Cook ranks size of task ahead
Alastair Cook has no doubt this month’s series with New Zealand will be closely fought even though the sides are far apart in the Test rankings.
England have only South Africa ahead of them while the Black Caps sit second from bottom going into the first game, at Dunedin’s University Oval, beginning this evening for UK followers.
Cook played in England’s last Test series in New Zealand, five years ago when the tourists had to come from behind to win 2-1 in another three-match rubber.
Now Test and one-day international captain, Cook has seen the tourists replicate that margin of victory in last month’s Twenty20 and one-day series, himself being involved in the latter, and is again expecting to be challenged.
“Anyone whose seen the Twenty20 and one-dayers, it showed how competitive both sides were. They were two really good series,” he said.
“If we play to our potential we’re going to be a hard side to beat. There’s no doubt about that. As sport is you’ve got to be able to play to your potential to have any (chance) and earn the right to get into good positions to win games of cricket, and that’s the challenge we’ve got as a side and the challenge that all the players have got.”
England have already been tested in whites on this tour, losing narrowly to a New Zealand XI at Queenstown last week in their sole red-ball warm-up. Cook is sure team director Andy Flower will not permit a similar performance this week.
“Anyone who knows Andy Flower and has seen the way he’s operated over the years knows no ounce of complacency will be allowed,” he added.
“We trained really well and we were a little bit sloppy in that warm-up game, but actually some of the stuff that came out of it was really positive as well. There will be no ounce of complacency. We’ve just got to make sure we concentrate on what we do and do it well.”
This series marks the start of 10 months featuring 15 Tests for England, the first five being versus New Zealand - away and then at home - before back-to-back Ashes series.
“We’ve got a huge year and it’s great to be involved in such a huge year of Test cricket and one-day cricket, with the Champions Trophy as well,” Cook said.
“As players we’ve got to focus on tomorrow’s game before and worry about all that other stuff after it. It’s a really exciting time to be in English cricket no doubt.”
Cook is set to open the batting with Nick Compton after they proved a solid combination during victory late last year in India, sharing stands of 123, 66, an unbroken 58 and 165.
Although Compton managed just one fifty in that series, Cook believes the Somerset man will come good in more familiar conditions.
“Nick did very well in India. The starts we got in India in different conditions to what he’s used to playing in shows he can adapt his game to international cricket,” he added.
“I think he would be the first to admit he got those starts without kicking on. One of his great strengths when he played for Somerset and the reason he forced his way into this England side is when he got in he went big.
“It was slightly unusual that didn’t happen but I’ve got no concerns about that because that’s why he got picked; he’s got the ability to get in and score big hundreds.”
Having presided over narrow limited-overs losses, home skipper Brendon McCullum is determined his team will again put up a fight.
“We know showing a competitive and fighting spirit throughout this entire series is of huge importance to cricket throughout this country,” he said.
“I think we were competitive throughout the one-day and Twenty20 series, but I think if we’re all honest Test match cricket is where the public and where we want to show improvement as well.
“It’s a huge series for us and it’s a great opportunity to show some of the improvements that we’re hoping to make.”
However, McCullum knows the quality of New Zealand’s opponents.
“They’re a well-rounded team. Obviously they’re not one of the best teams in the world for no reason,” he added.
“They’ve been able to have success over a long period of time, both at home and also away. So we know the magnitude of this challenge but also it’s a great opportunity for us as well.”