Cook ready for 'unknown territory'
There is no need to ask Alastair Cook what his New Year's resolution is. As he walked with a relaxed stride on Wednesday evening to board the flight to India, to lead England in the one-day series, he only had victory on his mind. And nothing was going to betray his confidence.
You can remind him about India being the defending world champions in the 50-over format. You can remind him about the 5-0 annihilation MS Dhoni's men inflicted on England in late 2011, not to mention the same in 2008 and the 6-1 drubbing in 2005-06. But Cook can equally shoot back out about the historic triumph against India in the Test leg, which allowed the England players to celebrate a lovely Christmas at home. And without being combative, he could at the same time remind you that England, and not India, are the No.1 on the ODI rankings.
Of course, Cook did not say any of those things at the team departure press conference. What he did say, though, was the one-day players will do well to adopt a similar approach and work ethic as practiced by the Test squad: adapt, work hard and enjoy.
"We can definitely take some confidence as a batting unit, especially the way we handled their spinners after that first innings in Ahmedabad. We have got to do something like that once again in the ODIs if we want to win."
Yet Cook is aware of the challenge awaiting his team. Missing from the first-choice ODI squad are the trio of James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott ,who have been allowed to rest as part of the selectors' plan to keep England squads competitive at all times across all formats, along with Jonny Bairstow who is on compassionate leave.
"Every time you start the tour it is a huge challenge," Cook said. "I sat here two-and-half months ago saying to win a Test series in India would be an amazing experience and to do that was a great effort by the whole squad. India in their backyard in one-day cricket is again a huge challenge for us. We lost 5-0 last time, so it will be a good measure of us as a side to see how we have improved. But again we have got a squad that is capable of doing something special."
England have done special things in the last few years but one of the key driving forces, Andy Flower, the team director, will be absent this time India. Flower and the ECB recently agreed that he had to achieve a "realistic and sustainable work-life balance", he had to take frequent breaks. Under Flower, since May 2007, England's ODI record win-loss record was 60-52 in 120 matches. In 2012 England won 12 ODIs and lost two with series wins against Pakistan (4-0 in UAE), Australia (4-0 at home) and West Indies (2-0 at home).
To try and help ensure a smooth transition as Flower steps aside from the one-day squad, the ECB the former England left-arm spinner and current selector Ashley Giles. Asked if the relationship with Giles, with whom he has never worked in a similar manner before, would be hard to establish, Cook disagreed.
He said Giles was an important influence when he entered the England dressing room for the first time in 2006. According to Cook, Giles was the facilitator, acting as the channel between the players and Duncan Fletcher, the then England coach.
"He was a senior citizen of the side when I went to Pakistan. He was kind of called the dad in one way," he said. "He was that gel in the middle of the team, always looking after players. He was the bridge between Duncan Fletcher and some of the players and I see him carrying along that kind of relationship with the players now as a coach."
Flower, Cook maintains, remains the "boss" and is just a "telephone call" away in case of any emergency. But that did not mean they would have to wait for him to take every call as it was the responsibility of him and Giles to take forward the ODI team. The key in making sure this new coaching set-up runs smoothly is to communicate openly and clearly.
"It is an unknown territory and we haven't done it before," Cook said. "But it is a bit like the three captains. It was new, it was fresh and I thought it worked really well because of the energy those three captains brought to each different side. And I can see this having the same effect on the coaching side with Test and ODIs being split. We all will have to work hard on the relationship and we all are going to have to communicate really well to do it. But as we get used to it, the relationship will improve."
Neither does Cook want comparisons drawn between Giles and Flower. "Of course, they are going to be different because they are different characters, they are different people. What is important is all three of us work together and have a strong relationship because you do need a strong leadership. Gilo will have to get used to me as a captain and I'll have to get used to him as a coach just like I Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss did."
Like any good forward-thinking leader, Cook did not waste time and has taken the initiative to meet Giles a "few times", to make sure both men get acquainted to each other's styles and thoughts quickly. The next few weeks will not define the partnership, but it will lay down some early markers.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo