Pre-series 'trash-talking' makes Cook 'chuckle'

Alastair Cook could be forgiven for the slightly world-weary expression. It's not that he is in any way inured to the Ashes. Even after 147 Tests, the cricket, he says, offers as much excitement as ever.

But he is tired of the baggage that appears to come with it these days. The propaganda, the hyperbole, the suggestion that he has ever backed away from a fast bowler. And if he ever had any boyish enthusiasm for the joys of facing a press conference, those days are long, long gone.

The most animated he appeared at his press conference on Tuesday was while reflecting on his football side's victory on Saturday. Luton Town, you see, put seven lucky goals past a plucky Cambridge United defence.

For the most part, Cook might as well have sighed in response to most of the questions as answer in words. An example? He was asked a question about Ben Stokes which contained the preamble "There's a lot of talk about Ben Stokes…" Which, in media circles at least, is true.

But in the England camp? They dealt with it some weeks ago, they say, and know they can't expect him to come swooping in like some sort of superhero and save them from Australia. They aren't talking about him or thinking about him. His arrival might, at this point, even be considered a distraction for a squad that has gelled nicely.

"You're talking about it," Cook said. "In the first couple of weeks after the incident, it was what everyone was talking about. But since we've arrived here, we've accepted it would be very unlikely that Ben would be here. I can honestly say it hasn't been spoken about in the changing room."

He also looked bemused by the latest bout of "trash-talking," this time from Nathan Lyon. "It's really strange," Cook said. "I just had a really nice 10-minute chat with Nathan. He was the first person I saw when I got to the ground. He asked how my kids were; I asked how his kids were. It makes me chuckle. All the talking stops very quickly after the first two hours of play."

That bemusement extends to talk about the Australian attack. Listening to some Australian players - and some Australian media - you would have thought the home seam attack contained fire-breathing giants who bowl with a never-before-experienced ferocity. But, as Cook pointed out - falling over himself to be respectful - there's nothing there he hasn't seen before.

"They're good bowlers," Cook said. "They've good records. But there's nothing we haven't seen before. They're not suddenly bowling at 150kmph. They've not got magic balls that start way outside the stumps and swing miles. They're very good bowlers with good records. But you want to challenge yourself against the best and this is a decent bowling attack. As batters, that's the challenge we have."

The justification for some of the talk about the fast bowling comes in what happened last time. For in 2013-14, England were blown away by Mitchell Johnson and co in a manner that was unusual and dramatic. It was devastating fast bowling that rates, for impact at least, alongside Harold Larwood's spells in the 1930s and Jeff Thomson in the 1970s. Perhaps John Snow (1970-71 vintage) belongs on that list, too.

And it is true that Australia will attempt a similar approach this time. They will, it seems, try to defeat England in the same way they did at Lord's in 2015: by taking the flat pitch - and it does appear this Test is going to be played on a flat pitch - out of the equation with their fast bowling and taking advantage of it with the bat. And if they think they can intimidate England ahead of time, then great.

But as far as Cook is concerned, talk of "opening scars" is irrelevant. Johnson is gone and most of those involved in 2013-14 have gone with him. "It's a bit irrelevant," Cook said. "There aren't many guys here who were playing then. The guys who bowled well then - and Mitchell Johnson was outstanding; it was some of the best fast-bowling I've ever faced - are no longer playing. He was backed by Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. They're not playing now. It happened four years ago and England have won four of the last five Ashes.

"You wouldn't want to be the Australian side who does lose at the Gabba. Their record here is very good, but records are broken. They don't last forever. One day they will lose here. You can look at these things any way you like."

For Cook, run-scoring remains the aim. He, like James Anderson, has twice played in an England Test side badly beaten at the Gabba, and once played in a side that gained a creditable draw. He has been here as a young player (2006-07), a player whose career was on the brink but who enjoyed the performance of a career (2010-11), a captain (2013-14) and a senior player (now). The only constant is the never-ending pursuit of runs.

"It's a really strange thing," Cook said. "You look at people when you first start your career and think 'I wish I could play for 10 years.' Now, I suppose I'm at that stage where people would quite like to swap their records with mine. But I'm desperate to still play cricket for England.

"It doesn't get easier just because you've played 140 games. It's just as hard. You're playing against the best players in the world, whichever country you're playing in. You always start on 0. It doesn't matter if you've scored no runs or loads of runs; you always start on 0.

"That's why Thursday will be so exciting. Coming into the ground today, seeing it again, brings back some good and bad memories and you're unsure what the week is going to be like. It's what drives you on when you're doing all the training and the dark hours in the gym.

"But then you get your moment here. There's been a lot of hard work; there's been a lot of talk. Now the guys are ready."