (Lord’s and Headingley) where spin historically doesn’t play a huge role, so they have been able to push back the spin decision and go with Moeen.
“It is something that has to be answered and at the moment Panesar remains the best spinner in England, even though he is struggling a little on and off the field with Essex.
“Adam Riley at Kent, by all accounts, could be the future but there are some leg spinners, too, and I wouldn’t forget Adil Rashid, who is improving as a bowler and someone to keep an eye on.
“I would say he is a slightly better leg-spinner than Borthwick at the moment.”
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