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Cook: from apprentice to master

Posted in England v Sri Lanka 2011

Alastair Cook

Outstanding candidate: Alastair Cook proves his worth with an unbeaten 95

Alastair Cook batted with such speed and purpose at Trent Bridge that the game was over even before The Apprentice began.

In blazing his way to an unbeaten 95 off 75 balls, he hurried England to an unprecedented 10-wicket demolition of Sri Lanka which was completed at 8.40pm. The floodlights had barely begun to take effect.

Cook has sounded worryingly like one of Alan Sugar’s wannabes since being appointed one-day captain, admitting he has much to learn, that he knows he must improve, and that he needs time to prove himself.

Unlike the Apprentice candidates, who spout enough hot air to keep Phileas Fogg afloat for considerably more than 80 days, Cook has proved as good as his word.

After beginning his reign with a rather ignominious five in the opening match of the NatWest Series at the Kia Oval, he responded with scores of 48 at Headingley and 119 at Lord’s.

That both contributions came in losing causes drew criticism that was the equivalent of being hauled into the boardroom despite boasting the best sales figures.

As England’s project manager, Cook knows he bears ultimate responsibility for his team’s performance on the field. Sport, arguably more so than business, is all about results.

He can therefore take immense pleasure from events in Nottingham, on both a personal and collective level.

Yesterday’s innings, comfortably his best in 30 one-day internationals and amongst the most fluent produced by any England player in recent years, is deserving of the highest praise, even if James Anderson did more to shape the outcome of a wholly one-sided contest with three early wickets as Sri Lanka mustered just 174.

By Cook’s own admission, he has never timed the ball so well, and I doubt he will ever hit it harder than an early cut off Lasith Malinga that almost took the point fielder to the boundary with it.

Alan Sugar

What would Lord Sugar think? Cook's desire to deflect praise is unlikely to go down too well in the boardroom

All but two of his first 22 runs came from fours, there were 10 in a 37-ball half-century and 16 in total, as many as the entire Sri Lanka team managed. Dominant does not come close to doing it justice.

Normally the equivalent of the quiet candidate who gets on with his job without fuss and fanfare, Cook last night demonstrated the sort of cricketing bombast of which Lord Sugar would surely approve.

Quite what he would make of Cook’s decision to shun three figures – and personal glory – is another matter entirely. And as for praising his colleagues (the seamers earned a special mention from Cook), that's tantamount to a sackable offence.

Cook’s record since being installed as England’s permanent project manager is mixed – two (crushing) wins and two (heavy) losses from four tasks. His treat this week: a share of the NatWest Series and a huge dollop of confidence ahead of Saturday's decider.

Fortunately, and in no small part due to his own stellar form, Cook has the unqualified support of his team-mates (no arguing with field placings, à la Melody, by Eoin Morgan, or Susan-style whingeing from Graeme Swann when Cook announces the batting order).

He will take his charges out at Old Trafford as the leading scorer in the series with 267 runs, 254 more than opposite number Tillakaratne Dilshan.

If Cook is to England what Helen is to teams on the Apprentice, on current form Sri Lanka must feel like they have been lumbered with Leon.

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