Alastair Cook is determined to be true to himself as he takes on the biggest job of his life today – that of England Test
England are seeking to confound expectations by winning a series in India for the first time in almost 30 years and Cook must lead from the front to try to ensure the necessary batting totals in taxing conditions.
He must also select and deploy his bowlers to take 20 wickets in each of ther four matches and, of course, there is the Kevin Pietersen conundrum.
How will Cook man-manage England’s most talented batsman on his return after a summer of controversy.
The skipper and opener made it clear yesterday that he will do it his way as he embarks on his Test tenure in Ahmedabad, having succeeded Andrew Strauss three months ago.
Cook, who is yet to lead his country on a permanent basis in his new guise, said: “I’m just going to try to do the best job I can, for however long I’m lucky enough to do it. You can’t change who you are, the type of bloke you are, and you’ve got to be authentic to who you are.”
He knows, however, that there are adjustments to be made once you find yourself in charge. He added: “It clearly does change things in the dressing room. When you’re in a position of responsibility you think about things in a slightly different way and have different things on your agenda but I hope I don’t change.
“I feel a mixture of everything. Obviously, I’m a bit excited about what’s going to happen, and a little bit nervous but the overwhelming emotion is that I am very proud to be leading England.”
Cook is fortunate to have familiar allies at his side in team director Andy Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch. The 27-year-old knows both very well from his formative years at Essex and the novice Test captain is clearly grateful to have Flower on his side.
Cook said: “One of his best qualities is he’s very, very strong-willed and knows what he wants. The players are conscious that there are no grey areas.”
Those Flower characteristics may well have been significant during England’s stand-off with Pietersen last summer. But with the South African-born star’s return to the fold achieved after a show of contrition and a series of meetings to re-establish working relationships with team-mates and management, Cook is relieved.
He said: “As a captain, it’s great to have a world-class batter back,” he added. “He’s a guy who can change a game very quickly.”
Cook has even coined a more prosaic, term for the so-called “reintegration” Pietersen was prescribed in September by England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke.
“The ‘process’, or whatever you want to call it, in my eyes has finished,” said Cook. “We’re moving on, and it’s great to have Kev back. The whole side has adapted to the situation. We have had to draw a line under it and we have moved on.
“He [Pietersen] has been brilliant, and the lads have been brilliant,” Cook added. “So I just want to concentrate on what’s important – which is playing a game of cricket.”
England will have to do without Steven Finn today after Cook confirmed the open secret that the fast bowler is not sufficiently recovered from a thigh strain. They will take a minor gamble on Stuart Broad’s bruised heel, but two risks over frontline bowlers is one too many.
England are therefore likely to name Tim Bresnan as their third seamer, behind James Anderson and Broad, in an attack completed by Graeme Swann’s off-spin and all-rounder Samit Patel’s left-arm orthodox.
India, meanwhile, have an adoring yet demanding public to serve.
“There’s a lot of pressure, especially here in India, on the home team,” said Cook.
“But one thing they seem to have done over the years is cope with that. They have an excellent home record, so they can deal with pressure. Our job is to put them under some pressure. We are ready – that’s part of the reason we came out for three-and-a-half weeks, to be ready. The proof of the pudding will be over these next four Tests.”