England v Sri Lanka ODI series 2014: The goodwill of fans is still there, insists Alastair Cook

 

As he prepares to begin a year that is likely to define his time as England captain, Alastair Cook has admitted he is largely in the dark about who will be his team-mates in the most important global competition of them all.

The one-day series against Sri Lanka, which starts at The Kia Oval on Thursday, represents the final stretch of England's preparations for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next February.

However, so great has been the upheaval for England since the winter, when Australia reclaimed the Ashes with a 5-0 whitewash, that only now can Cook start planning.

Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann have gone, as have coaches Andy Flower and Ashley Giles. Under Cook and Peter Moores, in his second spell as coach, England must build a successful team in nine months.

"I remember in 2011 sitting down, when I first started as England one-day captain, and saying I wanted the next four years to build," Cook recalled. "The plan was that, come the World Cup, we'd have a settled side leading into it.

"I'd hoped to have eight or nine months where it would be settled. That was the theory but I probably wasn't living in the world of reality, because a lot can happen in four years, as we've seen.

"Of course, it would be ideal if everything was settled and everyone knew their role. But we don't know the 13 or 14 we'll take out there. They will be the decisions we start making now because of what happened over the last three or four months. We build towards the World Cup from now."

At least the preparation will be of the highest standard. Sri Lanka, beaten finalists in the 2011 World Cup, are followed by India, the winners, who will also play five ODIs.

England's supine performances in the winter, followed by the chaos that led to Flower and Pietersen departing in quick succession, made many supporters angry. For all the dissatisfaction expressed on social media, Cook believes the team remain popular. A near full-house at The Oval on Tuesday, when Sri Lanka won the only Twenty20 match, appeared to support Cook's argument.

"I'm sure if you live your life on social media it would be slightly different, but from the people I've bumped into in the street or the pub, the goodwill is still there towards English cricket," Cook said.

"That's only what I've experienced and it is slightly different when you meet people face to face, I'm sure. People were obviously disappointed with the winter, as any cricket fan would be, and the players were disappointed as well.

"I do deliberately ignore social media because I'm not on Twitter or Facebook. I try to speak to people, rather than push keys on a keyboard. Since Australia, it's been a long time – and we just want to get out there and play some cricket, and start whatever's going to happen, the journey of the next year or so."

England have often been criticised for their relatively sedate top-order batting, but Sri Lanka's captain, Angelo Mathews, said: "Modern-day cricket encourages and needs someone to be explosive. But it has to come naturally to you. It's not something you can bring out in a day or two. We are lucky to have people like Dilshan, or Kusal Perera."

Kia Oval details: For first ODI

England (possible): A N Cook (capt), I R Bell, J E Root, G S Ballance, E J G Morgan, J C Buttler (wk), R S Bopara, C J Jordan, J C Tredwell, H F Gurney, J M Anderson.

Sri Lanka (possible): T M Dilshan, M D K J Perera, K C Sangakkara (wk), D P M D Jayawardene, H D R L Thirimanne, A D Mathews (capt), N L T C Perera, K M D N Kulasekara, R A S Lakmal, S L Malinga, B A W Mendis.

Umpires R J Bailey (Eng) and C B Gaffaney (NZ)

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