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Back-to-back losses have captain Cook on the brink

December 9, 2013

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Alastair Cook is deep in hostile territory, history is against his England team and he knows the Australians are going to come even harder at them in Perth.

He hasn’t given up all hope of retaining the Ashes, though, even at 2-0 down in the five-test series.

England hadn’t lost a test in 12 months until its 381-run defeat in series-opener at Brisbane. Now they’ve lost back-to-back matches. The 218-run defeat in Adelaide was on a flat wicket and the Australians are heavily favored when they return to a fast, bouncy surface in the third test at the WACA.

No team has come back from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series since Australia in 1936-37 but Cook said “It’s certainly not impossible.

“A lot of people will probably give us no chance,” he said. “It’s going to take a monumental effort from us to do it, but we’re the only guys who can turn it around.”

Cook’s first Ashes experience was on the 2006-07 series, when England was crushed in a 5-0 sweep by a ruthless Australian team stinging from a defeat in England in 2005. England has won all three Ashes series since then but some critics, including former England captain Michael Vaughan, are now predicting another sweep for Australia only three months after they lost 3-0 in England.

The difference between the last series and now is a more stable Australian team and the impact of sheer pace from Mitchell Johnson, who wasn’t selected for Australia in the last series but who has terrified the Englishmen with his express, short-pitch bowling and taken 17 wickets already. He returned career-best Ashes figures of 7-40 to skittle England for 172 in the first innings on a docile Adelaide pitch which had yielded 570 runs for Australia.

He bowled Cook (3) in the first innings with an almost unplayable, late-swinging ball and then returned to tear through the middle order in s spell that netted 5-12 in 18 balls. The Australian paceman only took one wicket in the second innings, but it was key. Cook attempted to hook a short ball and was well caught in the deep, and suddenly England was 1-1 after being set 531 to win. England eventually reached 312 on Monday, raising its first total above 180 in the series. The other positive signs for England were the 87 by Joe Root batting at No. 3, a responsible 53 from Kevin Pietersen and 69 from vice-captain Matt Prior, who’d only tallied four runs in three previous innings

Cook said it would be too “simple” to attribute England’s problems to one Australian bowler, and doesn’t think the three-day turnaround between the second and third tests is too short for his batsmen to work out techniques to defuse Johnson’s pace.

“The guys selected to score the runs are not getting them, and that’s starting with me,” Cook said. “I need to score more runs, simple deal. ”

Cook reveled in similar pitch conditions in the 2010-11 series and contributed 766 runs in seven innings to help England win the Ashes on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years.

He continued scoring runs consistently for England and was logical choice as test captain when Andrew Strauss retired.

But after just one loss in his first 16 tests as captain, he’s finding out the hard way how difficult it can be leading an England team in Australia. The domestic media has been hostile, the boisterous crowds have been baying for blood, and the players have been anything but friendly.

“There are some very tough moments as a captain and we’re in the middle of it,” Cook said. “We’re 2-0 down and I’m responsible as a captain for that in the sense that I’m leading the troops. It does hit you quite hard.”

England hasn’t won in Perth since 1978, and the defeat there in 2010 was its only loss of that series. Johnson destroyed the England batting lineup in that match at the WACA, also the venue for his career-best eight-wicket haul against South Africa.

“He’s bowled very well and we haven’t played him as well as we could have done — our shot execution has been poor,” Cook said. But “What’s gone on in the past is of no relevance whatsoever.

“We have to go there as this side in 2013 and deliver something very special.”

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