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Park the hype, Cook urges England

Alastair Cook has said that England will seek to "park" all of the off-field hype surrounding Mohammad Amir's comeback to Test cricket, despite reiterating his belief that players who get involved in corruption ought to be banned for life.

However, he also admits that the distractions may help to galvanise a Pakistani team that is eager to make amends for the controversies of their 2010 tour.

"We'll spend a lot of time talking about it in the build-up," Cook told ESPNcricinfo during a Yorkshire Tea event at The Oval, "but once we get out there we'll just be thinking about playing.

"Obviously it's more of a distraction on the Pakistan side, but we know they tend to get united behind distractions. But all that stuff off the field, we've just got to park it, and we're pretty good at that."

Nevertheless, ignoring the hype of Amir's comeback is not the same thing as ignoring the threat that he will pose in his first Test appearance since the lifting of his five-year ban for spot-fixing, and Cook in particular remembers the challenge he posed as a teenaged prodigy that summer.

Cook was dismissed three times each by Amir and his then new-ball partner, Mohammad Asif - who was also implicated and jailed in the News of the World sting, as he mustered 57 runs in six innings, either side of a cathartic and career-changing century at The Oval in the third Test.

"It was warm and humid, it was muggy," Cook recalled. "When the sun was out it was hot and there was rain around. The ball swung.

"He bowled brilliantly as a youngster on his first tour, in good conditions he was an absolute handful," he added. "But a lot of water has gone under a few bridges since then, so it'll be interesting to see how he copes and see the crowd reaction is.

"But as an England side, we've got to stay away from that sideshow. Whether you agree with him playing or you don't, that's not for us to say as players. It's down to us to play him as a fantastic bowler."

Nevertheless, memories of the 2010 Lord's Test are sure to come flooding back when the players take the field for the first Test next week, and Cook admitted that the atmosphere on that fourth and final day six years ago, on the morning after the newspaper's revelations that Pakistan's bowlers had been bribed to bowl no-balls to order, was one of the most peculiar he had ever experienced on a cricket field.

"It was very surreal, horrible," he said. "Did Swanny [Graeme Swann] get a five-for? I don't think anyone celebrated any wickets. It was a disappointing day as we were on the verge of what we thought was a genuine win.

"And that's the problem when you fix games of cricket, or spot-fix, you tarnish games of cricket for the players, the crowd, everyone. The punishment should be befitting of someone who does that.

"Guys who are paying a lot of money to watch us want to see a genuine spectacle, they want to know the 22 players, and the two umpires, are trying their best, and nothing should distract from that.

"My feelings are clear, if you get caught matchfixing, you should be banned for life."

England come into the Test series off the back of a convincing 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka but with recent memories of their own 2-0 loss against Pakistan in the UAE last winter - when a near-miss in the first Test at Abu Dhabi gave way to two comprehensive defeats at Dubai and Sharjah. Cook, however, is confident of setting that record straight.

"They are massively different conditions," he said. "Misbah scored about 95% of his runs against spin, I don't think he'll be facing as much spin as he did there.

"They've got a very good bowling attack, with a lot of variety, backed up by good spin. But it was a very close series. I don't think 2-0 quite reflected the sides. We are a bit more comfortable in those conditions, but we were unlucky in that first Test."