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September 15, 2011
For a man who started the summer amid doubts about his aptitude for one-day cricket, Alastair Cook has enjoyed a pretty healthy first season as England's full-time ODI captain.
Two hard-fought series wins over Sri Lanka and India have been complemented by his own impressive returns with the bat, and with the final act looming in Cardiff on Friday, he has the opportunity to send India back home without so much as a single victory to salve their battered pride.
"You get judged on the results and we've won both series," Cook told reporters in Cardiff. "It's an encouraging start but I think the good thing is, in the last two games we've not really played that well, but we managed to get the result which bodes well.
"Most games, especially in tournaments, are very close. It's good to get yourself used to those situations. If you dominate games it becomes less stressful. But we've made some good progress over the last couple of series."
England have a 2-0 lead with one match to play, following a wash-out in Durham and a rain-affected tie at Lord's on Sunday. Whatever happens in the fifth and final ODI cannot affect the overall result, but England have enjoyed developing their winning habit this summer, and Cook does not believe any of their appetites have been sated just yet.
"Andy [Flower] said it's amazing how quickly sport can change," said Cook. "The practice session today, you wouldn't have known what had happened in the series from the way we've trained over the last two days. The hunger in the side is there, it should be there, but it's good."
England's dominance has, to a certain extent, been mitigated by the absence of so many of India's frontline players, from their bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan to the man of the recent World Cup, Yuvraj Singh. Nevertheless, England have themselves had to make do without the likes of Kevin Pietersen, who has been rested, and Eoin Morgan, who has succumbed to a shoulder injury, but they've not let those absences affect their outlook.
"What's been encouraging is we've had no Eoin or Kevin and others have been given the chance and they've stepped up and taking their opportunities well - especially Ravi [Bopara]," said Cook. "We do need a squad and 15, 16, 17 players and people adapting to roles in the side and coming in to produce match-winning innings. The competition is there for places, and that can only be a good thing. We're all pushing to get into that eleven and competition raises the standard."
Despite Cook's best efforts, which included a remarkable innings of 80 not out from 63 balls in a 23-over second ODI at the Rose Bowl, he has been unable to break into England's Twenty20 plans, with Graeme Swann named as stand-in captain for the two matches against West Indies at The Oval next week.
"I was disappointed," Cook admitted. "You are when your name's in the hat for selection and it doesn't go your way. But it gives an opportunity for Graeme to do the job and I'll think he'll do a good job. The enthusiasm he has for the game will run off on people completely. He just loves it."
Swann's default mentality is one that England as a squad appear to have adopted this summer, with the vibe within the team seemingly as good as it ever has been. "I think success brings happiness," said Cook. "It's true when you are generally happy. When you're not winning, things start to grate on you a bit more than they would normally. And they wouldn't be if you were winning. But having said that, when we lost in Perth [during the Ashes] our team spirit was still good."
As for India, their morale has been sagging for months, and with seven defeats and no victories in nine matches to date, there's little succour on offer in this final fixture. While Cook shrugged that their struggles were "no concern to us", he could at least empathise with the situation their squad now found themselves in.
"It's extremely tough because when we lost the Ashes 5-0, we found that hard," said Cook. "It's tough when you are working hard and become beaten by a better side. It's hard for morale and confidence. I'm pleased with the way we've not let them get back into their stride because we hit the ground running."
The whitewash tour of 2006-07 followed only 18 months after the highlight of England's decade, the 2005 Ashes triumph - when the side looked capable of dominating all-comers, only to suffer a catastrophic loss of form and personnel. "We haven't repeated [those mistakes] because we've got better," said Cook. "We've taken huge steps forward as a set-up and as England players. And that's why that's not happened again."
In a contest that marks the end of India's tour, there will be a more general farewell to be made, as Rahul Dravid prepares to play his 344th and final one-day international. "He's an outstanding player," said Cook. "He's scored over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game. To be around as long as he has is incredible. He's a great of the modern day, there's no doubt about that."
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala