Cook wary of Ashes whitewash
Alastair Cook (Gallo Images)
Melbourne - Alastair Cook is calling on his seniors to pull out something special for England to avoid the ignominy of an Ashes whitewash against Australia.
The rampant Australians strolled to a convincing eight-wicket victory over the beleaguered tourists in Sunday's fourth Melbourne Test to lead the series 4-0 and stand on the brink of a 5-0 series rout in this week's final Sydney Test.
Somehow the dispirited tourists, who gave up the Ashes in 14 playing days, have to find a way to stop the Australian juggernaut from repeating the 5-0 clean sweep of the 2006-07 series Down Under.
Cook, whose position as captain looks shaky after his team has been comprehensively outplayed by the Australians, has defended his players who crumbled under pressure after holding a 51-run innings lead only to be bowled out for 179 in their second innings.
"We've some very good players in our dressing room. We've some record-breaking players who will have some fantastic days left in an England shirt," Cook said in the wake of Melbourne trouncing.
"I know that for sure. And we'll be praising them when they do that.
"We need that coming out of us now, in Sydney, and I think that is what we need in Sydney now: we need an outstanding 100 or an outstanding five-for (wickets) and then everyone jumping on the back of that.
"That's what turns around a team that is struggling like we are at the moment to put in a good performance."
Cook and fellow senior batsmen Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have far from imposed themselves in this series: Cook averaging 29, Pietersen 35.62 and Bell 31.00.
The English have only scored one century in eight innings with rookie Ben Stokes's 120 in Perth, while the Australians have totted up eight tons.
While Stuart Broad has captured 17 wickets, his new-ball partner Jimmy Anderson has only 11 victims compared to Mitchell Johnson's 31, Ryan Harris (14) and Peter Siddle (13).
Pietersen said during the Melbourne Test that his teammates were "mentally fragile" from playing in back-to-back Ashes series, but Cook said England would not use that as an excuse for their poor performances.
"I think 10 back-to-back Test matches is a big ask," he said.
"But the bottom line is it's the same for both sides, and one side has handled it a lot better than the other side. They are playing some better cricket now than we are.
"To use that as an excuse would be wrong."
Cook said England would continue to work hard in training and hope the rewards will come in the Sydney Test starting Friday.
"I know all the guys out there are trying as hard (as they can)," he said.
"Come to any of our training sessions, and you can see the work we're doing.
"We're not getting the rewards yet. We know that a lot of hard work is the only way you get rewards, so it will turn around eventually.
"We hope we can do it this coming week."
England have some selection issues to work through with the positions of spinner Monty Panesar, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow and seamer Tim Bresnan likely to come under discussion.
Kent offspinner James Tredwell, who was added to the England Test squad with leg-spinner Scott Borthwick following the sudden retirement of Graeme Swann, is being linked with a start.
Bairstow, who replaced 75-Test veteran Matt Prior in the wake of the Ashes loss, revealed some technical flaws behind the stumps and England may be forced to recall Prior after dropping him.