'Insular' England must reconnect with fans
Alastair Cook, England's Test and ODI captain, has conceded that the team became "insular" and failed to build up a reserve of public goodwill despite a lengthy period of success. After a 5-0 Ashes whitewashing brought an end to Andy Flower's time in charge amid criticism of the team's attitude and style of play, Cook and the new head coach, Peter Moores, are set to embark on a period of rebuilding England's reputation on and off the field.
England went to Australia in search of a fourth consecutive Ashes victory but ended up losing almost every game on tour, as well as several key players. The home side were backed up by feverish support, as Australia united behind Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann in their attempts to regain the urn, and Cook picked up on that strength, echoing comments made by Moores in suggesting that England's new regime would be a more open and accessible one.
"Australia connected with their public very well," he said. "Maybe we became very insular as a side - it worked very well at some points for us but when it wasn't going well we didn't have anything to fall back on. The guys in the dressing room are good people, they are nice guys. The public don't see that enough. Hopefully we can copy Australia a little bit in the way they did it.
"We are very lucky - they [England fans] do support us through thick and thin. Just judging on since I have been back they have been very supportive, disappointed about Australia like we all were but hopefully we can reward them for that support now."
Cook's captaincy, which began with an historic victory in India and included leading England to a 3-0 win over Australia last summer, has also been subject to much scrutiny. Having sat out England's limited-overs trip to the West Indies and not been involved in a disappointing World T20 campaign, he will resume control in an ODI against Scotland on Friday, before the visits of Sri Lanka and India.
He has previously described the changes in the England set-up as providing a "clean break", intimating that now is the time to build a team in his own image rather than continuing to work along the lines established by Flower and his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, but Cook rejected theories that Flower was too controlling.
"I do disagree. What is written and what actually happened is not always accurate," he said. "Anyone who knows me knows I have an opinion and can be quite stubborn. Flower can also be quite stubborn. You are out there in the middle and you have to make decisions as a captain. Just because you consult other people doesn't mean you can't make your own decisions. You still have to make that final decision and are responsible for it."
Although Flower remains with the ECB in a development role, England's power axis now centres on Cook and Moores. Cook played under Moores during his first spell as England coach and the two have been getting reacquainted in between the early rounds of the Championship.
Moores was sacked in 2009 after falling out with Kevin Pietersen, England's captain at the time, and his style was felt to be overly prescriptive by senior players who had experienced success under Duncan Fletcher. Cook said he felt Moores was "harshly treated" at the end of his reign and was confident that the 51-year-old would not make the same mistakes again.
"The meetings with Peter have gone well," Cook said. "It was about getting to know Peter again and hammering out what he thought my values were and me asking him what his were and getting some middle ground, which wasn't too hard.
"He learned from last time and he will do things slightly differently. Five years extra coaching gives you extra experience. We all do things slightly differently but he's an energetic and enthusiastic guy who loves cricket and England. We've got to use that enthusiasm and drive.
"It was going well until the fall out - he'd only been in the job 18 months before the fall out and things changed. When you have grown up in one regime as a senior player and then a new guy comes in, it is difficult - Moores and Duncan Fletcher are obviously completely different guys and have different ideas."
England have cast admiring glances at the work of Stuart Lancaster with the rugby union side and Cook reiterated that they would be looked to as a source of inspiration. "Lessons should be learned from England rugby - huge credit to Stuart Lancaster and the guys for the way they have managed to change things," he said. "I imagine it's taken a hell of a lot of effort and work. But I think just the way they have gone about their business shows how they've improved. Everyone can see the development in their side."
Following the embarrassing defeat to Netherlands at the World T20, England cannot afford to look beyond next week's ODI in Aberdeen. However, the news that Matt Prior will miss Sussex's match against Lancashire beginning on Sunday due to his ongoing Achilles problem is unlikely to have aided planning for next month's first Sri Lanka Test. Jonny Bairstow, who replaced Prior as wicketkeeper in Melbourne and Sydney, is fit after breaking a finger and was named in Yorkshire's squad to face Durham.