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Ashes flame no longer burning as brightly for Alastair Cook

England's Alastair Cook leaves the ground after being dismissed for another low score. (AP)
LONDON: Before this Ashes series started, Nathan Lyon made bold predictions about the current crop of Australians “ending the careers” of some English players and getting England captain Joe Root dropped. As the Baggy Greens close in on a series-clinching victory in the third Test, it appears the off-spinner’s pre-match fighting talk was more than prophetic. The soul-searching will undoubtedly have already begun within the England camp as they face the prospect of a third 5-0 whitewash in Australia in a little over a decade.
But contrary to Lyon’s suggestion, the player who should be looking hardest in the mirror is Alastair Cook. The England opener is on his first Ashes tour since relinquishing the burden and pressures of captaincy to Root, which should have given him the freedom to do what he does best: batting at length and piling on the runs. There is no doubting the former captain’s ability; he is the only English batsman to accrue more than 11,000 Test runs and his 766 runs in the 2010/11 Ashes at an average of 127 was instrumental in England winning the urn Down Under for the first time in a generation.
Instead, this time around Cook has managed just 83 runs in six innings. His latest showing at the WACA, in his 150th Test appearance for his country, was a paltry seven and a shaky 14. He has spent just shy of five hours at the crease to amass his 83 runs at an average of 13.83. Compare that with the 426 runs in just four innings of Australia’s Steve Smith and you have some idea of the shambolic series Cook has had on pitches perfect for batsmen.
There are visible technical frailties on show against this Australian attack too, but the truth is Cook’s form has been on the slide for some time now. Aside from his 243-run knock at Edgbaston in August against a weak West Indies side, he has scored just one century and three half-centuries in 27 innings.
This is not the form of a player who should be leading England’s batting attack in the pressure-cooker intensity of an Ashes series. Or any series for that matter. Root himself has had a poor time of it, but as captain will be forgiven his shortcomings. Cook no longer has that excuse to fall back on and he now looks a shadow of the run-machine he once was. Each time he steps up to the crease it is increasingly obvious the Australian team have his number.
By carrying on beyond this tour, Cook runs the risk of tarnishing his legacy. The idea of him going on too long for England is becoming more and more of a nightmarish reality. In an ideal world, Cook would have quit on his terms while he was ahead, on a high-note and as a legend of the game. Unfortunately, his end looks like arriving with a whimper at the hands of his greatest cricketing foes.