England Test captain Alastair Cook insists he is “refreshed” by this winter’s enforced sabbatical at home on his farm.
Cook is facing three Caribbean Tests this month, beginning Monday, and then a decidedly awkward assignment at home to New Zealand, before England somehow try this summer to regain the Ashes lost 5-0 under his captaincy in 2013-14.
To date, he is one match – eight runs in two innings – one problematic radio interview and one departure press conference, alongside coach Peter Moores, back into the regime he departed for three months after his Christmas axing as England’s World Cup captain.
Cook made 79 in his last Test innings, part of a wide-margin and third successive victory at home to India last summer, and will be a record-breaker for the foreseeable future as England’s most prolific centurion.
It was Cook himself, however, who helpfully pointed out those facts will be irrelevant when he next walks out to open the innings for his country.
Before and after that moment, he will be beset by the endless stream of enquiries – about his own poor form of the past two years, his and Moores’ future, the remarks of outspoken new England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves… and, of course, the eager to return Kevin Pietersen.
The wonder is whether Cook can clear his mind sufficiently to defend his wicket against the new ball, or dispatch a wide one.
That ability, though, is what sets apart batsmen of his calibre – and he can only keep telling himself he has the track record to prove it. “That’s what I’ve got to do ... at the top of the order you’re paid to score runs, and I’d love to get back to that.
“Every time you go out to bat you start on nought.
“The record you have in the past counts for nothing when you walk out there.”
Cook waved what he hoped would be a brief goodbye to Moores, less than a week before turning 30 on Christmas Day, still apparently full of optimism – despite an unsuccessful tour of Sri Lanka – that he would be retained to complete the task he had been set three-and-a-half years earlier, to lead England to the World Cup.
The tinsel could barely have been in place around him, wife Alice and their baby daughter at their rural home before he discovered he would be staying on well into the new year after all.
Back to work last week, after England’s World Cup embarrassment without him and off his own bat after those two brief innings for MCC against champion county Yorkshire in Abu Dhabi, Cook could do little else than try to impart a little positive spin on events.
“It’s been a different couple of months from what I thought I would have before Christmas.
“Every cloud has a huge silver lining, and spending three months at home has been fantastic.
“It’s been living a normal life again – which I haven’t had for quite a long time – and it’s been great, spending time with family and friends and being at home.
“It’s been refreshing, but the challenge now is that a lot’s gone on since that last win against India at The Oval.
“To say we can get back there straight away is going to be a challenge for the players and for the leadership, with me and Mooresy, to try to do that.”
It is a moot point whether Graves’ words will help them or not. He spelled out in the weeks before England’s first venture of an outrageously hectic year that, should Cook’s tourists fail to beat the “mediocre” opposition they are set to face in the Windies, there will be “inquiries”.
Encouraged or otherwise by that, Cook is experienced enough to know – especially after England’s disappointments and struggles since they won their last home Ashes series –that success will be hard-earned and is no foregone conclusion.
Reminded of the chairman’s synopsis, he said: “Anyone who has to cross over the line and face 90mph bowling from Kemar Roach will have a different view of that.
“We know that winning any series away from home will take a lot of skill and effort.”