Skipper prepares to lead England for only the fourth time, but believes he has the right ingredients to outsmart Australia
ENGLAND captain Alastair Cook is certain he can maintain a levelheaded approach during the highly-charged Ashes series against Australia – which begins today at Trent Bridge – and steer his team to victory, despite lacking the experience of opposite number Michael Clarke.
Cook, four years Clarke’s junior, is preparing to lead England in a Test series for only the fourth occasion since he succeeded Andrew Strauss as full-time captain last August.
However, the 28-year-old has been a prominent part of the England Test set-up since his debut against India in 2006 and backs himself to rise to the challenge of masterminding a third straight series win against the Baggy Greens.
“I think I’m ready,” said Cook, who has played in three Ashes series. “Your decisions will be scrutinised a little more because there is more interest in it. That is the big difference.
“You must try not to get it out of all proportion, keep yourself very true to what you are and remember that it’s another game of cricket and that this is what we have been doing all our lives.”
The left-hander is set to open the batting with 22-year-old Joe Root, who Cook describes as a “fantastic young player”, with Jonathan Trott likely to bat at three.
A big boost to Cook’s side, likely to strike fear among Australia’s inexperienced bowling attack, is the return of Kevin Pietersen, who has played little cricket in the last four months due to a knee injury suffered while on tour in New Zealand.
The 33-year-old has hit 22 Test 100s, only three less than England’s most prolific century-maker Cook, who tips Pietersen to prove his fitness through the five-Test series and thrive on the occasion.
“He’s hungry and he’s performed on numerous occasions when the pressure’s been at its biggest,” added Cook.
“It’s not just down to him, but he loves the big occasion and it won’t surprise me if he scores a hell of a lot of runs.
“Although he’s been away from the game for a long period of time he’s ready to play.”
Standing in the way of England’s pursuit of the 11cm tall urn is an Australian side who have been in disarray of late, with the dismissal of coach Mickey Arthur and the suspension of batsman David Warner – for punching Root in a bar – the low points of an already testing summer.
The team they will field at Trent Bridge today has little Ashes experience between them, with seamer Peter Siddle the only man to have bowled more than 100 overs in Tests against England.
However, Cook believes it would be wrong to take their old rivals lightly.
“Australia have got some fine, fine cricketers,” insisted the Essex batsman. “We are going to have to do our absolute best to put them under pressure to try and win the game.”
10-14 July, Trent Bridge
18-22 July, Lord’s
1-5 August, Old Trafford
9-13 August, Chester-le-Street
21-25 August, The Oval