Alastair Cook hoping to end turbulent year with success in South Africa
January 30, 2016, 2:12 pm    

After heroics in this summer`s Ashes series, followed by disappointment in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan this autumn, Test captain Alastair Cook is determined to end England`s turbulent year with success in South Africa.

With his team losing 2-0 to Waqar Younis`s Pakistan, Cook has headed back to his family`s Bedfordshire farm but before he left he found time to check out the England and Wales Cricket Board`s official airline partner, Etihad Airways` flight simulator facilities in Abu Dhabi.

Joined by Stuart Broad, Cook tried his hand at taking off and landing in the impressive, and eye-wateringly expensive, contraption, which can only be described as the nose of one of the airline`s planes.

Unlike Broad, Cook is not a `gamer`, and with the virtual simulator noticeably comparable to that of a video game, the 30-year-old - so graceful and assured on the pitch - endured a bumpy landing, not too dissimilar to England`s innings and 46 runs fifth Test loss to Australia in the summer, having been 3-1 up, dominating the series.

But sitting in the apparatus with the players, my overriding memory of Cook is his interest in the recondite; Cook is inquisitive, retentive, and desperate to learn, while at the same time approachable and warm; the exact qualities the national team`s skipper would be expected to possess.

With Etihad`s slogan being `Flying Reimagined` Cook dryly suggested that his own would be `Flying On The Edge Of Your Seat`, in reference to his shuddering descent, but when analyzing his side`s most recent tour Cook was far from flippant.

`You come here to win games, you don`t turn up just to survive and do OK, that`s not how I`ve ever operated, and that`s not how the lads, I believe, operate,` Cook said.

`So we`re disappointed we didn`t win, because I think you saw for a lot of the time, we not only matched Pakistan but at certain times played better cricket in these conditions with a young, inexperienced side.

`Certainly, it`s a lot of these guys` first tour of the subcontinent and there`re a few oldies who did pretty well, as well.

`But there`re things that didn`t quite go our way, with the Ben Stokes injury, and the tosses (Cook lost all three tosses to Pakistan captain, Misbah-ul-Haq). But Pakistan earned that right.`

Thorough in his examination of England`s failings, Cook is clearly rueful of particular aspects of the game he felt his team could have done better with.

Cook added: `Going back to that first day (of the first Test) in Abu Dhabi we had a couple of chances which went down in the field, so we were there creating chances.

`And on the fourth day at Sharjah there were chances that we missed - we weren`t good enough to take those chances, and that`s the bottom line.

`I don`t want us to hide behind the tosses, and stuff, because that`s not how you operate in elite sport. We have to get better. And I think the lads will get better but the proof will be in the pudding when we come back to these conditions in 12 months time.`

The Gloucester-born batsman was referencing England`s next tours of Asia, when the squad travel to play two Tests against Bangladesh in October and November, before taking on India in five Tests away from home in November and December.

But Cook is looking no further than England`s preparations prior to the first Test against South Africa in Durban, beginning Boxing Day.

`Clearly conditions will be more similar to back home than out here (in the UAE), and I think with the players we`ve got, we`ll be a lot more suited to playing in South Africa but it`s still going to be a hell of a task,` he reasoned.

`I think that`s one of the beauties of the sport we play. You are literally tested in every single way.

`Here, it`s not bouncing above knee-roll but in South Africa you`re probably not going to get the ball below knee-roll and that obviously changes your technique as a batter.`

To have any chance in dismantling Russell Domingo`s world No 1 outfit, England must stop their increasingly frustrating middle order collapses, and Cook is all to aware of that but at the same time puzzled as to the solution, saying: `Certainly batting, it`s such an individual thing. You`ve got to let the guys go out and play with the freedom they want to play but we know we keep doing it.`

Cook`s middle order was gutted by Pakistan spinners Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar on the fifth day of the final Test in Sharjah, losing four wickets in the first 30 minutes of play before crumbling to 156 all out to lose by 127 runs.

But Cook still particularly harbours regret at England`s self-destruction in the second Test in Dubai, when the dismissal of Joe Root for 88 precipitated a disastrous procession with the final seven wickets falling for a mere 36 in 18 overs.

`The last Test is more understandable than the one in Dubai. On a fifth day, turning wicket, that can happen and it`s never going to be easy against two fine spinners, reversing the ball, that`s why it`s called Test cricket.

`But Dubai, that really cost us the series because, for an hour and a half, we lost six wickets.

`Yes, it was a good spell of bowling but it wasn`t unplayable and it`s being able to recognise those periods as a batter.

`You might have four or five overs, 30 balls, and you`ve got to think, `I`m just going to change my game a bit and try and get through that`.

`But I think it`s having that experience and knowledge of what`s going on, so next time those middle order guys can recognise that and be able to soak up that pressure. If they do, then you think, `that`s what they learned`.`

Cook, who has played for Essex since 2003, is now enjoying a couple of weeks off, settling back into farming life, and seeing his wife and daughter, before getting his head down once more.

And with England not due to leave to go on tour for over a month, Cook believes the respite will be pivotal for him to hit his brilliant best in Africa.

`Physically it`s been a demanding tour for the lads, certainly the bowlers, as well. You`re spending a lot of time in the field in 40 degree heat and it takes a lot out of you, so physically I could do with a couple of weeks off.`

Having been England`s most consistent performer in the UAE, batting for 836 minutes in the First Test - the third-longest innings in Test history - and hitting three sizable totals in the subsequent Tests, he more than deserves his rest.


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