England captain Cook denies Pietersen ultimatum

England captain Alastair Cook takes part in catching practice ahead of today's first Test against New Zealand at Lord's. Picture: Paul Harding/PA
England captain Alastair Cook takes part in catching practice ahead of today's first Test against New Zealand at Lord's. Picture: Paul Harding/PA
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ENGLAND captain Alastair Cook made no ultimatum about Kevin Pietersen’s presence in his Test team this summer – and has described the feasibility of them working together again as an “irrelevance”.

Cook’s logic is that because, contrary to some reports, he had no say on the decision to continue Pietersen’s Test exile, it makes no difference whether he can ever consider playing in the same team as him again.

Others – the England and Wales Cricket Board’s director Andrew Strauss and chief executive Tom Harrison – decided there was no way back into the fold in the foreseeable future 
for Pietersen.

Cook contends, therefore, that his opinion on the matter is unimportant – although, for the record, before the first Investec Test against New Zealand at Lord’s which begins today, he confirmed he agrees with the call made by England’s new management pair above him.

Pietersen was sacked 15 months ago after England’s whitewash Ashes defeat in Australia, and subsequently published an autobiography which contained vitriolic criticism of Cook – among others.

As England try to rouse themselves, following the axing by Strauss of coach Peter Moores, from fifth in the world Test table – in what may be a defining summer for Cook’s captaincy – he was at pains to stress he never left the adminstrators to make a ‘him or me’ decision on who takes on Australia this time.

“There was no ultimatum,” he said. “I can deny that.

“There is nothing we can do about it as players. The decision has been made ahead of us, by Andrew Strauss and Tom Harrison.”

It was made with no input from the captain, who nonetheless said: “I do agree with the decision, yes.

“But it was made by those two. That’s what their new roles are, and they made that very clear when they were talking to the team.”

Cook became frustrated at a string of Pietersen-themed questions at a pre-match press conference alongside caretaker coach Paul Farbrace. He said: “This thing has gone on for 15 months now, and we’ve got to start looking forward.

“We have to really focus on what is important to us now – and for me, that is leading the players out at Lord’s trying to win a Test series.”

As for whether he and Pietersen can ever play in the same side again, Cook said: “It’s irrelevant. It’s an absolutely irrelevant question – because that’s not a decision I have to make.

“At the moment my focus is on [today’s] game. That decision, I don’t need to worry about it.

“We trust them [Strauss and Harrison], and they trust us to go out on the field and do our job there.”

Cook cannot afford to be distracted, at a time when his own future as captain depends on overdue success being delivered urgently.

“We’re now responsible – I’m responsible – for the team out on the field and the ten other guys who are going to be with me. We’ve got to focus on that, and all the external stuff is now focused on other people. I’ll let them do their job and, I hope, they’ll let me do mine.”

With Farbrace stepping in for now, Cook added: “It’s another challenge, to have an interim coach. I think it’s my fourth as a captain over the last two years. There are always challenges to deal with, and it’s great to have Farby here.”

Both he and Farbrace regret but accept the loss of Moores.

“As a player, I loved my time with Mooresy,” said Cook. “We’re all disappointed but that’s why Strauss is in that role, to make the big decisions.”

Farbrace added: “I was massively disappointed, because I enjoyed working with Peter.”
But, if a top candidate is not forthcoming and the team fare well against the Kiwis, Farbrace could yet end up in the top job.

“It would be a very hard one to say no to,” he said. “Despite everything that seems to be going on, the England cricket head coach’s job would be a fantastic one to have. It is something any coach [would] want, to aspire [to] be as good as you can be and work at the highest level possible.”

The performance of Cook’s team may be decisive, and the captain warns it will not be easy against opponents who lost 2-0 on their last trip here but have improved significantly since.

“It was a great series for us, but obviously over the last two years, they have made huge strides under [captain] Brendon McCullum,” he said.

“They are a very, very dangerous side. We are aware of that.”