Cook: “It’s been a hell of a year”

Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Alastair Cook will be 30 on Christmas Day and should be able to celebrate his landmark birthday as England’s World Cup captain.

After a “hell of a year”, though, he will be taking nothing for granted as the selectors consider – as they have promised – all aspects of England’s 5-2 defeat in Sri Lanka as part of their scheduled series review, before announcing a 16-man tri-series squad on Saturday.

Cook conceded after the margin of his fifth successive one-day international series defeat was confirmed on Tuesday as 5-2, by an 87-run trouncing at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium, that he has no “divine right” to be selected to lead the team to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand early next year.

He can be encouraged, however, by England and Wales Cricket Board managing director Paul Downton’s strong hint that – despite his “miserable” run of form – he is highly likely to retain the gig.

For Cook, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – because however England fare down under, with or without him, it is hard to envisage him being back for much more with his sheet-anchor skills in a fast-developing format.

Downton also described 2014 as a “traumatic” 12 months as he reflected on his tenure – which began at the start of January, as England were completing their unexpected whitewash Ashes defeat.

One crisis after another followed, the messy aftermath of the Ashes including the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and resignation of coach Andy Flower.

As Cook and Flower’s replacement, the returning Peter Moores, tried to forge a “new era”, the captain especially endured the most taxing of summers as calls for his resignation started to wane only once England turned round their Test fortunes en route to a 3-1 win over India.

After Tillakaratne Dilshan’s century had helped to inflict England’s final defeat of 2014, Cook said: “It’s been a hell of a year.

“We haven’t won a lot of games, and there’s been a big change in personnel.

“It’s certainly been a year of transition – from 15 months ago, when we were winning the Ashes at home, to what’s happened.

“It’s been a year you wouldn’t expect, but England have found some outstanding cricketers as well.”

Among them, perhaps most prominent are Moeen Ali and Gary Ballance – the latter palpably unlucky to be omitted from England’s ODI squad in Sri Lanka and, even now, a plausible outsider to make the final 15 for that World Cup.

Others, such as pace-bowling pair Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan, have made late surges for central roles at the global tournament – while Joe Root alone excelled himself amid the inconsistency elsewhere from the tourists.

Asked to identify where England struggled most, Cook said: “One of the hardest things was taking wickets up front – so Sri Lanka, most of the time, had a good base to get going from.

“The one game we did take early wickets, we won.

“Also, batting at the right rate without losing wickets.

“We were scoring at a good rate, but we weren’t good enough to do it and keep wickets in hand.”

England are still searching for that successful ODI formula, with the bat especially, which others seem to have hit upon first.

Scoring at a winning tempo, without a damaging risk factor, is a balance they find difficult to strike.

Cook, however, is not above learning from others and adapting to effect improvement.

“The way Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara] and Dilshan played in particular, they’ve obviously taken the right options – good enough to hit the boundaries, and stay in.

“We’ve been hitting the boundaries, and not staying in.”

As for his own continued lack of productivity at the top of the order – 119 runs in six innings at an average of 19.83 and strike rate of 67.23 – he knows much, much better is required.

He said: “There’s not many players who’ve been at the top of the game for long periods and haven’t had tough moments.

“There’s no one, I don’t think… maybe Bradman is one.

“Everyone has really tough moments, as a batter particularly, because it’s a hard game.

“You’re playing against the best players in the world, week in week out, at the top of the order.

“It’s very easy sitting watching… it’s harder walking out and doing it.”

Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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