Alastair Cook: Clock is ticking on Kevin Pietersen but we must get it right
New England captain faces his first tough decision ahead of a demanding 18 months
Alastair Cook emphasised yesterday the need for England to make the right decision on Kevin Pietersen's return to the international fold and admitted the clock is ticking down for the batsman to be included on the tour of India.
That trip is as difficult as it gets in world cricket, but Pietersen's "reintegration" process is proving equally tough after months of wrangling between England's star batsman, the England and Wales Cricket Board and his team-mates.
The process was further complicated earlier this week when Pietersen's flight from Johannesburg to London was delayed – placing more time pressure on the England hierarchy as Cook prepares for his first tour as official Test captain after the retirement of Andrew Strauss in August.
Cook met Pietersen in Oxford on Tuesday, but with England flying out to Dubai a week today, he acknowledged that time is running out for the South African-born batsman to be added to the touring party.
Any decision made on his return must, Cook said, be the right one for English cricket. "We do need to draw a line in the sand at some stage and move forward for the sake of English cricket," he said. "We need to move forward as a team, we've got an amazing 18 months ahead of us and we need to move together. We all know how important team harmony is and how important team ethos is, and that showed when we were successful, how tight we were as a side.
"I think it's important that we don't rush this process," added Cook. "We need and want all our world-class players playing for England. That gives us a great opportunity of winning games of cricket. We have to get it right, it's a very important decision that we have to get right for the sake of the England side moving forward. It's got to be thorough so we can move on in the right way."
The ongoing Pietersen saga is an unwelcome distraction for England's new captain, who already faces a mountainous task to replace Strauss ahead of a potentially momentous 18 months for English cricket, with back-to-back Ashes series looming large on the horizon.
England's Twenty20 crown has already slipped and, after watching that campaign from afar, Cook believes that a lack of experienced heads in a very young side eventually told on Stuart Broad's men in Sri Lanka.
"Clearly, I had a big interest in the England games and did record them and flick through them," he said. "I think if you're being totally honest, then the inexperience probably showed in certain circumstances. What it will do is grow them as players. You do need experiences like that to grow as a player and realise where you've got to improve. As a side you're always looking for your experienced players to step up to the mark and the senior players weren't there."
Cook himself appeared well rested after a tough summer during which England lost their No 1 ranking in the Test arena to South Africa. That defeat, followed by the retirement of Strauss, the dropping of Pietersen and a disappointing defence of their World Twenty20 title means that England head out to Dubai for a training camp before their tour of India with plenty on their minds.
But as England prepare to enter one of their busiest periods in recent memory, Cook believes that the time away will result in the players returning to international duty hungry to restore some of English cricket's lost sheen. "It's important that we use this time away from each other, we've got a lot of time in each other's pockets as well, it's important that we do get away," he said. "I'm sure when we do meet up at the airport we'll be raring to go."
After calling an end to his career Strauss has plenty of time on his hands should the new captain need any advice or guidance. But Cook, who has already enjoyed considerable success as England's one-day captain, is determined to be his own man.
"I have spoken to him [Strauss] a couple of times since he's retired – it's quite hard to get him off the golf course," said Cook. "He is a friend, I've played so much cricket with him. Clearly, one of the biggest things is that you have to do it your way, you can't do it Strauss's way. He is definitely on the phone. I don't think I'll do it any differently to how I've been doing it in the one-dayers.
"They [the players] expect us to be quite similar because we're quite similar characters but clearly I'll have slightly different thoughts and slightly different things when decisions need to be made at certain times.
The all-consuming nature of the job has claimed plenty of victims in the past, with Strauss, Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain all walking away from a role that had clearly taken its toll. Cook, though, is ready to assume the additional responsibility.
"Clearly, you end up being far more involved. With the three captains, Straussy and Andy Flower were responsible for the direction of Team England if you like. Clearly, I'm now part of that and have more responsibility in those big decisions."
One of the biggest and toughest decisions of his career will have to be made over the next week. A wrong call and he could already find himself on the back foot.
See the best eight teams in one-day international cricket take part in the ICC Champions Trophy in June 2013 – tickets for The Oval, Cardiff and Edgbaston are on sale on 5 November at icc-cricket.com (pre-registration open now).
Cooking or cooked? Test record v India
2011: England 4-0 India
Cook's place in the side was under pressure after cheap dismissals in the opening two matches, but he answered his critics with a career best of 294 in the third Test at Edgbaston.
2008-09: India 1-0 England
Cook managed just two fifties in the away series, and averaged 30.25 as the England side were outgunned by the big-hitting of Gatum Gambhir and Rahul Dravid.
2007: England 1-0 India
A high score of 61 in the third Test at The Oval was the only time the Essex stroke-player lifted his bat. A poor series for Cook, who finished with batting an average of 37.16.
2005-06: India 1-1 England
Making his Test debut, Cook began the series in fine fashion, scoring 60 and 104, but faltered in the second Test.
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