Alastair Cook has little to gain and all to lose in Scotland match

England look to rediscover zest after major shake-up at top
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The Independent Online

England begin on the long road back to redemption at Mannofield. They might have chosen opponents other than Scotland at a ground which was not the most northerly international venue on the planet.

But they had to start again somewhere after a gruelling, lamentable winter of failure and discontent. Were they to lose this opening match of the new season, a one-off one-day international, voluntary exile at the North Pole is at least reasonably close at hand.

After the heavy loss to the Netherlands in the World Twenty20 in March, which brought a demeaning end to one of their most inglorious periods, England now find themselves in that territory least beloved of all professional sportsmen, the no-win situation.

Defeat Scotland, as they ought because the opposition are a much less skilled and talented team, and they will have proved nothing. All they can do is look forward to tougher challenges immediately ahead against Sri Lanka.

Lose the match, which is not quite unimaginable, and everybody will wonder what happened to the grand new era supposed to be heralded by the reinstatement of Peter Moores as coach.

Not to mention the departure of some of the backroom old guard, which is not yet complete and which all concerned are trying hard not to portray as the cleansing of the Augean stables.

Apart from trying to rectify a losing streak which showed no signs of abating from late October until late March, there is also the undeniable feeling that England must start not only to enjoy their cricket again but to look as though they are enjoying it in a way that is transmitted to their followers.

Even last summer when they were defeating Australia 3-0 to retain the Ashes, a victory that seems long, long ago, there was a cheerless aspect to their game which sometimes offered the impression that top-level cricket on a summer's day before thousands of spectators was marginally worse than hewing coal 1,000 yards underground while being watched by no one at all.

Alastair Cook, who has been entrusted with continuing as captain of England after the shake-up at the top, picked up on the theme at his inaugural pre-match press conference of the summer.

"You have to remember how lucky we are to wear the shirt and play for your country," he said. "Sometimes after a long period away, you are away from home and done it for a while, you forget that. Last winter is probably a reminder of that.

"When you lose games of cricket it becomes very hard to do. Now we've all had a bit of time away from the game, it's been a good time to reflect and realise how special it is to be playing for England. We have to remember that at all times and a certain responsibility comes with that.

"Enjoyment has to be up there because, chatting lately to a few of the guys who are no longer playing, they say it's the best days of your life even in tough times."

It would be difficult to remind Cook of that were his side to contrive to lose to Scotland. But the fact that he is talking about it suggests he knew that some features of the approach needed to be remedied. This, make no mistake, is a crucial few months for Cook. Much has been invested in his leadership after dismal performances against Australia in the Ashes and the subsequent one-day series (as well as the World Twenty20, of which he was not part).

But he also has to find a way of scoring runs again as well as lead England to victories. They have been in less than plentiful supply. He said merely that he had done it before (recalling doubtless the five hundreds he made in each of his first five matches as England captain) and therefore thought he could do it again.

What England will certainly not do here – or perhaps ever again as long as this generation and possibly the next are around – is take their opponents lightly. They will turn up, as they had not, Cook pointed out, against the Netherlands.

Kyle Coetzer, Scotland's captain, who was born in Aberdeen, knows what is at stake for England. "They didn't have the winter they'd like to have had," the Northamptonshire batsman said. "Hopefully we can bring back some bad memories."

Mannofield details

Possible teams

Scotland KJ Coetzer (capt), FRJ Coleman, MW Machan, CS MacLeod, PL Mommsen, MH Cross (wkt), R Taylor, RM Haq, SM Sharif, RML Taylor, I Wardlaw

England AN Cook (capt), IR Bell, JE Root, GS Ballance, EJG Morgan, RS Bopara, JC Buttler (wkt), CJ Jordan, JC Tredwell, CR Woakes, JM Anderson

Umpires M Hawthorne (NI) & I Ramage (Scot)

TV 10am-6.30pm Sky Sports 2

Odds Scot 7-1 Eng 1-14

Weather Showers likely in morning, clearer later. Max temp: 11C.