Cook puts England top order on probation


England captain Alastair Cook has warned his top order, himself included, that they have a lot of work to do after the series against South Africa, despite winning the series two-one.

England's top order were not at their peak aside from a few individual efforts, with the middle and lower order often asked to step in and save the day. Cook and opening partner Alex Hales had a best stand of just 64.

Hales made his debut in this series, after months of pressure to see him included, but averaged just 17, while Cook failed to impress too and averaged 23. James Taylor also averaged under 30, while Nick Compton barely hit that figure.

The skipper said after the fourth Test, where they collapsed to 101 all out on day five: "There are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting. There are certainly places up for grabs.

"The output we've had in this series hasn't been good enough if we're trying to get to No1 in the world, which is the ultimate aim.

"As a batting unit we've relied too heavily on Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. Absolutely we've got room for improvement.

"At the end of the day, results matter and your end column of runs are absolutely vital. So to say they've totally convinced me would be wrong."

Cook went on to say that wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow may have impressed with the bat but his keeping work left much to be desired. Bairstow dropped a few catches in the series, some of which were relative sitters.

Cook added: "Jonny has been outstanding with the bat in this series. He's kind of come of age and proved he can bat at this level.

"He knows he has a huge amount of work to do on his keeping. We can't afford to keep putting down those chances that he put down in this series.

"It's no coincidence the two games we've won we've caught everything and the draw and the loss we dropped far too many chances. That is a big area of concern for the side but there's no reason we can't put it right – it just takes a hell of a lot of hard work.

"But I remember a certain Matt Prior having a tough series in Sri Lanka. All he did was work and work and work and amazingly no-one ever talked about his keeping.

"He was an outstanding keeper, but for the first 20 Test matches people doubted him. He put in a serious amount of work and Jonny has that ahead of him. He is the first to know that."