Alastair Cook has dealt with high-stakes pressure throughout his professional career and sees no reason why he cannot do so again this summer.
Cook’s England team have failed to win a Test since last August, and he has gone even longer – more than a year, and 24 innings – without a century to add to his all-time national record of 25.
An Ashes whitewash, on his watch, and then a shock series defeat at home to Sri Lanka as England’s much-discussed ‘new era’ got off on the wrong foot, have brought Cook’s career to a critical point.
He is not arguing otherwise, but at 29 has banked more than a decade of success in the public eye and is confident he can up his game again.
Loss and recovery of form is a constant theme for all batsmen – and as captain too, preparing for the first of five Tests in 42 days against India, Cook reasons that current difficulties simply go with the territory.
He said: “There is always pressure, isn’t there?
“It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are in, you always have it.
“That’s the beauty of the job – to see whether you can handle it or not.”
Cook acknowledged after the second Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley, where James Anderson’s dismissal to the penultimate ball of the match sealed England’s fate, that ultimately others will decide whether he remains in charge or not.
He stands by that premise, secure in the knowledge he will continue to give everything he can in the collective cause - starting at Trent Bridge today.
“It is a huge honour to do this, and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve thrown everything I’ve got into it,” he added.
Some pundits are likely to remain on his case, come what may, and Cook will have to stay thick-skinned to keep his mind on the job.
“I think you need to be,” he said. “I think you have to be determined and stick to your guns as well.”
Another series defeat would surely put his position in jeopardy, whatever the mitigation – but Cook is not ready to consider that eventuality.
“We all know you are judged on results, and results have not been good enough,” he said. “(But) I’ve never felt I’ve been hitting the ball particularly badly through this summer.
“I scored some runs for Essex at the beginning of the season, and I haven’t managed to transform that into runs for England.
“I know how important it is at the top of the order to do that, and I’m desperately keen to lead from the front.
“You’re in there because you are the top six batters in the country, and your job is to score the runs and set up the game for England. I haven’t been doing that over the last year or so, and no one is keener than me to put that right.
“I’ve worked very hard over the last 10 days.
“I’ve just got to make sure my mind is totally clear so that when I go out there I can concentrate on the most important thing – which is that ball coming down towards me.”
He has had a short but precious break since England lost in Leeds on June 24, and hopes he has struck the right balance to rediscover that lifelong knack of scoring runs when required.
If anyone can empathise with Cook’s current problems, it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni – his opposite number in the forthcoming Test series.
It is a conservative estimate that India captain Dhoni has 10 times more people – in his cricket-mad homeland – to satisfy than Cook has in England.
Exacting standards are of course required too of the world’s most populous cricketing country, and a run of 14 Tests without a victory away from home is nothing to crow about.
While Cook tries to arrest his own sorry record over the last 12 months, Dhoni’s advice, broadly, is to keep calm and carry on.
“It is a difficult job being a captain,” Dhoni said.
“It is a difficult phase for him and (one) each and every cricketer has faced – it doesn’t matter if your name is one of the greatest in cricket or not.
“It is a phase he (must) also go through, and it will only improve him as a cricketer and (make him) a better human being.”
Dhoni’s thoughts on collective success or otherwise apply just as easily to his own side as Cook’s – although on the eve of the first Test he was, in fact, speaking about the opposition.
India have spent the past winter losing narrowly in South Africa and then New Zealand, and also came up short in their last two series home and away against England – by a 4-0 whitewash here in 2011.
“It is a phase every team goes through – even the mightiest of teams, like West Indies when they were really dominating,” said Dhoni.
“This England side has very good talent and very good players, so it is just a matter of time before they come back into form.”