Flower backs Cook to shine as skipper

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The Independent Online

Andy Flower has no doubts that "natural leader" Alastair Cook is the right choice to deputise as England captain - or that Andrew Strauss had to have a break, before it was too late.

Cook's elevation to fill Strauss' role was foremost yesterday among a clutch of issues clarified by the naming of a 16-man Test squad, and 15 for the one-day internationals, on the tours of United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh.



James Anderson is the only player, apart from Strauss, being prescribed a rest - to help him manage his chronic knee injury - while emerging all-rounder Ajmal Shahzad was named in both squads, and batsman Michael Carberry for the Tests.



Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad had been touted as 'possibles' to sit out the tour - starting in under a month's time - but all will be on the plane.



Cook's new responsibility will inevitably be one of the main talking points - and Flower is happy to give the 25-year-old opener a glowing recommendation, having known him for several years through their shared Essex associations.



"Alastair is a tough young man - I think you've seen that in the way he's batted and handled himself from the moment he joined the England team," he said.



"He's done a superb job with the bat in his hand - and you can see some of the qualities like resilience, toughness, determination and also his love of the game that shine through when he bats.



"He will use those qualities in his captaincy.



"In my judgment, he is a natural leader.



"I experienced snippets of that at Essex, and in the dressing room he is a strong character and makes good contributions."



Flower concedes Cook lacks some of the relevant experience, however.



"I think on the field he'll be respected by his players.



"He'll have to grow into learning the tactical game, of which he's had very little experience."



He believes Strauss, meanwhile, simply had to have a rest.



"The England captain has a very busy lifestyle," said Flower.



"He's constantly dealing the press, the expectation and the responsibilities of running an England side.



"We've determined that his best interests, and consequently the interests of the side, are that he needs some rest leading up the 18 months of tough cricket and non-stop cricket that we have coming up."



That will include an Ashes series in Australia and a sub-continental World Cup next winter - when Flower knows he will need the likes of Pietersen and Collingwood, as well as Strauss, on top of their game.



South Africa-born Pietersen failed, in the Test series which finished drawn in his native country two days ago, to reach his best form - after returning from four months out injured.



Flower hopes that was a mere blip.



"KP and our captain had quiet tours with the bat, so it is an issue - there's no doubt about that," he said.



"If you want to win Test matches regularly you have to get big first-innings scores.



"The batting unit at the moment has to take that responsibility on board when we play Bangladesh, Pakistan and Australia in the coming 12 months. We are going to have to improve on that - it's pretty simple."

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