ALASTAIR COOK is skilled when it comes to anticipating what’s coming his way. As an opening batsman, being able to predict the moment at which a fast bowler is readying himself to produce a delivery designed to inflict physical pain is part of the battle.
As Cook’s record in Australia this winter would testify, he’s got that part of the game, and many others, down to a fine art but his powers of foresight appear to extend beyond the field of play.
“I knew I’d get asked and I know what you’re trying to get me to say,” said Cook when the issue of the England captaincy, a role he has seemingly been groomed for ever since he was parachuted into the side in India five years ago, is raised.
While the stock of those Test players who were part of England’s post-Ashes World Cup travails in the subcontinent has taken something of a dent, Cook’s already stellar status has been elevated again, as a result of his non-involvement, to a level whereby he’s considered the practical alternative to Andrew Strauss, who is considering his position as the captain of England’s 50 over side.
Although keen to protect his great friend and opening partner, when pressed further on whether the idea of captaincy and the additional pressures and demands it brings appeals, Cook is unequivocal in his response.
“It’s a bit of a loaded question and in my mind Straussy is still the captain, but you wouldn’t turn it [the captaincy] down if it’s offered to you,” he said. “Leading up to the World Cup that one-day side had been very settled, like the Test team and had won a few series back-to-back. But it will be interesting to see what happens now.
“Of course the idea of leading the side appeals to me and I very much enjoyed doing it when I went to Bangladesh. I like to challenge myself constantly and if you get an opportunity to take it you’d probably be left with a big regret at the end of your career if you had turned it down.”
That Cook is being touted as a possible leader of the limited overs side, despite the fact he has been in the one-day wilderness for just over a year, speaks volumes about the sort of form he was in when he left Australia for home, while the bulk of his Ashes winning team-mates jetted off to the World Cup.
The raw statistics, even four months after the event, are still scarcely comprehendible. The 26-year-old began the tour regarded as the side’s weakest link and ended it with 776 runs in the bank from seven innings as England won a series in Australia for the first time in 24 years.
While Cook concedes it was “disappointing not to be selected for the World Cup on the basis of that form” he acknowledges the time for reflection and self-congratulation is over; a pivotal summer in the development of this England side is almost upon us.
Sri Lanka first and then India, World Cup winners and the No1 ranked Test side, are the visitors to these shores and realists would suggest that both will offer a greater threat to England’s progress than the disfunctional Australian side Cook helped put to the sword in the winter.
That said, England are well placed to challenge the subcontinent’s supremacy. This side, unlike their 2005 predecessors, whose Ashes win was the end rather than the start of their story, are yet to reach their peak, according to Cook.
He said: “This No1 goal, being the best in the world, really means a lot to us. We don’t
want to win isolated series here and there and until we get there and stay there for a significant period of time we won’t rest.
“In 2005 they built up to that Ashes series and won, but never played together again. We’re lucky and privileged not to be in that position. Of course, Colly has retired so we’ve lost one of our key components but hopefully the nucleus is going to stay together.
“We’ve got a few players on the verge of 30 or around there with a lot of experience behind them who really are approaching the peak years of their careers. There’s a real natural balance in this side and if the nucleus can stay strong we can do something special. The motivation is definitely there.
“India have dominated really and it’s up to us to knock them off their perch. Any team which can boast the likes of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, they are once in a generation players and they’ve got them all in their top order.
“If we can play as well as we did against Australia we know we are a very tough side to beat, especially at home.”
Lowering India’s colours would certainly represent “special” but it would be safe to assume a series win over MS Dhoni’s all conquering side won’t be greeted with the same sort of fanfare that the Ashes victory over a substandard Australia was.
England’s obsession with beating the old enemy borders on the unhealthy in some eyes. Cook admits the biggest surprise since his return in January has been “meeting so many people who’d given up so many hours of sleep to watch us play”.
While England’s supporters could be forgiven for feeling groggy following their winter exploits, so too can the players, some of whom were on tour for five months. It’s an issue that needs to be urgently addressed, says Cook.
“The schedule was wrong,” he said. “You can’t complain too much because you’re doing what you love, but there are times when it gets incredibly tough.
“We had the opportunity to do something very special by winning an Ashes series in Australia. We wouldn’t swap it but I don’t think it makes sense. It’s mad.”
Should Cook inherit the captaincy from Strauss his world is likely to get madder still. His track record, however, suggests he’s got the ability to anticipate and deal with the pitfalls of the position.
Rankin has partnered with Samsung and Intel to launch the Series 9 notebook with 2nd generation Intel Core i5 Processor which combines smart PC performance and seamless visuals, with a collection of technology inspired photographs featuring Alastair Cook. The notebook is now available from major retailers across the UK.
CAREER REVIEW | ALASTAIR COOK
Mar 2006: Makes England debut in India and scores a century in the second innings.
Jan 2007: Endures difficult tour of Australia as England are thumped 5-0.
Feb 2009: Ends a run of 15 Tests without a century with 139* against West Indies.
Aug 2009: Part of the England side that wins back the Ashes, but makes only one 50.
Mar 2010: Captains England on their successful tour of Bangladesh.
Jan 2011: England win back the Ashes thanks in part to Cook’s 776 series runs, including an unbeaten double century in Brisbane.