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Cricket: Cook still keen to conquer

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 March 2018

England's Alastair Cook walks off after being dismissed during the Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (pic Jason O'Brien/PA)

England's Alastair Cook walks off after being dismissed during the Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (pic Jason O'Brien/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Alastair Cook admits it is a daily struggle to conquer the self-doubts which can constrain even his all-time record run-scoring habits.

Essex opener Cook will use this winter’s brilliant Ashes double-century in Melbourne as his crutch when he sets out to do what he does best yet again in his 153rd Test against New Zealand in Auckland.

The left-handed batsman, about to embark on his 43rd series, passed a national-record 12,000 runs in his last innings – when he was unable to stop England descending to a 4-0 defeat under his captaincy successor Joe Root in Sydney.

One match previously, Cook had ended a miserable run of form with an unbeaten 244 in the drawn Boxing Day Test.

“To bat as badly as I did for two months, and then for 10 hours bat as well as I’ve ever done, is quite strange,” he said.

“(But) it shows I have (still) got it.

“To be able to bat like that, you’ve got to be doing the right stuff mentally and still be on it.”

Yet there were significant doubts before he delivered his MCG tour-de-force.

Immediately afterwards, Cook spoke of his “last-chance saloon”, and “embarrassment” over his lack of runs.

After making a mere 25 – to Root’s 115 – in his final warm-up innings against a New Zealand XI in Hamilton, he revisited the same theme.

He said: “There were moments when it was tough, you question yourself. ‘Am I still good enough to play at the real elite level?’

“Not that the hunger has run out – but is it all worth it?

“It is an easy story to write when a slightly older player isn’t scoring runs: ‘Is he going to give up? Is he thinking about it?’

“When you keep piling the effort in and you’re not doing very well for two months in a big series, you start doubting yourself.”

Melbourne changed all that – for now, at least.

Cook added: “I batted like I did when it was as hard as it could be mentally, because you’re thinking ‘If I get another couple of low scores, things are really going to get tough for me’.

“To keep going like that and then deliver shows you have something.”

Cook’s other significant challenge these days is to keep striking the right balance in support of Root.

The Yorkshireman is putting his own stamp on the team, an intention signalled afresh perhaps when he took the new ball off Stuart Broad this week.

“I do think in his mind after the Ashes (he was) thinking ‘How do I re-build the side?”’ Cook said of Root.

“I still wouldn’t be surprised if Stuart did take the new ball [in Auckland], but I think there is a really great opportunity to see other people because with 900 wickets between [Broad and James Anderson], you do know what you’re going to get.”

In the bigger picture, Cook’s advice will remain diplomatic.

“I feel I can tell ‘Rooty’ what I feel, and it’s up to him whether he uses it,” Cook added.

“If you do talk in a meeting, I make sure I’m clear on what I want to say because I know the impact an ex-captain can have.”

He still has input, for example on the balance of England’s team next week, when Ben Stokes’ ability to bowl as well as bat with a stiff back raises all sorts of permutations.

Tentatively, Cook added: “Personally I think we need five bowlers. I genuinely think (that) is a better option.”

Stokes bowled on the outfield on Saturday, and in the middle made 27 in England’s 353-9. The tourists hope he can prove his all-round fitness in training next week.

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