Sunday 25 September 2016

Cook pledges to let his young guns off the leash

Nick Hoult

Published 08/07/2015 | 02:30

England captain Alastair Cook and Australian counterpart Michael Clarke pose with a replica of the Ashes urn in Cardiff
England captain Alastair Cook and Australian counterpart Michael Clarke pose with a replica of the Ashes urn in Cardiff

Alastair Cook has pledged to captain England in a bolder and more aggressive style as he tries to regain the Ashes urn he lost in the traumatic 5-0 whitewash 18 months ago.

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With young attacking talent at his disposal in Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, Cook believes he now has the personnel to enable him to be more hawkish in the field.

There can really be no other way, for in Michael Clarke he is up against one of the most innovative captains of recent years, who was always one or two moves ahead in the past two Ashes series, even though England won 3-0 in 2013.

Cook has been heavily criticised for failing to grasp the initiative and attacking when on top, a failing that proved expensive in the first two Tests of the last Ashes in Brisbane and Adelaide, where England lost from good positions. He says he has learned and that this series will be different.

"There's a lot always written about my captaincy, as with every England captain," he said.

Methodical

"If you looked a bit further back to a different set of players when I started, it was a methodical team, bowlers really banging out areas time and time again, batters who were relentlessly grinding down the opposition. That's what we got success from.

"The guys coming in now are a little bit more free-spirited. There are higher economy rates but the chances of bowling jaffas are higher.

"Same with the batting. That's the way the new guys coming in have played and it's about making them feel comfortable."

Cook picked out Stokes as the potential star of the series, saying he could recreate the Ashes heroics of Andrew Flintoff a decade ago.

Stokes has won back his captain's trust this season. Cook said the Durham all-rounder's barnstorming century at Lord's against New Zealand, made in a game-changing partnership with Root, was the "defining moment" of the summer because it proved England could play in a different style.

"He's been in fantastic form," Cook said. "He's come into his own. He feels comfortable and I think he's going to have a fantastic summer. Over the last six months he's really matured as a cricketer.

"Being left out of the World Cup squad hurt him. We all knew he had the talent, he wasn't performing. But I really like the way he's gone about his business this summer.

"He likes the competitive side of it. He understands international cricket a little bit better than when he started. I just like the way he goes about it, and Jos Buttler, Joe Root. . . the guys who will take this side forward over the next 10 years or so."

The new bold approach does not stretch to selection, however, and England are set to stick with the same team that lost the final Test to New Zealand at Headingley in June. That means Adil Rashid will have to wait his turn.

The weather should hold for the five days and the first four are sell-outs. This is the third series in two years but there is no sigh of overkill dampening interest.

It is a lot of recent history but Cook refused to revisit the whitewash and the crushing impact it had. Since then three coaches, a chief executive and a director of cricket have left and Cook has lost the one-day captaincy.

"We cannot keep harping on about that," Cook said. "If you went back five more months before that, we won the Ashes 3-0 in our own conditions. You have to be careful as players not to read too much into that stuff. It is a brand new challenge, a fresh start. Both teams have new faces."

Australia are favourites but they have a woeful recent record in this country. They have won just two of their past 15 Tests here, an inexplicable run for a team used to dominating wherever they go.

Pudding

The Cardiff pitch promises to be a pudding, similar to 2009 when four Australians scored centuries in their first innings and a fairly turgid match was saved only by the dramatic last stand of James Anderson and Monty Panesar.

The final net sessions yesterday were split by both captains posing with the series trophy. Both appeared relieved that the phoney war was over and the real action could finally begin.

"As always the day before there are a bit of nerves flying around from both sides," Cook said. "The overriding thing, after all the build-up, is the lads just can't wait to get going and play some cricket." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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