Alastair Cook is confident Adil Rashid will be able to brush aside all the talk about his controversial Test call-up and concentrate on bowling England to victory once the five-match series against India starts at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
Yorkshire have reacted angrily to England’s decision to select a player who has made himself unavailable to them for red-ball cricket this summer and the fall-out has shed light on an apparent rift between Rashid and his county.
It has also been seen as a blow to the domestic game, with chief selector Ed Smith forced to clarify Rashid’s selection was a “one-off” and that he will have to sign a red-ball county contract if he wants to remain available for Test cricket next summer.
Cook, captain when Rashid made his last Test appearance against India in Chennai in December 2016, admits the selection is “interesting – because it’s so unusual” and a “brave call” by Smith.
But with England’s two most recent Test spinners in Jack Leach and Dom Bess playing little for Somerset, their county, this season and Rashid excelling for England in one-day cricket, Cook insisted: “It seemed quite an obvious selection. In one sense, I feel a little bit sorry for Adil. He’s been selected to play for England, which is a huge honour, and all this other stuff has overtaken it.”
Rashid’s temperament was questioned during his last spell in England’s team during that 2016 tour of India.
But asked if he thought the 30-year-old would be able to cope with the pressures this week, Cook said: “I think probably in the past he would have been [bothered by the off-field talk]. Over the last 18 months I think he’s matured as a cricketer and improved since we last saw him in an England Test shirt. I think he’ll be fine.
“Clearly he’s going to be nervous because it’s a bit of time away from the England team and with the circumstances. But I genuinely think he will cope - he’s bowling really well. I can understand why it’s caused a bit of fuss. But you just have to get on with it, and I think we’ve got to look at the positives.
“We’ve got a different style of English spinner, with a little bit of mystery to him, who’s bowling really well. That is what we should be excited about – not the off-field stuff.”
Cook also believes that having a Yorkshire team-mate in Joe Root, his successor as Test captain, leading the team will help Rashid.
“Joe is in a great position because he probably knows him better than anyone, certainly better than I did when I captained Adil,” he said. “They seem to get on really well and they’d have played a lot of cricket together growing up. That can only be a bonus.”
Root’s team, who drew 1-1 against Pakistan at the start of the summer, are without a win in their past three Test series. Beating India, ranked No 1 in the world, will not be easy but home advantage, starting with England’s 1,000 Test this week in Birmingham, should play a big part over the course of these five matches.
“I hope so,” said Cook. “I hope that in six weeks we would have beaten the number one side. I don’t know. We’re a side who has been inconsistent. To win a five-game series, you need to be consistently good in three games.”
Cook is ready for the challenge ahead after warning up for Edgbaston by scoring 180 for England Lions against India A in Worcester the week before.
“I feel fresh,” he said. “I haven’t played a huge amount of cricket over the last three-and-a-half weeks. It was nice to score those runs. I feel ready.”
Giving up the Test captaincy after that last series against India in the winter of 2016 has also given the 33-year-old a lease of life.
“Now everyone asks when I’m going to retire,” he said. “It’s just different. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as England captain.
“But I believed it was the right time for me personally [to quit]. In an ideal world, I think the hierarchy would have wanted me to carry on and captain in Australia [last winter]. But I didn’t feel I was in the right mental state to do that and it wouldn’t be fair on the team. So it was the right decision for me.
“I’m now the senior batter. I don’t have to worry about team meetings, what’s being said or looking at the opposition. I can just concentrate on the batting. There’s still pressure but I’m enjoying this second part of my career.”
Jamie Porter, Cook’s Essex team-mate, is enjoying his first week as an England player after the seamer received his maiden Test call-up following a prolific past few seasons in the County Championship.
“You talk about the Adil selection,” said Cook. “But there’s a guy [in Jamie] who has been produced by county cricket: a really good English bowler. He’s earned his right to selection. He challenges the top order to play at a lot of balls. If he gets his chance this week or next week or whenever, I’ll be very proud.”
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