Cook leaves the door open for Pietersen in deputy role

Strauss' stand-in would be glad of help from senior players – even ex-captains
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The Independent Online

As an introduction to one of the pressures of being captain of England, Alastair Cook's media grilling at Lord's on Friday was a relatively gentle affair. Even so, having dealt in turn with the lengthy and more or less identical demands of the television companies, radio stations and daily press, Cook's eyes were a little wider by the time he got around to the representatives of the Sunday newspapers.

"The biggest difference is going to be this stuff, the external stuff," the 25-year-old acknowledged. "Learning to cope with this, and the massive reporting of the decisions you take as captain. When I captained the [England] Under-19s, I did maybe one interview a day."

If there may be a touch of relief as well as regret when Cook returns the position to Andrew Strauss after the tour of Bangladesh ends in six weeks' time, the Essex opener will certainly have a better understanding of why Strauss has chosen to take a break. As he pointed out, he will also be that much better equipped if Strauss, for whatever reason, were to be unavailable in the future. Would Cook be comfortable, for example, with leading England in the Ashes series in Australia next winter?

"That's obviously looking a lot further ahead, but I've been vice-captain for a year, so it's kind of cropped up a little bit," he said. "If Straussy had got injured this summer I would probably have taken over. He stayed fit and healthy, but this gives me an opportunity so that if something does happen down the line, I'll have this experience to fall back on. It will really help me, and it's also part of developing leaders as a side."

The use of sporting jargon may make the traditionalists wince, but the sentiment makes undeniable sense. Were Strauss to pick up an injury, or completely lose form, England's leadership options appear relatively limited. There is Paul Collingwood, who will captain England in two Twenty20 internationals against Pakistan in Dubai before Cook takes charge in Bangladesh, but the Durham batsman is not Prince Hamlet, nor was he ever meant to be.

Kevin Pietersen, however, is another matter. No vice-captain has been named for the tour, and Cook would like one. While refusing to name names he also made it clear he would prefer it to be one of the senior players.

"I think it's important that I do have a right-hand man, and yes, I think you can go back to a former captain," he said. "But it's also important to talk to [England coach] Andy Flower, because there's the development of the side to consider as well, and he might see the next six weeks differently in those terms. I might have to see it that way too.

"Obviously I'm desperate for England to win, we're all desperate for England to win, and just to focus on the next six weeks is probably my selfish point of view," Cook added. "There might be times when Andy says that for the development of the side, we have to do this or that."

The chances of Pietersen being at least asked if he wants to take on the role appear strong, however, not least because Cook went on to sing his praises. "He's a world-class player, in all forms of the game. You only have to see how much work he's done recently; in the last week he's been here doing two-hour sessions.

"He's always going to get a lot of stuff written about him, but I've never seen a guy work so hard on his game, even in South Africa when it wasn't going so well.

"You can't keep world-class players down for long. Knowing he and other people are working as hard as that, I'm not worried about people like that, he will get his rewards."

As a captain, Cook admitted he may not be an instinctive risk taker. "I'm a conservative bloke by nature and I probably will make slightly conservative decisions, but a good captain has to have the ability to be aggressive and extrovert at certain times. Getting the balance right is the art of being a good captain, and I think you get that with experience.

"At the moment the spirit in the side is fantastic; everyone is so determined about what we want to do as a side, that if something is not going to help the side, it won't be an issue. Everyone is looking forward to doing something maybe great in Australia, but that's not going to happen if we get ahead of ourselves."