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Cook surprised by number-one status

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Alastair Cook admits his England side were shocked by their rise to the top of the one-day international rankings.

While the surge to the Test summit - a position they relinquished with a 2-0 defeat to South Africa - was the culmination of a meticulously planned operation, their move to number one in the limited-overs table earlier this month came well ahead of schedule.

England lock horns with the Proteas in a five-match NatWest Series, starting at the SWALEC Stadium tomorrow, and again the tourists can depose their opponents from the top of the standings.

Whereas losing their grip on the Test ranking was a bitter blow for England, Cook concedes that they had not anticipated leading the way in the 50-over format at this stage - despite boasting a win-loss record of 10-0 in 2012.

Asked if his squad felt like the world’s best ODI unit, Cook said: “No, I don’t think we do. I think we have a long way to go to do that.

“It was certainly a surprise when it came through that we were number one. As a side it was something we were aiming for a bit later on, but it’s credit to the way we’ve played over the last year or so that we’ve had some really good results.

“But for me we’ve got such a long way to go in terms of where we want to get to and the amount of improvement we’ve got to make.”

England’s impressive record this year has been built around a 4-0 whitewash of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, a 2-0 success over West Indies and an impressive 4-0 victory against Australia.

Christian Malcolm

Christian Malcolm, the sprinter who represented Great Britain at the London Olympics, puts England through their paces at the SWALEC Stadium today

Another win at Cardiff tomorrow would see England equal their record of 11 successive ODI victories, set in 1992, and Cook certainly wants a series win to reflect on in a fortnight.

“It’s really encouraging that we’ve won two series this summer and one against Pakistan at the beginning of the year; we’ve had a really good year in one-day cricket,” he added.

“But I feel in this side there are elements we can improve and there are people still finding their feet in certain roles.

“To win this series would be a really good effort against a very strong South Africa side. It would cap a really good one-day year for us.”

England had a surprise visitor at their pre-match training session, with Team GB sprinter Christian Malcolm - the former 100m and 200m world champion last seen on duty at London 2012 - invited in to give a masterclass.

Cardiff-based Malcolm is unlikely to have uncovered any future Olympians, but Cook praised team director Andy Flower for his broad approach to training.

“It’s part of Andy Flower’s quest to always try and improve these little things,” he said.

“Yes, it was a bit of fun but it was also giving us awareness of sprinting techniques for injury as well.

“I’m not sure we’re going to be going anywhere with it, although when Swanny was doing it he was shouting ‘when is Rio happening?’

“I’m not sure any of us will be there but it’s important to use other sports to get the best out of you.”

Cook is hoping England can be quickest out of the blocks tomorrow.

“In any one-day series it’s important to start well,” he added.

“We saw against Australia we got our noses ahead and they found it very hard to come back. When you can do that it makes it a lot easier going into the later games.

“The Test matches are gone now, we know how strong a side South Africa are now and what a challenge we are going to be. We are going to have to be at our best to try and win.

“Hopefully, we can continue on that upward curve. We’ve got a long way to go whatever the rankings say - we have a long way to go in the journey of this side and developing and improving.

“I can’t fault the effort of the lads in training today and we’re going to have to take that into the game tomorrow.”

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