Cook believes Woakes can fill Stokes void
Alastair Cook has backed Chris Woakes and Nick Compton to deliver in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Durham, but admitted that both players need a performance to retain their places beyond the series.
Woakes comes into the team in place of the injured local hero Ben Stokes. But while Cook has confirmed that Woakes is likely, fitness permitting, to play in both the remaining Tests of the series, he also admitted that he had yet to settle in Test cricket.
Woakes' current Test record - he has taken eight wickets in six Tests at an average of 63.75 and he averages 21.50 with the bat - is modest. But, over the last two rounds of Championship matches, Woakes has taken career-best bowling figures of 9 for 36 against Durham and scored the ninth first-class century of his career against Nottinghamshire. Cook hopes, therefore, that he enters this Test with confidence soaring and insisted that he was highly rated by his colleagues.
"He is another one of those guys we have not seen the best of in international cricket," Cook said. "There is no doubt in my mind that facing him in the nets, seeing him bowl for Warwickshire or knowing his character that he has a lot going for him. He is really respected.
"He just needs that performance to make him feel settled in the side and help him feel he belongs in international cricket. I have no doubt about that. I am really excited about him playing and he has the next couple of games with Ben out. He can make future selection really hard."
Cook admitted there had been a temptation to select Jake Ball, the in-form Nottinghamshire seamer who has taken 21 Championship wickets at a cost of 22.28 this season. But England enjoy the depth that fielding an extra allrounder gives them and feel that Woakes is a closer like-for-like replacement for Stokes.
"We enjoy playing with this balance of the side," Cook said. "We know Ben balances the side really well, but he could get injured [again] and obviously we need the competition in that all-rounder place.
"Ben is going to be a big loss for us. But injuries are part and parcel of a side and we need to know we can play without him. Chris has that opportunity to fill the all-rounder role and Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow go up a spot in the batting, so it gives them more of an opportunity."
While Cook said Stokes' operation had "gone well" he also cautioned against rushing him back into action and suggested it was too early to say whether he would be fit for the start of the Test series against Pakistan.
Compton, meanwhile, has averaged 27.22 in the five Tests he has played since coming back into the side in South Africa. In that time, he has scored one half-century from nine innings with most recent six innings bringing 15, 26, 0, 19, 6 and 0. He admitted on Wednesday that he was playing for his international future.
Cook agreed with that view, but offered encouragement over his ability to perform under pressure.
"It's quite refreshing he has come out and said it in one way," Cook said. "You are always under pressure playing for England because of the competition for places. People want to take his place. That is the nature of the beast.
"We know he is a good player," he added. "There's no doubt about that, you see his record in first-class cricket over the past five years, he is right up there in the run-scorer's chart. He made an important 80-odd in South Africa in tough conditions, he battled hard and set up that win, and he scored two hundreds already so he can play at this level.
"He knows, like all of us, he is a score away and he will need a score. But this is a good place to do that."
Cook also said that the team management had discussed batting Moeen at No. 6 in the hope of coaxing more out of his batting. In the end, though, they decided to keep Bairstow one place ahead of him, with both moving up one position.
"We did discuss leaving Jonny at seven," Cook said. "I just thought that was a bit complicated; a bit funky.
"I imagine it is hard for Mo, a guy who has batted at the top of the order ,to bat lower down and I don't think we have seen the best of Mo's batting. It's an area where we can unlock a bit more. He has played some brilliant innings for us, those partnerships with Stuart Broad against Australia were devastating against high-quality bowling. He is a brilliant cricketer and I think he will get better and better."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo