‘He’s doing a good job in testing times’: Sir Alastair Cook believes Joe Root is the man to lead England’s Test team… even if they lose in Sri Lanka
- Former England captain Sir Alastair Cook praised his successor Joe Root
- The batsman led England to an impressive series win in South Africa this winter
- Cook also backed Root to eventually extract the best form from Jofra Archer
Alastair Cook is preaching patience. Around him, in a workshop of clutter and chaos, craftsmen are busy sharpening shoulders and refining faces.
Cook is no stranger to their finished product. Gray-Nicolls bats were his weapon of choice during a record-breaking Test career, after all. Luckily, the former England captain understands the power of process.
As he demonstrated time and again in the middle: ‘It takes a long time to master stuff.’
Sir Alastair Cook hailed the progress of Joe Root as Test captain of England this winter
The Yorkshireman guided England to an impressive series win against South Africa
Even in retirement, Cook is similarly measured — on Jofra Archer and England’s battle to solve the puzzle around the joker in their pack; on his successor Joe Root’s yo-yoing fortunes.
Next week, England head to Sri Lanka for a two-Test series. There is wind in their sails after they overcame illness and injury to secure victory in South Africa — the first milestone of Chris Silverwood’s reign as head coach.
‘The character that the England guys showed as a side, as a squad and all the management, was brilliant,’ Cook says.
But Archer is still nursing the elbow injury which has stunted his short Test career. Concerns already abound: are England overburdening their biggest weapon? Do they even know how to use him?
‘You can see why you’d always turn to him,’ Cook admits.
Kevin Pietersen was particularly apocalyptic, suggesting England could lose the 24-year-old without better care. Archer dismissed that and any question marks about his commitment.
Cook says: ‘I think the guys leading that side are doing a pretty good job actually.
‘I’ve heard nothing of the sort that Jofra doesn’t enjoy playing for England, doesn’t enjoy the set-up, doesn’t enjoy this, doesn’t enjoy that. I’ve heard he’s fitted in pretty well to the side.’
Cook doesn’t name Pietersen but adds: ‘It’s just someone’s opinion about a slightly different player. He got injured and he tried to play. Suddenly people are saying he needs to be handled like this and that.’
Cook handed the England captaincy to Root in 2017 before retiring himself in 2018
Cook insisted that fast bowler Jofra Archer would come good despite a raft of injury issues
Pietersen didn’t name Cook, either. But his message when speaking to Sportsmail in South Africa was plain: the way he was treated caused some of the fractures which stretched throughout his England career. Pietersen warned that cracks were already appearing around Archer, too.
But Cook, the captain when KP was sacked, insists: ‘We have to look at this in a slightly different way, I believe. Jofra is so new to international cricket, he’s so new to everything which goes with it. Yes, he’s been playing in high-pressure franchise tournaments, Twenty20. It is a different beast, Test cricket and international cricket.
‘With the stresses and the strains, every training session is a bit more intense; five days of Test cricket — it takes a while for your body to be match-hardened.
‘He had an elbow injury, he tried to fight through it, there was no hiding, he still had a lot of guts and determination to get out there and try to play for England.
‘So I think it’s a bit of a mountain out of a molehill in the way people have spoken about it. He’s a fast bowler, he breaks down… he’s got three five-fors already (in seven Tests) so he knows what he’s doing!’
Despite suffering numerous injury issues, Mark Wood has proved his importance for England
On the slower decks of Sri Lanka, the responsibility of sprinkling England’s attack with gunpowder will fall on the fragile frame of Mark Wood.
‘I think the way Joe Root handled Mark in that South Africa series was brilliant and he bowled absolutely outstandingly well,’ Cook says. ‘You’re suddenly getting a strength of character and strength in depth in those two fast-bowling slots.’
For once, there is competition at the other end, too.
Since Cook’s retirement, England have been scrambling around for openers able — and willing — to bat long. In Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, it seemed they had found a partnership of promise. Then Burns hurt his ankle playing football, opening the door for Zak Crawley. Both he and Joe Denly played with grit in South Africa where, Cook believes, the Silverwood regime began to take shape.
Since the retirement of Cook, Rory Burns has emerged as a quality opening batsman
GRAY-NICOLLS LAUNCHES INITIATIVE
Internationally renowned cricket bat manufacturer Gray-Nicolls has launched a new initiative to help make their business become more environmentally sustainable.
The Gray-Nicolls Tree Legacy Programme will see a new willow tree planted for every international century scored by a Gray-Nicolls ambassador, with a further tree of any species planted locally to off-set the loss of the willow when harvested for bats in around 20 years’ time.
The Tree Legacy Programme begins on 21st February 2020 (Friday) when former England captain and Gray-Nicolls legend Sir Alastair Cook visits Robertsbridge – the home of the brand – to plant 33 willow trees – one for each of his Test centuries.
Not only will two trees be planted after each century, but every individual player that scores an international century will be able to nominate a school to receive £250 worth of Gray-Nicolls cricket kit.
Cook commented: ‘It’s amazing to be involved with the launch of this campaign.
‘It’s growing willow for a game I’ve always played, for a brand I’ve always used, so I’m very excited about. As we become more aware of the need to look after the planet, sustainability initiatives like this one are going to be absolutely crucial.’
Cook plants a tree for Gray-Nicolls’ initiative
‘You saw the progression,’ he says. ‘A slightly different mindset of how important batting time is up at the top and good old-fashioned Test cricket.’
Now, Cook claims, England have a pleasant dilemma of fitting four into three slots.
‘I think Burns earned the right to be in pole position the way he played,’ he adds. ‘Certainly after the Ireland Test match (last summer) when nobody gave him a chance.
‘That character, that strength of mind and the weight of runs he’d scored for Surrey… I think we’re seeing a guy who has a big future for England there.’
Some endorsement from the most prolific run-getter in English history. On this day, Cook is at the East Sussex home of Gray-Nicolls, planting 33 willow trees — one for each of his Test centuries — to launch the manufacturer’s Tree Legacy Programme.
Around 5,400 miles away, the task for England’s openers will be to provide a platform for the likes of Root, Ben Stokes and the flourishing Ollie Pope. Soon Moeen Ali could be back in the mix, too, after he appeared to end his self-imposed exile from Test cricket.
‘The one thing which is unique to our game is how long it is — you have long periods of playing under pressure,’ says Cook, who was in charge when Jonathan Trott struggled with his mental health.
‘I think people are aware now how powerful the mind is and sometimes a break is very good and what you need. Moeen basically got burnt out. He was the guy England turned to, in changing roles, playing different positions, but playing all three forms for a long time.’
Playing international cricket for the first time in six months, Moeen hit a stunning 39 off 11 balls in the second T20 against South Africa.
‘He’s a freak talent,’ Cook adds. ‘England need — or would like him — back for all three forms because he adds strength, depth and great character to that set-up.’
The England great also labelled Moeen Ali as a ‘freak talent’ and welcomed a Test return
In Sri Lanka, however, Root must make do without the all-rounder in a series which promises to be another stern test.
‘With the England captaincy things change very quickly,’ Cook says. ‘When you’re losing games of cricket, or you’re not playing quite as well as you like, it’s the captain who gets it. He understands the nature of that beast.’
Cook adds: ‘Suddenly, people are saying he’s the thing, he probably hasn’t changed that much!’
Instead the ground has moved around Root. He has a new coach, a new bowling weapon and new questions to answer.
‘He’s fine,’ Cook laughs. ‘Even if we lose in Sri Lanka, he’s still the right man to lead that side forward. He’s doing a good job in testing times.’
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