Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.
England may just be two warm-up games into their Magellan Ashes tour, but the early signs for Alastair Cook are already not looking good.
As his country’s all-time leading Test runscorer, former captain and leading century maker, Cook will be a prized scalp for the Australian attack once the Ashes get underway in Brisbane in 15 days’ time.
But the opener is running out of time to find some form after he failed again on the opening day of England’s pink-ball tour match against a Cricket Australia XI at the Adelaide Oval.
Cook had started this tour with a two-ball duck against a Western Australia XI at the WACA last weekend.
And although he got off the mark here, making 15 from 27 balls, he again failed to stick around for any meaningful length of time after edging Jackson Coleman behind in the seventh over of the day.
If these warm-up games are meant to achieve anything it is allowing players to blow away the cobwebs and find some touch by spending time in the middle. The fact that 10 days into this tour Cook has faced just 30 balls is a worry.
It might not be if he had actually been scoring regularly towards the end of the northern summer.
But these two blow-outs in Australia are part of a longer run of failures stretching back to Cook’s double hundred in England’s first-ever pink-ball Test against West Indies in mid-August.
In six innings since he has scored a just 76 runs, with a high score of 23. In four of those innings – including both so far in Australia – Cook has been caught behind.
While this is hardly a time to get overly concerned about a player whom, when the pressure is really on, usually delivers, it is worth noting that Cook’s Ashes record – bar one admittedly Bradman-esque series in 2010-11 – is not actually very good.
Australia will, of course, fear that Cook might just turn up at the Gabba the week after next and score a hundred that clicks him into another purple patch like that series seven years ago, when he made 766 runs at 127.66.
It is worth noting Cook arrived in Australia that summer on the back of an English season that had seen his form dip so badly he was on the verge of being dropped before a scratchy century against Pakistan at The Oval saved his skin.
Other than that one performance, Cook’s best series home or away against Australia was the last one in England two years ago, when he averaged 36.66.
In Australia, he averaged 27.60 on his first Ashes tour in 2006-07 and 24.60 on his last visit four years ago.
Since that golden tour in 2010-11, when he made three hundreds, including a double in Brisbane, Cook has not scored a century since.
So, while England will be hoping their most-experienced batsman can deliver the runs that will help them be competitive in this forthcoming Ashes series, his current form and overall pedigree against Australia suggests that is unlikely to happen.
It would indeed take a lot for England to consider dropping Cook at any point in the medium term – certainly before the start of the next northern summer in May.
However, Ashes defeats usually prove a watershed moment for the losing country and a particularly bad result for England – combined with a bad personal tour for Cook - could see the question about his future raised.
We are a long way off from that point right now.
But Australia will undoubtedly be watching Cook’s progress on this tour, or lack of it, with interest ahead of the first Test at the Gabba.
CA XI squad: Jake Carder (WA), Jackson Coleman (Vic), Michael Cormack (SA), Daniel Fallins (NSW), Ryan Gibson (NSW), Nick Larkin (NSW), Simon Milenko (Tas), Tim Paine (Tas), Will Pucovski (Vic), Gurinder Sandhu (NSW), Jason Sangha (NSW), Matthew Short (Vic).
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Steven Finn, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21