Cook unconcerned by misfiring middle order

Ross McLean
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Ian Bell has scored 55 runs in his last eight Test innings
TEST skipper Alastair Cook has defended his side’s misfiring middle-order after New Zealand ripped through England to level the series with an emphatic 199-run success in the second Investec Test at Headingley yesterday.

Wicketkeeper Jos Buttler top scored with 73 while the in-form Cook notched 56, but England were severely blighted by the loss of four early wickets on the final day and were bowled out for 255 during the evening session.

While the usually dependable Joe Root, who scored a combined 182 in the first Test at Lord’s, only managed a solitary run from his two innings in Leeds, it is the form of Gary Ballance and Ian Bell that remains principally in the spotlight.

Ballance notched just 36 runs in the drawn series, while Bell has mustered only 55 from eight innings since scoring 143 against the West Indies in Antigua in April, although Cook remains unconcerned despite the impending Ashes, which start next month.

“I read somewhere that if everyone was in form then you would score 800 every time so that’s not the way cricket works,” said Cook, who at the age of 30 became the youngest player in history to reach 9,000 Test runs yesterday.

“Those two are wonderful players with outstanding records. They’ve had a tough couple of games but that is the way Test cricket works.

“They will be disappointed like anyone is when they don’t score runs but we have got five weeks away now [before the start of the Ashes on 8 July] where everyone can work at their games and hopefully come back in Cardiff and build big totals.”

The failure of Ballance and Bell could provide renewed encouragement to international exile Kevin Pietersen, despite being told he will not be selected for England this summer by director of cricket Andrew Strauss. England, meanwhile, have omitted seam duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad as well as Bell from their 14-man squad for the five-match one-day series against New Zealand, which starts at Edgbaston on Tuesday.