Ashes 2013: Alastair Cook relies on instinct but keen on Strauss input

2019-08-22 01:19:05


Andrew Strauss could be seen wandering across the Radcliffe Road end of the Trent Bridge outfield in Tuesday's stifling sunshine, in the smart casual attire of his new role at Sky, and perhaps thinking back four years to the start of his first Ashes series as captain.

Over in the pavilion his successor, , was the centre of attention, fielding questions about what he concedes could be a career-defining series while admitting that Strauss, one of only three England captains to have beaten Australia at home and away, will still play a behind-the-scenes role.

At 28, Cook is still in the early stages of his captaincy career – at least he hopes so – having led England in 11 Tests against Bangladesh, India and mostly New Zealand, and with an excellent record of six wins and a single defeat. So he is reserving the option of occasionally confiding in Strauss, his former opening partner and a sufficiently close friend to have taken possession of several sheep from the Cook family farm near Leighton Buzzard.

"I am good friends with Straussy, so it would be silly of me not to tap into that," he said. "You do need to take advice because there could be something he – or someone else – tells me which could be very crucial. But probably the best advice I ever got from anyone when I took over the captaincy was to make sure you do it your way and be your own man."

Cook does not specify but it seems safe to assume that advice came from his immediate predecessor when he stepped down last September. "You have to go with your instinct because when you're out there, you're the one making those decisions.

"I think I'm ready," he said – although he was hardly going to say anything else. "I've played quite a lot of cricket now so I feel pretty experienced and, as captain as well, I think I've grown into it quite nicely. In an Ashes series your decisions will be scrutinised a little more because there is more interest in it. That is the big difference."

But after posing for pictures with Michael Clarke in the same caps they will wear to the middle for the toss on Wednesday morning, Cook fell somewhere between relishing the extra levels of anticipation before an Ashes series, and trying to keep them in context.

"There is excitement and a few nerves floating around – I think those are the two favourite words that are going to be used, nerves and excitement. But we do have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be playing in an Ashes series." On the other hand, "Try not to get it out of all proportion, using those kind of huge words, massive series, all that kind of stuff. You have to 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."

Cook did that outstandingly well in the last series in Australia, with a match-saving, unbeaten 235 in the first Test in Brisbane and a series aggregate of 766 runs at an average well into three figures. Perhaps clutching at straws, Australia have noted that Trent Bridge is his least successful home Test ground – he averages less than 20 in Nottingham – and that an unusual proportion of his recent dismissals have been against left-arm seamers (although that is not so surprising given the importance of lefties to the New Zealand attack). Mitchell Starc will therefore aim to test him early, and there will also be the extra burden of the captaincy.

The appointment of Aleem Dar as one of the umpires has generated some pre-match chatter, after the Pakistani infuriated Cook by ordering a ball change during the Champions Trophy defeat by Sri Lanka at The Oval.

Both Cook and Clarke expect reverse swing to play a significant part at Trent Bridge, as it did even in the much shorter time span of the Trophy meeting between the teams at a similarly dry Edgbaston last month.

"I'm happy we're not using a white Kookaburra for starters," said Clarke. "Hopefully we can work together as captain and umpire," Cook responded, diplomatically.

He prefers to dwell on the exclusive captaincy club in which he could join Strauss. "In eight weeks' time, I'd love to be sitting at the Oval having won the Ashes," he said. "That's the ultimate aim as an English captain. You join a very elite band of cricketers who could say that."