Cook shutting out distractions

Published: Sunday 12th April 2015 by The News Editor

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English cricket may be involved in a variety of sub-plots and dramas at present, but for captain Alastair Cook the only business that matters takes place in Antigua on Monday.

Since England arrived in the Caribbean the England and Wales Cricket Board has sacked managing director Paul Downton and created a new position attracting interest from a slew of former captains including Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Alec Stewart.

To add to the distractions, Kevin Pietersen made an eye-catching statement on his return to domestic cricket – smashing 170 in 149 balls in Surrey’s match against Oxford MCCU.

If Cook hoped the 34-year-old’s bid for a recall would get off to a low-key start, he will have been frustrated by the fireworks on show at The Parks.

Should Pietersen continue in that vein during the LV= County Championship season, the clamour for his comeback could become deafening.

But Cook insists the 11 men who take on the West Indies at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium cannot take their eye off the match at hand.

“As you can see there are big decisions going on behind the scenes at the ECB, but that can’t affect us and we’re not letting it,” said Cook on the eve of the three-match series.

“That’s the way it should be. The day before a Test match a captain should be worried about what’s important to him, which is making sure we’re ready for trying to win a series out here in the West Indies.”

Cook was informed of Pietersen’s headline-grabbing knock before taking part in training, but his stance on the exiled batsman remains unchanged.

“As I said at the airport it’s still the same thing…it’s for other people to make that decision. As players we get on with it,” he added.

“As players and staff out here we have to concetrate on what is important to us, which is the next three weeks.”

There were words of commiseration for Downton, who placed huge faith in Cook’s captaincy at the start of his troubled tenure, but no thoughts on who should step into the power vacuum at Lord’s.

“It’s sad when anyone gets fired. Anyone knows it’s not a nice feeling in any walk of life,” said Cook.

“I enjoyed working with Paul and I thought he was a good man. I have absolutely no idea (who should come in). I’m reading less about it than anyone.”

The Antigua match is a significant one in several respects.

It marks the start of a nine-month period where England will play 17 Tests, a gruelling run that could make or break careers.

It also sees Cook’s return to England colours after his axeing as one-day captain in December, just a month away from the World Cup.

And for two of England’s senior men, it represents a milestone.

James Anderson will make his 100th appearance, and could celebrate by taking the four wickets needed to replace Sir Ian Botham as the nation’s leading Test wicket-taker.

Jonathan Trott, meanwhile, is set to earn his 50th more than 18 months since leaving the 2013/14 Ashes with a case of situational anxiety.

Cook paid tribute to both men.

“For anyone to play 100 Tests is an incredible achievement, for an opening bowler like Jimmy it’s just remarkable, the number of miles he’s put in his body,” said Cook.

“He’s put his body on the line for England. He’s probably the most skilful bowler I’ve played against or with. As a friend of mine to share the moment with him will make it a special five days.

“Trotty has come back from a pretty dark place in Brisbane to being back in the England squad.

“That itself is a fantastic achievement. Trotty’s answered pretty much every question that’s been thrown at him since then.

“For Warwickshire, for the Lions and hopefully now for England.”

The ECB’s incoming chairman Colin Graves heaped pressure on Cook and company before the tour even began by declaring West Indies a “mediocre” opponent and promising an inquiry should the tourists fail to win the series.

But Cook revealed that his side had also been dealt a warning by some local dignitaries.

“Every time you put on the England shirt you are expected to win. That is the English nature, but the West Indies are going to make it very hard for us,” he said.

“We had a do with the governor general, Sir Rodney Williams, and they were saying they wanted to beat us 3-0. They’re here to fight and we’ve got to expect, as I kept calling it, a war. We know we’re in for a hell of a battle.”

Published: Sunday 12th April 2015 by The News Editor

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