Cook is off the boil ahead of the Ashes

The England opener was always thought to be destined for greatness but Mr Reliable needs some runs ahead of the crucial series against Australia.

Alastair Cook, the England opener, was always thought to be destined for greatness. As a youngster, he was pencilled in for the top by Graham Gooch, the former England captain, who was also his coach and mentor at Essex, the English county side. He certainly began with that promise by scoring a century in his debut Test against India in Nagpur in March 2006.

He is widely expected to take over from Andrew Strauss as captain of his country and has already led England to a 2-0 whitewash against Bangladesh as stand-in captain where he scored back-to-back centuries including a Test career best of 173. That experience eased Cook into the role and the burden of responsibility, even though it was not the toughest of assignments. "It was probably a good place to have started out. In Bangladesh, we didn't have all the media and the external stuff that you get back in England," he said. "You can't avoid it back home, but in Bangladesh you almost have to go looking for it.

However, with this being an Ashes year, Cook's batting performances in the last three home Tests have come under increasing scrutiny. England have not won in Australia since 1987 and a solid opening partnership is essential if they are to break that run. Cook, who partners Strauss at the top of the order, made only 59 from the two home Tests against Bangladesh and his contribution was eight and 12 in the opening match against Pakistan, which England won comprehensively by 354 runs at Trent Bridge in Nottingham yesterday.

Prior to that, Cook had decent records on tour to South Africa and Bangladesh. He scored a century in the Durban Test, had twin fifties in the drawn final match in Cape Town. He followed that up with his centuries against Bangladesh. His Test batting average is an admirable 43.47, and nobody is suggesting that his spot for the Ashes series, which starts in November, is at risk. He has nothing to prove as a batsman, but a couple of big scores in the remaining three Tests against Pakistan would be welcome, if only to allow a focus on other uncertainties in the team.

Kevin Pietersen has scored just one hundred and eight fifties since losing the captaincy in early 2009. Eoin Morgan, the star of England's limited overs set-up, is still finding his way as a Test player. The explosive Jonathan Trott, whose Test average of 50.06 from nine matches is boosted by his 226 against Bangladesh in May, is equally inexperienced at this level. The last thing England need is a crisis of form from Cook, usually their Mr Reliable.