England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge

We can handle being favourites - Cook

George Dobell at Trent Bridge

July 9, 2013

Comments: 8 | Text size: A | A

Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke with the Ashes, Nottingham, July 9, 2013
Alastair Cook: 'It's the same 22 yards, the same red ball. The cricket stays the same. You have to remember that this is what we have been doing all our lives' © Getty Images
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Alastair Cook admitted to "a few nerves" on the eve of his first Ashes series as captain, but insisted he and his team were ready for everything that Australia could throw at them.

Cook, 28-years old but already the scorer of the most Test hundreds by any England player, is famed for his calm but accepted that this series brings with it added pressure and exposure. Even those famously sweat-free palms may feel a little clammy at present.

But he was sure that England could cope with the expectation and suggested that the players, rather than shy away from the spotlight, revel in an environment in which most of them would have dreamed of playing from childhood.

"Everyone is just desperately excited to be here," Cook said. "It has been such a big build-up to the game and we finally have arrived at pretty much game day. There is excitement and a few nerves floating around.

"People are using those kind of words, saying it is a 'huge series' or a 'massive series', all that kind of stuff. I know my decisions will be scrutinised a little more because there is more interest in this series. That is the big difference. There is more hype and more media interest in general.

"So you try not to get it out of all proportion. You have to keep yourself very true to what you are and remember that it's another game of cricket. It's the same 22 yards, the same red ball. The cricket stays the same. You have to remember that this is what we have been doing all our lives. We have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be playing in an Ashes series at a fantastic venue with great support. It's where you want to test yourself.

"Sometimes you have to try and take yourself out of the moment and enjoy it. Because this is why we play sport in the first place. We have handled these situations before. I don't see reason why we can't now."

Cook had sound reasons for his confidence. Not only did he feel that England have a bowling attack equipped to deal with whatever conditions they encounter, but he felt that, in Joe Root, who will open the batting for the first time in Test cricket, and Kevin Pietersen, they had two batsmen for whom the big occasion will hold few fears.

Lifting the Ashes the 'ultimate'

  • Alastair Cook admitted that the success he enjoyed in the Ashes series in Australia in 2010-11 was his defining moment as a cricketer and may have changed his life. Cook went into the series in a poor run of form, but then scored 766 runs in seven innings to help England retain the Ashes and confirm his status as a top-quality Test batsman.
  • "What happened in 2010-11 did change me as a cricketer," Cook said. "It gave me a lot of confidence that I could perform at the highest level against a very good side and under huge pressure. That's where you want to test yourself and I probably hadn't achieved that in my career up to that point. I think you are remembered for your Ashes performance. I think it can change lives and careers and luckily I've managed to kick on from that moment and I see no reason why that can't continue."

  • He also admitted that the prospect of lifting the Ashes as captain was "the ultimate" for a player. "In eight weeks' time, I'd love to be sitting at the Oval having won the Ashes," he said. "That's the ultimate aim as an English captain. You join a very elite band of cricketers who could say that. But we need to play well, withstand a lot of pressure, play with a lot of skill and win those crucial moments.

  • "It's been quite a long summer already in terms of how much cricket we have played. So there has not been much rest and recuperation. But that is the nature of the beast. You have the opportunity to do something very special and, with that, you are always going to have to give a little bit. With good stuff, there is also bad stuff. I told the lads that we have the opportunity to do something special."

"We have bowlers for all conditions," he said. "I think that's been proven now over quite a long period of time. Whether it is in the sub-continent or here, or in Australia in 2010, I think the group of bowlers we've got have the skills and experience that holds us in good stead and allows us to adjust depending on the situation. That's quite a comforting thing as a captain. We're pretty happy with the composition of our side and we're very lucky we have got a strong squad to choose from.

"Joe Root has been kind of thrown in there, but he has handled every situation fantastically well since he made his England debut. It's quite similar to what happened to me really, when I moved up from No. 3, although I had opened a couple of times in India.

"What has impressed everyone is he has always batted the situation fantastically well, whether it has been a one-day game where you need to score quickly or see the side home, he has managed to change his style for Twenty20 and Tests as well. I can see no reason why he can't handle himself. He is a fantastic young player. Yes, he has got a huge amount of improvement to do but I think he will be absolutely fine.

