Strauss has earned right to a break, says captain Cook

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Captaining England has "taken its toll" on Andrew Strauss, according to Alastair Cook, the man who will stand in for him on the tour to Bangladesh. Cook yesterday marked his first appearance as England's stand-in captain by defending Strauss's decision to take a break following a gruelling first year in the job.

Strauss was appointed last January in the wake of Kevin Pietersen's sacking and has since led the side in series against West Indies, twice, Australia and South Africa. He will resume the roll this summer but his brief sabbatical has attracted criticism from a number of former England captains as well, most recently, from Shane Warne, who accused Strauss of a "lack of respect for Test cricket".

"It's a decision he hasn't taken lightly at all," said Cook at Lord's yesterday. "There's a huge amount of time and effort that has gone into that decision and it's a proactive move for him. He's looking ahead to what is a huge period for us over the next 18 months with the Ashes and the World Cup.

"He's decided he needs a break so he is fully refreshed and we are fully backing that decision. It gives opportunities for other players to step in and it gets a few more people used to international cricket. The amount of effort he and Andy Flower have put in over the last 12 months has taken a bit of a toll on him and he needs this break so he can have a full burst leading the side forward."

Cook's promotion earmarks him as the eventual permanent successor to Strauss, but the Essex opener, who returned to form in the drawn series against South Africa, confessed to being nervous of the challenge that lies ahead. "I'm looking at this as a six-week block and not looking too far ahead," he said. "I'm very excited by the challenge and slightly nervous as well, but it's a great opportunity for me to learn about the role and give a good account of myself."

South Africa may need a stand-in captain for tomorrow's final Test against India in Kolkata. Graeme Smith damaged a finger during fielding practice and is struggling to be fit. His team won the first of two Tests between the world's top-ranked sides.