Captain Cook's dismissal leaves ripples

The time-honoured ploy of targeting the opposition's captain almost seemed wasted on Alastair Cook when Australia's fast bowlers circled his name on the scoresheet before the winter's Ashes series.

This was the man who was singled out as a weak link in England's team before the summer of 2010-11, only to bat his side to a comprehensive series win with 766 runs at an average of 176. Australians strained their eyes looking for even a bead of sweat on Cook's brow from the effort of it all, but couldn't find one.

Cook later made a seamless transition to the captaincy, even though his predecessor was the universally respected Andrew Strauss. He led England to a drought-breaking series win in India in his first series as skipper, overcoming a 1-0 deficit to do so.

He came into this Ashes with nine victories and two losses from 19 matches as captain. It was hard to think of a player less susceptible to sledging, and less likely to be spooked into a false shot, even against brutal fast bowling and under the sustained pressure of an often bitterly fought Ashes series.

Still, Australia's fast bowlers thought they could get at Cook even before Mitchell Johnson was welcomed back into the attack. Before the team flew to England for the first of this two-part Ashes epic, James Pattinson voiced the Australians' intention to ''open up'' the England batting order by targeting the captain and opening batsman.

It was not a particularly original idea; Glenn McGrath made a sport of talking a good game against the likes of Michael Atherton and Michael Vaughan, and generally got his man.

Over the course of the past seven Tests, culminating with his dismissal in the second innings at Adelaide Oval, the Australians have revealed to the world that Cook is human after all.

He averaged 27.70 in England in the previous series with three half-centuries, but his struggles have been compounded here by the relentless pace of Johnson, who has conquered him twice in Adelaide.

He could be forgiven for being defeated by the deadly delivery that pitched on off and swung into his stumps on the second evening of the Test. He'd spent the best part of two days in the field watching his fast bowlers struggle on a flat pitch and his spinners smashed into the stands, only to see Johnson crank up his pace well beyond anything his own quicks had managed.

His second innings defeat was less comprehensible. Staring at a deficit of 530 runs, perhaps wrong-footed by Michael Clarke's decision to declare 15 minutes before play, Cook fronted up to Johnson again. The Australian's third ball was a head-high bouncer. Cook swivelled unblinkingly into a hook shot that sailed to Ryan Harris at fine leg.

Johnson only bowled three overs in his first spell without conceding a run. But the England captain, the man most capable of playing the long, disciplined innings needed to save the match, couldn't see him off.

The subsequent fight from new No.3 Joe Root helped England to its first total of more than 200 for the series, but so far the Australians have kept the captain down and the ripples can be felt down the order.

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