Alastair Cook tells his England rookies on India tour: pretend it's Taunton
The England captain, Alastair Cook, knows a thing or two about hitting the ground running in India and last night he dispensed some advice to the junior members of his touring party.
Cook's team fly to Dubai today for a short training camp before one of the most arduous tours of all with two rookies in their group vying for the opening spot made vacant by the retirement of Andrew Strauss.
Yorkshire's Joe Root and Somerset's Nick Compton are duelling for the right to partner Cook at the top of the order and neither has played a Test.
Cook has reassured them that they have nothing to fear playing in what wicketkeeper Matt Prior recently dubbed "the final frontier", saying that they should treat it as if they were playing a county match at Headingley or Taunton.
At least the pair have the luxury of warm-up matches. In March 2006 Cook was parachuted into Nagpur after flying in from an A tour in the Caribbean and forced to make his Test debut cold. He responded with 60 and 104 not out, recalls the advice he received then and will pass it on.
Cook said: "I just remember someone saying: 'It is the same game you have always been playing'. I will say: 'Enjoy the moment, don't worry too much about the result and concentrate on what you have done to get selected in the first place. It is the same red ball coming down at you'. India is a great place to play as an opening batter. It is a fantastic place to play cricket – they love it out there. It is their religion."
That Indian fanaticism can be daunting – Phil Tufnell once described playing there as "like being in a washing machine" – and Cook is hoping he will exude the same calmness his predecessor did in times of crisis.
"I can't pretend to be Andrew Strauss," he added. "He was a great leader and he did some fantastic things but it is a different side now. His presence when things were going really well or really badly was so reassuring. Straussy made everyone feel comfortable – that was an amazing trait."
Cook is probably relieved that he can get on with some cricket two months after being appointed Test captain. Most of his time – apart from a honeymoon in Argentina – has been spent sorting out the mess surrounding Kevin Pietersen.
The prodigal son will join the party once his Champ-ions League commitments are over and we may even see a humbler KP than the one who threw his toys out of his pram this summer. His reintegration, to use the buzz word, is still a work in progress, however. "It has been a tough couple of months for Kevin but he seems very contrite and he is desperate to be back doing what he does best," Cook said.
"We know how hard we have to work on that to give us the best chance to get good results. There is always going to be a lot of work but those meetings before the tour have been really helpful.
"We are very confident he can fit into the team otherwise he wouldn't have been added to the squad. We know how important team spirit is and team harmony because, over the last couple of years, that is where our strength has been and it showed with the results we got."
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