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May 15, 2013
Alastair Cook expects England to raise their standards at the start of the home international season to ensure the performances in New Zealand are viewed as a blip rather than the beginning of a trend.
Cook will lead England for the first time in a Test on home soil. The early days of his full-time captaincy have already included peaks and troughs, ranging from the high of winning in India to the shock of narrowly avoiding defeat in New Zealand.
England's players will be grateful that they now have a chance to improve on the displays during March having spent the last month fielding questions about whether they were complacent, under-prepared or just out-played. Naturally, Cook continued to deny that his players were anything less than fully committed to those three Tests but knows it is important not to begin this season on the back foot.
"I don't think it was a lack of effort or a lack of application. In hindsight you always start looking at things and I think if you go back to the warm-ups and what we did in our preparation, I remember talking to Andy Flower and saying I think we've had a really good preparation period, we're ready to play.
"Obviously we've been looking at these reasons behind closed doors and they'll obviously stay there. It certainly wasn't to do with lack of attitude."
Cook, as ever, was keeping his counsel on what the team had discussed leading into this series but England were certainly stung by the events in New Zealand. "Anyone who plays for England, whether you're the captain or the coach, you expect high standards and when those high standards aren't met that's a perfectly opportune moment to be cross," he said.
Unlike New Zealand's approach - where they are quite relaxed about discussing selection issues - England refused to give anything away before the match but it was worth noting that Cook said that leaving out Graeme Swann and playing four quicks "has crossed our minds." However, England missed Swann in New Zealand and have recent experience of omitting him from a home Test when they selected a full hand of fast bowlers against South Africa, at Headingley, last year.
The final choice remains likely to be between Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan. Reports from the county game have suggested Finn, who is now back on his long run-up, has not been on top of his game early in the season but Cook did not hold the same concerns. "The guys watching him bowl say it's coming out at good pace, and in the nets today I was glad I wasn't facing him," he said.
A slightly more prosaic issue for Cook to contend with on his first day as a Test captain in England will be ensuring he has his England blazer with him, which has so far proved easier said than done. He forgot to take it out to India and needed Swann to fly it out for him after a brief trip home, then in New Zealand it was due to be delivered by his wife whose arrival was then delayed.
"I think it's at the hotel but if it's not I can drive home and go and get it," he said. "It's not like flying halfway round the world." Cook wants to look sharp and now his team need to play sharp.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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