Cook aware of point to prove
Alastair Cook knows he needs to improve his personal contribution to the England cause against Australia this winter.
If there is a blip on the England opener and vice-captain’s CV, it is his modest Ashes batting record.
Cook, whose hundred at the Brit Insurance Oval against Pakistan two months ago ended an untypically unproductive spell at the top of the order, averages only in the mid-20s against Australia.
That compares unfavourably with a career return of almost 43 an innings, and he is not shying away from the fact that his Ashes output can stand some improvement.
“Without a doubt, the one side I haven’t played as well against as the other sides has been Australia,” he said. “I’ve got that point to prove over the next three months.”
A then 21-year-old Cook was targeted by Australia pace-bowling great Glenn McGrath when he first played for England Down Under four years ago.
As vice-captain and opening partner to Andrew Strauss, Cook is well aware he has two pivotal roles to try to help England banish the memories of 2006/07.
“There is always the pressure as an opener,” he said. “'Straussy' and I have had the job for a while, and we’ve done it well.
“We appreciate we’ve got a lot of responsibility at the top, and as captain and vice-captain as well, to set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Cook believes his return to form with that August Test century is a surefire sign he can rise to the challenge again.
He added: “The summer back at home, conditions were as tough as I have ever experienced - and the Pakistan bowlers bowled extremely well.
“I think under that pressure that you guys had put me under leading up to that game, to score that hundred in those circumstances gives me a lot of confidence that I can do it when it really matters most.
“The pressure we’re going to find ourselves under coming up to this series, knowing I can perform when it is on, has given me that confidence.”
The left-hander reasons that, far from being scarred by his experiences on England’s last Ashes trip, he has matured and knows what is required.
“That was a very tough tour to be on,” he said. “To come here as an opening batter then was a very tough learning curve for a youngster in my first year in international cricket.
“To have 50-odd more games under my belt, and having seen a lot more, will help.”
He reports England too are an entirely different proposition to the squad which travelled with such hope, under Andrew Flintoff, that - then, as now - they could consolidate the previous year’s 2-1 success on home soil.
“As a side, we’re in a far better place. We’re a great unit, with two great leaders at the top - Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower - and our results over the last 12 months have been excellent,” said Cook.
“We’ve got a really good balance between people who have played here and those who haven’t - I think it’s half and half.
“We’ve got that blend of people who have been here before and people who come in with a fresh mind. That gives us a great balance to be able to deal with those past failures, and put them right.
“The belief is very high. But we’re under no illusions that it’s going to be extremely hard work.
“For the last 20-odd years, obviously we’ve gone back empty-handed. That is something we’re desperate to put right.
“We know how tough it is going to be. But I think as a side, we are in a really good place to challenge the Aussies.”
Cook confirms England will draw on more recent experiences to help them this winter.
“There will be some really tough moments out here,” he added. “But I think we have the collective unit when it does get tough - especially as we showed in South Africa when we ‘gutsed’ it out - to do something we’re going to have to do constantly throughout this tour.
“What we’ve been through, in those tough Test matches when we’ve hung on - two in South Africa, one in Cardiff - shows that spirit is there.
“We know we can do that. When we’ve been outplayed, we’re still a really tough side to beat. That is going to be very crucial over here.”
Cook is determined to play his part, in support of Strauss at every turn.
“As captain of England, there is always extra pressure, and 'Straussy' has dealt with it so well,” he said.
“It’s up to us to get behind him and, in my position as vice-captain, try to help him more than I have done.”