"Kevin has looked really good in the nets these last couple of days and obviously that 170 he scored for Surrey shows that he's ready to play. He's hungry and he has performed on numerous occasions when the pressure has been at its biggest and, as it is an Ashes series, that is heightened. It's not just down to him but he loves the big occasion and it won't surprise me if he scores a hell of a lot of runs."

Cook was unruffled by England entering the series as favourites. While he acknowledged it was unusual in an Ashes encounter, he said he felt he had grown into the role of captain enough to cope.

"We have been favourites in series before," he said. "Just because it hasn't been Australia doesn't mean it's any different to when we play any other side. What we're very aware of is that cricket isn't played on paper and it never will be played on paper. It's about who delivers out there come tomorrow and the next 24 days of cricket.

"We don't really pay much attention to what goes on in the other dressing room. That is one of the great strengths of this side. We have always known it was going to be one hell of a battle these five Test matches. Australia have some fine, fine cricketers.

"I think I'm ready. I have played quite a lot of cricket now so I feel pretty experienced and as a captain as well, I think I have grown into it quite nicely. I have got a huge amount of learning still to do. But we're ready to play now."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by harshthakor on (July 10, 2013, 8:02 GMT)

I back the Australian team to regain the Ashes in this series as they are the underdogs.The pressure of favourites will tell on England.The Aussie pacemen like Pattinson can be lethal with the support of Starc and Siddle.If Michael Clarke is in full flow he could cause a major dent to England.England has been inconsistent off late as they showed in New Zealand.England is better on paper without doubt with stronger batting.However the superior Australian spirit could well play a major role in the destiny of the Ashes.This series may well spark an Australian resurgence with their talented youngsters.

Posted by sachin_vvsfan on (July 10, 2013, 7:39 GMT)

Like the way how Cook batted in much worse conditions in India than what Watson & co got in their tour. He hardly complained about the conditions (or the umpiring decisions) and firmly put his feet down in the last test and i still remember his talk about how important and difficult it was to even manage a draw on that disgraceful pitch in 4th test that put off many fans (including us Indians)

OTOH there is is a completely contrasting scenario with his counter part Watson and the most common sight was Watson getting out whacking the ball leg side(lbw or inside edges) and many Aussie fans only blamed the pitch for not carrying the ball to batsman's liking but they hardly blamed watson's inablility to adjust to testing conditions.

Posted by Shan156 on (July 10, 2013, 2:00 GMT)

Clarke is an aggressive captain but that doesn't necessary translate as a good captain. I am actually surprised that the Aussies are going with only 4 specialist bowlers. I was thinking the Aussies might select 5 as Watson may not be bowling and Aus' best chance is in a low scoring game.

Posted by Shan156 on (July 10, 2013, 1:58 GMT)

@Mitty2, Aussies were favorites in the 2010-2011 series. We all know what happened then:-) And, after England won in India, some Aussies hoped that Aus. can also trounce India. I think that didn't go well either:-)

Posted by GrindAR on (July 9, 2013, 23:12 GMT)

Clarke have something to learn from Cook... how to motivate yourself that can motivate the team as well... It can be overconfidence, what Cook spoke out... But, it also show how much he respect his team as people and have confidence in them... When they take it as "Nothing is impossible for me"... there comes trouble... But keeping it within the senses... will work positively... When Cook retires, and If I manage a team, I will consider him as a first choice Mentor for the team... :-)

Posted by hhillbumper on (July 9, 2013, 19:22 GMT)

Mitty 2: Guess we will see in the next few weeks.Is Clarke that good a captain? Just asking cause all i have seen of Aus is them losing recently so just wondering how good he is.The previous coach told us how good the bowling attack is so syurely he should be undefeated

Posted by Mitty2 on (July 9, 2013, 18:09 GMT)

"we had been favorites in series befote", yes, England have been favourites in series before, against Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand in New Zealand, but of course, that favouritism was found to be completely misplaced. 'Oh no but it's complacency!' Pfft.

Banter aside, cook is obviously a great batsmen with the potential to do great things, but as a captain, we all saw him having 10 men out on the boundary at times against NZ (in case you didn't know, the eight ranked team ;) ), and these two series will be as defining as anything I'm his career to date. I feel there's an interesting sub-plot to this... Cook's conservative and sometimes defensive tactics vs clarke's imaginative and result pushing tactics (although this was a negative in India, we're we had two opportunities to draw and Clarke went for the unlikeliest of wins with attacking fields/bowling) - who will win out?

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