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June 21, 2007
Two years ago Alastair Cook couldn't even make Essex's one-day set-up, but Graham Gooch believes it would be madness to leave him out of the England side now. Cook has already played two ODIs, both against Sri Lanka last summer, and he is keen for another taste.
"If I was selecting I would choose him, but then again I'm biased," said Gooch, Essex's coach. "Either way I would have thought he would be close."
Cook, still 22, is creaming Test runs for fun, but there has been a tendency to pigeonhole him as a first-class player, rather than as an allround batsman. A rare glimpse of his promise - he has hardly played any one-day cricket - came with a sparkling 125 for Essex against Surrey last month, and Gooch scoffs at suggestions of his limitations.
"He will adapt to whatever's necessary. If he has to mix it at the beginning like [Matthew] Hayden did for Australia, I don't see any reason he won't be able to do that or play the more cautious, accumulating role. I think he's that good."
Cook backs himself, too. Last month he told Cricinfo: "I've always got the shots. In Test match cricket you've got time to bat. In one-day cricket you've got to be more aggressive." Even so, his one-day experience is limited. Two years ago when Essex won the Pro40 he didn't play because he hadn't been considered for one-day cricket at that stage of his career. Last year he was away with the England Test squad.
"He needs to get exposure in one-day games," said Gooch, but he doesn't believe it will take Cook too long to cement a place in the shorter game. "Within a year, I think he will be a regular. He will certainly form part of the plans for the 2011 World Cup [in India]. He's too good a player to be kept out of the side and I think he will adapt his game to suit."
Cook, still only 22, was part-relieved, part-gutted to have been left out of the recent World Cup in the Caribbean. While not playing kept him away from the scathing reviews and negativity, he still found it hard to watch his Ashes team-mates in action. But one man who emerged from the experience intact, and even fortified, was his Essex team-mate Ravi Bopara, another man who Gooch expects to cement a one-day spot. Bopara, though, has been ruled out of the upcoming series through injury.
"Ravi came back from the World Cup a much more mature player. He's benefited from playing in a different place. Different area, the West Indies, against higher class players. Personally, he was one of the only positive things that came out of our World Cup campaign.
"There's a lot of learning yet - the best years for a batsman, I reckon, are between 25 and 35," added Gooch, whose own late-flourishing career was the exception that proved the rule. "England have found a cricketer there that we can work with. A cricketer who can go forward, a cricketer who is capable of improving at 21 years of age, to be a part of the one-day and future international levels."
Bopara has already shown he can raise his game to new levels. Gooch gave him a challenge a few weeks ago, when Andy Flower left Essex to help coach England. "I sat down with him and said: 'This is a big opportunity for you, you've got to step into his shoes a bit'." He duly struck 50 not against Middlesex in the one-day game, a hundred against Ireland and, at first-class level, 147 not out against Glamorgan, followed by smashing Northants for a double ton.
"I think in the end he will compete with Collingwood and anyone like that in the top order," said Gooch. And as for Cook, with a long career stretching ahead of him, it's not inconceivable that he will have Gooch's record of most Test runs for England (8900) in his sights. "If he does," adds Gooch, "then England will be doing all right."
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