Cow Corner

Cook leads England’s uncomfortable search for their own ‘lost souls’

It almost felt like an understatement describing England as 'lost' before a desperately despondent Alastair Cook addressed reporters at the Adelaide Oval after the captain's downbeat assessment.

An utterly dejected Cook for once did not roll out the usual platitudes of 'putting things right' and 'returning to form', rather he talked of 'taking a big hit' and the need for 'looking hard at ourselves', 'searching deep into the inner soul' and 'dragging ourselves up'. It was a disarming and surprising set of reflections free of the usual cliché-ridden fare.

The England captain is very clearly at a complete loss as to how his bullish, swaggering collection of Ashes winners can have lost all trace of confidence and conviction so quickly -but equally, he demonstrated an awareness of the loss of spirit within his camp.

Sometimes the hardest thing for very successful sportsmen and women is to come to terms with alarming slumps of form, something which can only be done by asking questions of themselves that they do not want answered. Cook's authenticity is a mark of his leadership, but it is up to others to resist the temptation to shrink away while their skipper fronts up.

Australia, bursting with hunger and new-found belief, inflicted another hugely impressive 218-run victory at Adelaide to follow up their overwhelming 381-run win in the opening match in Brisbane and it left the tourists mentally crushed ahead of what is a daunting trip to Perth.

It is surely no exaggeration to suggest that a major change has occurred in the balance of power between these two sides. It already feels like years since England closed out a comprehensive 3-0 series victory in the last Ashes; yet it's barely been three months.

During another losing series, Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke were quietly making key changes to help to arrest Australia's lack of cohesion and unity as a group. To put their two emphatic wins so far in this one-sided contest into some context, they came off the back of seven defeats in nine Tests. England, meanwhile, were unbeaten in 13 before this series.

Lehmann, Australia's belligerent and jovial coach, had been roundly derided after a summer of controversy and necessary chopping and changing. He is now being lauded for his positive approach and the extraordinary transformation he has garnered in terms of his team's unity.

Conversely for Andy Flower, his stock as team director could hardly have been higher coming into the series after having overseen a glorious period of success. Suddenly the culture of ultra-professionalism he has fostered for his side is being analysed in a very different light - 'they have documents of ECB nutritious recipes but no idea how to play the short ball' etc, etc.

No England team has ever come back from 2-0 down to win a series in Australia, and some fairly brutal early criticisms have now been replaced by more fundamental piercing questions regarding hunger, desire and motivation. Perhaps that is how it should be, as long as the questions remain constructive.

Cook said three times at the post-match ceremony that England need to "look at ourselves" and it appears to most outsiders that every player is looking around hoping to observe series-defining responses from their team-mates. The fact that Joe Root's resistance on day four stuck out so strikingly only served to bear out the lack of a doughty response.

Three dropped catches on day one cost the tourists the chance to put Australia under any pressure, three collective batting failures have left them looking abject, and three Australia fast bowlers have wreaked havoc, even on what was a good pitch at Adelaide. It has been, to be frank, an unmitigated disaster.

Far too many England players gifted their wickets to the hosts with reckless shots; far too many played as though they did not possess the desire or the belief to battle on; far too many left the field resembling shells of the self-assured cricketers they were before.

While Cook was left questioning wills, motives and the meaning of life, Clarke had a clearly defined vision and belief for the direction his side were headed that belied the appalling run of form they brought into the series.

"We have to be realistic: that is only our second Test win in (11) months and that is not good enough if we want to be the number one Test side in the world - and that is our goal," he said. The hunger in the Australian ranks is mightily impressive, it has to be said.

From Australia there is purpose and conviction; from England there is apparent apathy and a weariness of heart. This series is only headed in one direction and it does not look set for a sudden change of momentum.

It was almost refreshing to hear Cook talk as he did: he could do nothing else. Platitudes can only take a captain so far if his players remain devoid of any confidence or thirst for the fight. It appears as though they have hit a point of lethargy that could be extremely difficult to arrest.

Australia are a group of individuals willing to do anything it takes to achieve their goal; England, meanwhile, seem just keen to get home and away from the field of battle as soon as possible. Even Cook struggled to perceive the situation any differently.

England, despite all of their success under Flower - and it has been a remarkable stint - seem on this evidence to be set for a period of transition and decline. It is, after all, relatively normal in cricket's inevitable waves of success and disappointment.

Honest and authentic self-reflection is, at least, a good place to start if England are to get back on track, and Cook is a leader and a man of integrity. Perhaps leading by example for Cook right now means to ask questions of himself that some of his men have, as yet, not been prepared to ask of themselves.

By Dan Quarrell - @Dan_Eurosport