HAMPSHIRE legend Shaun Udal reckons Alastair Cook should be replaced as captain by Joe Root.
Cook is under intense pressure ahead of the third Test against India at The Ageas Bowl, out of form and with England 1-0 down after their Lord’s humbling.
Udal believes it is time for a change and with few alternatives, he reckons 23 year-old Root is the man for the job.
He said: “England are struggling, they’re on the back foot and all the talk is quite negative, not just about the captain but the whole squad.
“They’ve lost direction, Cook's under pressure, Ian Bell's short of runs, Matt Prior’s pulled out, possibly before he was pushed, and Stuart Broad has a niggling injury.
“It’s time for Alastair to come out of the firing line and pass the captaincy on to someone else.
“He hasn’t scored a century in 27 Test innings and can only go on like that for so long.
“He’s determined to continue but no-one wants to give up the England captaincy.
“I can understand that and why the ECB are being a bit stubborn. They want to wipe the slate clean after KP.
“But it’s time for a change. Personally, I wouldn’t give it to a senior guy, I would start afresh by giving it to Joe Root. “It didn’t do Graeme Smith any harm when he was given the South Africa captaincy at 22 and Root has great character as well as being a fine batsman.
“He would do a good job so give him two years to grow into the role.”
It was against India that Udal enjoyed his finest hour during the series that saw Cook make his England debut back in March 2006.
A late call-up following an injury to Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick’s stress-related illness, Cook starred with 60 and an unbeaten 104 in the first Test in Nagpur - having flown in from the West Indies, the night before.
But Udal never got to play alongside Cook, who was missing from the team that levelled the series by beating India in Mumbai in the third and final Test.
“Alastair went down with a stomach bug on the morning of the game, not an uncommon occurrence in India – he didn’t come out of his room for ten days - and Owais Shah came in for his debut,” recalls Udal, who took 4-14, including the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, as England bowled India out for 100 on the final day.
“The match was a dream come true for me,” said Udal, whose fourth and final Test could not have been more memorable.
“It’s something I’ll never forget. We set them 313 to win on the last day and had them 75-3 at lunch, with Dravid and Tendulkar in.
“We came in at lunch quite sombre but Freddie [Flintoff] put Jonny Cash’s Ring of Fire – a suitable song on that tour – on his iPod and started singing and dancing.
“Everyone joined in and it relaxed us but the umpires wondered what on earth was going on when they walked back out past our dressing room for the afternoon session!
“Freddie struck in the first over after lunch and I had Tendulkar caught at short leg by Ian Bell in the next over.”
Off-spinner Udal took three of the last four wickets to fall, including that of MS Dhoni, who will be captaining India at the Ageas Bowl today.
Hampshire’s first Hampshire-born England cricketer since the 19th century will be watching the first day’s play from the eponymous Shaun Udal Suite, where he will be entertaining hospitality guests.
But he may cut a frustrated figure following the decision not to include a frontline spinner in the 13-man squad.
“I can’t believe they brought Simon Kerrigan in for one Test squad and then leave him out of the next one,” he said. “If he’s the one they should invest in him.
“What we’ve got to do is stop trying to replace Graeme Swann. It’s impossible, it’s like Australia trying to replace Shane Warne.
“Swanny was unique, the sort of bowler who comes along every 30 years.
“Moeen Ali’s done a good job but he’s been under used.
“He hasn’t been looked after very well, he needs more trust given to him.”
Adam Riley is talked about a lot but at 22 he hasn’t played much and that shows the state we’re in.
“Adil Rashid seems to be forgotten and Scott Borthwick isn’t getting many wickets for Durham so the cupboard’s pretty bare.
“But we should have picked a frontline spinner in these conditions.”
Given the shortage of quality spin bowlers in England’s ranks, it may not be too long before Hampshire’s Danny Briggs comes into contention.
His lack of experience, due in part to the versatility of fellow slow left-armer Liam Dawson and Hampshire’s second division status, stands against him.
But Udal believes Briggs is a Test player of the future.
“Danny’s chance will come,” he said. “He just needs to play more and have the sort of season where he gets 70-plus wickets in the first division.
“People say he doesn’t turn the ball enough, but that’s rubbish. You don’t need massive turn. As John Emburey used to say, you only need to turn the ball half a bat’s width to take wickets.”