By Dominic Farrell
England captain Alastair Cook has urged his team to perform at pivotal moments ahead of the third Investec Test against India at the Ageas Bowl.
The hosts are 1-0 down in the five-match rubber following their 95-run defeat in the second Test at Lord’s – a situation they will look to remedy on the south coast from tomorrow.
The opening two outings against India and the preceding 1-0 Test series loss to Sri Lanka are a source of frustration for Cook, not least because of the impressive individual performances on display during this time.
Newcomers Sam Robson, Moeen Ali and Gary Ballance have all registered maiden Test centuries – the latter notching a superb second at HQ last time out.
James Anderson won the nod from Sri Lanka’s players to be named man of the series and the Lancashire seamer's unheralded batting came to the fore in a record-breaking last-wicket alliance with Joe Root against India at Trent Bridge.
Root has two wonderfully composed tons to his name in the longest format this summer, while Yorkshire colleague Liam Plunkett has added a muscular element to the England attack on his return to the Test arena.
But Cook understands such positives will count for little in the final analysis if his players cannot grasp the promising positions they have so far engineered in both series.
"The last week's been a hard week in terms of we lost a game of cricket," he said. "The good news in a five-Test match series is you've got chance to bounce back and you get judged at the end of the series.
"The frustrating thing has been that we've been getting ourselves into situations, especially in the four Test matches where we've been ahead of the game by quite a long way and haven't been able to force that result.
"We must be doing a lot of things really well but at the crucial sessions, when we need to stamp our authority to get that win, we haven't been able to take (control).
"It's bubbling under but the longer it goes without a win it becomes harder and harder."
Unfortunately, Cook has been unable to join his aforementioned compatriots in raising his bat this summer.
The skipper was phlegmatic regarding his on-going run drought at the top of the order, stating he feels a deep responsibility towards his team-mates when it comes to turning his form around.
"It's just incredibly frustrating because, first and foremost, you're there as a batter," he said.
"You're there to score runs at the top of the order, and I've done that throughout my career.
"The last year or so, I haven't managed to do that. That's a concern for me, because that's my bread and butter."
"There is nothing worse than walking back in and feeling you have let the other 10 guys down.
"Nothing will give me more satisfaction than if I do pull through and score runs - because I know how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into it."
Investec Test facts
England have failed to win any of their last 10 Tests, their longest winless run since 1992/93.
Defeat in this Test would mean England would have failed to win either of their series in a home summer for the second time in the last 15 years – they drew with Pakistan and lost to Australia in 2001.
India’s win at Lord’s ended a 15-Test winless streak away from home that stretched back to June 2011.
There has been one previous Test at the Ageas Bowl, a rain-affected draw between England and Sri Lanka in June 2011.
Ian Bell hit an unbeaten 119 in that match, one of five Test centuries he hit in 2011.
Since his last Test century, against New Zealand in May 2013, Alastair Cook has scored 638 runs in 27 innings, at an average of 23.6, with six half-centuries and no tons.
Cook needs 51 runs to become the ninth player to score 2,000 Test runs as England captain.
At Lord’s Cook became the seventh fielder to take 100 Test catches for England. He has 102, behind Graham Thorpe (105) and Graham Gooch (103) in fifth and sixth place respectively in the list of most Test catches for England (excluding wicketkeepers).
Stuart Broad (252 in 129 innings) needs four wickets to pass Graeme Swann (255 in 109) as England’s sixth-highest Test wicket-taker. He is currently joint-seventh with Brian Statham (also 129 innings).
Ajinkya Rahane’s Test average of 53.5 away from home is the third-highest for India, minimum 10 innings.