Cook wants batting independence
Alastair Cook knows England have the ability to take advantage of a batting haven at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi - but they will take nothing for granted after their blip at Dubai.
Opening batsman Cook made single-figure scores as England were bowled out for under 200 twice to lose the first Test against Pakistan by 10 wickets inside three days.
Andrew Strauss’ tourists must therefore win in Abu Dhabi, where the middle match of three starts on Wednesday, or accept they will not begin their reign as world Test number ones with a victorious series.
Reassurance comes in statistical form, a welter of runs in two Tests so far at this venue indicating that batsmen are highly likely to have conditions very much in their favour.
“It’s always nice when you turn up to a ground where history suggests you can score runs,” said Cook, after practice at the ground this morning. “But that doesn’t really count for anything. We’ve got to go out and put our poor performance behind us.”
Cook echoed the thoughts of a succession of players and coaching staff since the loss in Dubai - that England were way below their normal standards there, but can and will improve as they must.
“We held our hands up as a batting unit, that the reason we didn’t get close in that last match was the top six,” he added.
“The beauty about another game coming so quickly is we can put that right, and I know we’ve got the characters and the record to do that.”
Cook, whose wife Alice arrived in the United Arab Emirates yesterday along with the rest of the England team’s nearest and dearest, is set this week to walk out to bat with Andrew Strauss in a Test for the 100th time.
Cook and Strauss’ sentry duty at the top of the batting order began with the former’s Test debut against India in Nagpur almost six years ago.
It has not been unbroken but is already England’s most prolific in terms of innings and matches and, at some stage this week, will join only three others worldwide in the history of Test cricket to extend into three figures.
As the two left-handers seek to erase the shock and bad memories of last week’s defeat, neither could hope to have a more accustomed presence by their side.
Cook had to leave his new wife behind within two days of their marriage on new year’s eve when England duty called three weeks ago.
As for his cricketing partner, a winning chemistry and empathy works on the pitch too - and Cook is hoping he and Strauss can mark their century in style.
“We’re very similar in character and we do enjoy batting together,” he said. “We hope, for the 100th time, we can do something special.”
How England need them to as well, after an uncharacteristically poor batting display not just from the openers but the entire top six in the first Test.
Cook draws confidence from the many good times, from Ashes exploits to the ascent to the top of the world Test rankings, in which he and Strauss have served England so well.
“It’s always nice to have stability at the top of the order, and I hope we inspire some confidence in the rest of the team when we do walk out together,” he added. “We’ve had some great moments.
“Probably the highlight for me would be Australia at Lord’s (in 2009) - when, after not batting so well in Cardiff, we came back and set a really good platform.
“Then there was Brisbane (last winter) as well - they’re the two that stand out for me.”
Opening stands of 196 and 188 sapped Australia's confidence on those two famous occasions, and Cook feels indebted to Strauss’ permanence and reliability.
The captain has not been at his most convincing of late, and is without a hundred since that backs-to-the-wall defiance at the Gabba 14 months ago.
But Cook said: “He’s got a great record proven over a number of years, and to have the experience at the top of the order has held us in good stead.
“It’s our job at the top of the order to lay that platform. We didn’t do that in Dubai, and that’s one of the reasons why we didn’t get a good total. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it’s certainly a major responsibility and always has been.
“Whoever you open the batting for, you have to lay as good a platform as you can for the boys. We have done it, but just didn’t last week - and it cost us.”
There can be no argument on that score, after England succumbed so easily to off-spinner Saeed Ajmal in particular.
Cook, though, thinks he knows why - and what to do about it.
“If you look through the shot selections, we made some poor decisions,” he added. “To score runs, you have to make good decisions for a long period of time - and we didn’t do that.
“Credit to the Pakistan bowlers, who put us under significant pressure - to force those mistakes.
“It’s our duty as batsmen, and our job, to withstand that pressure and put them into second and third spells - then scoring becomes easier later in the day.”
History tells Cook he and his team-mates will get it right this time.
“We need to get our skills a lot better than we did last week,” he continued. “Over the years, we have handled it. But it was just a poor performance. The challenge for us now is to put that right, and we hope we can do that.”