India v England, 1st Test, Chennai December 9, 2008

Cook counts on experience

Cricinfo staff

Alastair Cook knows all about being thrown in at the deep end on an India tour © AFP
If England are looking for some self-belief that they can prosper in the first Test against India despite very little time to acclimatise, they need to look no further than Alastair Cook.

In 2006, Cook was summoned from the A-tour of the Caribbean after Marcus Trescothick was forced home by the first bout of his mental illness. Cook, 21 at the time, flew half way round the world and was thrown straight into open the batting in Nagpur. He made 60 in the first innings, a maiden Test century in the second and has never looked back.

"The preparation has not been ideal," Cook said. "But I have been here two years ago, having travelled half way round the world, had just one training session and played. It can be done. You don't lose your technique overnight, it's very much a mental battle.

"We have been playing since mid-October and have been to West Indies. We have been doing a lot of preparations and the three days in Abu Dhabi have been brilliant."

England's three-day training camp in the Middle East at least allowed the batsmen a chance to get bat on ball and the bowlers the opportunity to work up a sweat. However, with just two days of preparation in Chennai, the squad could ill-afford the rain that cut into the first training session and is threatening to impact proceedings over the next few days.

"It has been very tough and it is probably not the ideal build-up but now we are here and we have a chance to play against a very good side in India," Cook said. "It is an exciting challenge and we are looking forward to it.

"We have to prepare ourselves mentally. What's happened recently has taken its toll but this side has got behind each other. There have been some very tough decisions individually and we are here to play as a unit."

Cook's role at the top of the order is especially important because if England want to compete with an in-form India they need to produce big first-innings totals, something that has been a problem recently.

During the last home season they only passed 400 once in seven first innings, and the series loss to South Africa was largely down to two poor first-innings displays at Headingley and Edgbaston.

"Huge first innings total are important for winning matches on dry wickets in India," Cook said. "We have been talking as a group and especially in India, we have to make a massive score. If you get your big scores in the first innings, you really set yourself up. We saw that in Nagpur and Mumbai [in 2006]…when we put pressure on the opposition."

England's decision to resume the tour has been widely applauded, but there has still been a suggestion that the players have been motivated by India's huge financial clout. Cook, though, insisted that the only consideration among the squad was whether the tour would be safe.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their writings," he said. "We sat down and made decisions as a side through our security adviser and that's been important. All that other stuff does not affect the players. Our decision-makers decided to come here and play cricket and the issue was security. Everything outside had nothing do with us and we will let other people deal with that."