Cook calls on his young charges to help banish feeling he's an imposter

Captain needs series win in India to convince him England deserve status as world's No 1 team

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The Independent Online

Alastair Cook has called on his inexperienced side to banish his feelings of inadequacy and "prove that we are No 1" as the five-match one-day series against India gets under way here this morning. England may sit atop the ICC world ODI rankings but it is not a position that sits comfortably with the captain.

"I was pleasantly surprised how quickly we got there but at the time I didn't feel like we were the No 1 side," Cook admitted today. "If we won here it would convince me. It would prove that we are No 1 and that we can handle a lot of conditions."

In the absence of the over-30 players James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott, and with the inclusion of six players under 24, the 28-year-old England captain is now the "Grand Old Duke" of the side. He has marched his men to the top of hill but, "because we still have so much development still to do", cannot shake the feeling that they are neither up nor down.

But Cook does not believe this series is an exercise in futility. "As a test of a player under high pressure against good opposition, this will be tough and it will show people what these guys are made of," he said.

With South Africa taking on New Zealand in three one-day internationals towards the end of the month, England must win the series to maintain their No 1 ranking. That is easier said than done. In seven one-day series in India, only one England side has returned home triumphant.

That team, led by David Gower, was also the last England party to win a Test series here, until Cook broke that 28-year hoodoo before Christmas. "We can take a lot of confidence out of winning that Test series," he said. "I know it's a different squad and a different format but we can take some confidence from knowing we have won over here."

It would be a remarkable repetition of history and would involve ending a run of 11 straight one-day defeats away to India, a sequence that includes a humbling 158-run loss in this city four years ago, when Yuvraj Singh struck an unbeaten 138.

If series victory and a continued position on top of the world are the immediate aim, looking further ahead the captain is hoping to achieve another first this summer. In June England host the ICC Champions Trophy and Cook clearly has making history on his mind.

"We haven't won an ICC 50-over tournament as an England side. We've got an opportunity in our conditions, which we're very comfortable in, to try to win that. If we can improve here it will help us in our next challenge as a one-day side."

Before then Cook has 11 one-day matches to get used to the new ODI regulations. On the evidence of the two warm-up games, the first time England had played under the new conditions, they must adapt quickly; against India A they were too short and against Delhi too attacking.

Cook believes that "in these conditions the extra bouncer rule will have less of an impact than it would in England with bouncier pitches". Those will have to wait until New Zealand visit in May. For now he must perfect his plans for the additional man inside the circle, a change designed to encourage more boundary hitting.

"When I captained the other day, the first time having five men up, it is obviously different and it's tough for bowlers on these wickets," explained Cook. "It's having the skill to try and make it as hard as you can for the opposition batter to hit that boundary."

That responsibility will fall on Steven Finn. He may be only 23 but, in the expected absence of Tim Bresnan, the 6ft 7in fast bowler is the most experienced bowler at Cook's disposal. If Finn fires maybe Cook can wave goodbye to those feelings of inadequacy and settle into his seat at the top of the world.

Young ones: Six England tourists under 24

Danny Briggs

Age 21. ODI caps 1

Spinner missed out on both warm-up games and, with flat pitches up ahead, his left arm may only be delivering drinks during this series.

Jos Buttler

Age 22. ODI caps 1

Batsman-turned-wicketkeeper familiar with the subcontinent after impressing for the Lions in Sri Lanka.

Joe Root

Age 22. ODI caps 0

Batsman with face as fresh as David Cameron's, but beneath smooth skin is steely talent. A case of watch and learn for Root.

Chris Woakes

Age 23. ODI caps 6

Warwickshire all-rounder has already arrived, seen and conquered all at domestic level. Must prove he can adapt bowling to Indian conditions.

Stuart Meaker

Age 23. ODI caps 2

The mould was not broken once they had made Darren Gough; Meaker was poured in. Has pace and swagger to have impact.

Steven Finn

Age 23. ODI caps 25

Relative granddaddy in this squad. Could be a defining series for him as he has been asked to lead the line and become a flat-track bully.