'Resigning was right decision but it doesn't make it any easier' - Cook

Cook ready for next phase (2:21)

Alastair Cook spoke to ESPNcricinfo about relinquishing the Test captaincy and the challenges ahead (2:21)

Whatever Alastair Cook was meant to be doing with a cricket net - erecting it, presumably - at Copdock Cricket Club, there was a while when it seemed to be getting the better of him.

Thrashing around like a recently caught salmon, Cook's contribution to the NatWest Cricket Force event turned out to be more about boosting morale than adding practical assistance. As he abandoned the net and attempted to paint the new score-box, the thought occurred that a post-cricket career in DIY seems unlikely.

But perhaps such a moment serves as a useful metaphor for a man in search of a new role? On his first official outing since resigning the captaincy, Cook admitted that the transition from key man to last year's man had not been entirely comfortable. It's not that he regrets his decision - he still feels it was right for him and the team - but he knows he will never have a better job and there is, undoubtedly, a sense of loss.

It would be easy to portray Cook as a man from a different era. While the rest of the world has decided impatience is a virtue, Cook is still waiting for the ball he can nudge off his hips. While it seems some are more interested in travelling in style than arriving safely, Cook is still proceeding cautiously. While the new generation amaze us with the shots they can play, Cook is still making a living from the balls he leaves.

And yet, he's only 32. And, in a side whose problems of late have been less about scoring too slowly as being dismissed too quickly, he has qualities that remain of value. While neither of his most significant immediate predecessors - Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss - returned to the side once they had given up the captaincy, Cook's story is far from over. Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed have offered promise in their brief opportunities, but the procession of opening partners Cook has had in recent years underlines his enduring value to the Test team. He may have lived the first line of his obituary, but he still has an important role for England.

"It has good days and bad days," Cook says of the decision to resign the captaincy. "It's such a big thing to give away.

"I don't like the word 'relief'. A lot of people have said it, but it hasn't felt like that. I don't know why.

"I won't miss going into all the extra press conferences. But being at the centre of it, being involved in a lot of decision-making, was the excitement of the job. Not doing that any more, will probably take a while to get used to.

"Ultimately I know it was the right decision for myself and the team but that doesn't make it any easier. It has been time to move on as a person and a player."

A period away from the game - he did not, he says, pick up a bat for two months following the India tour - has given him time, not just to recover his enthusiasm for it, but reflect on his period as captain and cricket's apparently diminishing place in the public consciousness. And while he is amused by the much-quoted statistic that suggests he was less recognisable to young people in England and Wales than the wrestler John Cena, he also acknowledges its significance.

"My best mate sent it to me and said 'don't worry, he's a legend'," Cook says. "It made me laugh in one sense.

"But it's probably a realisation of where cricket is in this county. There's a lot of work to be done. It shows we can't take this great game for granted. We - everyone - has to work hard so that it is looked after for the next generation."

Cook became aware of cricket's problem during the 2013 Ashes. While there had been a time when an Ashes win was worthy of open-top bus rides and MBEs all round, the success of 2013 was met, if not with ambivalence, then certainly not the enthusiasm of a few years previously. As a result, it was decided his team would attempt to engage more with supporters and the realisation dawned that, for all the money gained from subscription TV, the value of free to air could not be overstated.

"That 2013 series was quite an interesting one in terms of the fact we did win and it didn't really capture people's imagination," Cook says. "Whether people had taken success against Australia for granted, or it was expected that we would beat that team, I don't know.

"For whatever reason, it didn't [capture the public imagination]. That asked a few questions to everyone. Is it about winning? Is it about entertaining? Ultimately it's about both. As professional sportsmen, you're there to win games of cricket. You're judged on how well you do: did you score runs and win? The balance is: are people coming to watch you play?

"We did certain things to be more approachable. We had more interaction with the public. We saw that responsibility from 2013. We saw we needed to do that. Peter Moores started that in 2014 and it's been taken on more and more. The players have been brilliant at doing that. It helps with the kind of cricketers we have. You've seen when we've won certain games, we signed autographs for an hour and a half. Players have realised that is very important to the game and to their job and the future of cricket.

"Sky have been unbelievable supporters of England cricket and done a lot to financially secure the game. But it would be great if we can get it [the new-team T20 competition] on terrestrial TV. I'd love to see a Test on terrestrial TV again. It can only help."

He never, he says, felt obliged to change his style of game - or his style of captaincy - to embrace the modern fashion for more aggressive cricket. And while you sense there is still some frustration at the perception of his ODI side - they were, for a while, ranked No. 1 in the world and went close to securing that first global ODI trophy - time has helped him accept its flaws, too.

"We should have won that game," he says, referring to the Champions Trophy final of 2013. "If it was a 50-over game I think we would have won quite easily. We were playing some really good one-day cricket.

"Would it have changed how my one-day captaincy was looked at? Absolutely. If you've won a major trophy, yes.

"But should've, could've. Ultimately we didn't win a major trophy. And the game changed very quickly with the changes to the laws, and we were very slow to adapt. I have to take a lot of responsibility as I was captain."

Cook will return to List A cricket this summer - his most recent List A game was in December 2014, just before he was sacked as ODI captain and dropped as a player - but he is realistic enough to know there will be no England recall. "The side is looking for different players than what I can deliver," he says. There is unlikely to be a T20 return simply because England's Test schedule would appear to prohibit it, but he is an advocate of the new-team competition: "it's certainly something the ECB should try," he says.

But he is back in the nets with Gary Palmer, the freelance batting coach he uses, and he is still looking for ways to improve. With a more open technique, he is said to be hitting the ball better than for some time - he made a pre-season century against Middlesex - and has rediscovered his enthusiasm for a game that, by the end of the India tour, looked as if it had become a bit of a trial.

"It's the next phase of my career," he says. "I've really enjoyed playing for Essex in pre-season and that's the most important thing. I'm refreshed and raring to go. It's time to move on."

Alastair Cook was speaking during NatWest CricketForce at Copdock CC. Now in its 17th year, NatWest CricketForce has grown into one of the largest sports volunteering initiatives in the UK, with over 2,200 local clubs registering this year. Find out more at natwest.com/cricket