Alastair Cook is under orders to lead England with a new aggressive intent – but when it comes to his record-breaking batting, the management advice is to stick to what you know.
Cook could do little wrong as captain in England’s 169-run win in the first Ashes Test in Cardiff, where a series of bowling and field changes kept paying off. For good measure, he took three important catches and provided the “assist” for a fourth, parrying a cut from gully to Adam Lyth at slip as England surged to victory inside four days.
With the bat, though, he added just 32 in two attempts to the 9,000 which already put him out on his own as England’s all-time top Test runscorer.
There was a suspicion too, in his eagerness to try to attack Nathan Lyon by going up the wicket, that he was prepared to update the methods which have served him so well for so long in order to be part of the tactical revolution on his watch.
Yet, as coach Trevor Bayliss reflected on England’s heartening start to the Ashes in the first match of his tenure, he hinted he will be happiest if Cook and Ian Bell – with their 49 Test centuries between them – simply stay true to themselves.
Bell, who returned to form with a second-innings half-century after a worrying slump, has a more expansive style in any case. But Bayliss is understandably wary of trying to “mend” two run machines which are not broken. “My message to Alastair Cook is to go out and play his own way,” he said. “People like Alastair and Belly have scored plenty of Test hundreds.
“My advice to them would be to go out and bat like you always have done. Those two guys are class players and can change their game to suit any situation. The rest of the guys can bat around them.”
England will head to Lord’s for the second Test, starting on Thursday, with an unchanged 13-man squad and confidence that their new commitment to attack can work for them this summer.
Bayliss said: “Yes, we were talking as a group about being mentally aggressive, not necessarily trying to whack sixes and fours, but if you are mentally aggressive when those boundary balls do come along, your feet are moving and you put them away.”
Cook is his key ally to smooth the bumps of transition and, if the gameplan is reflected to a degree in modifications to his own batting, England’s new Australian coach understands why.
He added: “He is a very calm operator and very well-respected by the players in the team. He is obviously a fantastic batsman.
“He didn’t score as many runs in this match as he would like, [but] I thought his approach in the first innings – even though he only got 20 – sent a bit of a message to the rest of the players that here was the captain who was trying to be that positive batsman.
[He was] maybe a little bit out of his comfort zone, that he was trying to show the way. Most of the good captains around are not only leaders of the team, but they lead the way in their attitude.”
Australia coach Darren Lehmann has hinted that changes will be made for the second Test, with Shane Watson seemingly first in the firing line.
After suffering defeat in Cardiff with an entire day to spare, question marks already linger over a couple of the Australian starting XI. Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin looked all of his 37 years at times, and his costly drop of Joe Root might well have been the pivotal moment of the match, while Mitchell Starc is battling an ankle injury. But it is Watson whose place appears most precarious.
He narrowly pipped fellow all-rounder Mitchell Marsh to a place in the side but scores of 30 and 19, coupled with some innocuous medium pace, leave him vulnerable.
And Lehmann hardly gave him cause for optimism. “At the end of the day you don’t want to be getting out lbw all the time and you want to make more runs. Shane would be disappointed, so are we,” he said.