ALASTAIR COOK believes Headingley’s diminishing reputation as a seam bowling paradise can provide succour for his batsmen as England aim to clinch the series against New Zealand in the second and final Test match that starts this morning.
After a crack-filled batting performance in the first Test at Lord’s, where it was primarily the crack bowling of James Anderson and Stuart Broad that inspired a 170-run victory, Cook is targeting improvements from his top-order after they lost 6-40 in the first innings at headquarters and 8-54 in the second.
Headingley, a ground that invariably conjures images of cloudy skies and balls hooping around corners, might seem an unlikely stage of solace for a batting line-up that has lately laboured and which is missing its star performer in the injured Kevin Pietersen.
However, Yorkshire have totalled 677-7 declared and 505-9 declared in the last two County Championship matches at the ground, while there have been some imposing Test scores there in recent times.
Beginning with New Zealand’s last visit in 2004, the past 14 first innings Test totals at Headingley have produced nine in excess of 400.
Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire captain, recently bemoaned the lack of life in surfaces that have lately been more purgatory than paradise for seam bowlers, and there is a general feeling that the pitches have gone the other way to how they were traditionally perceived.
Cook, the England captain, is hoping that they will permit some chunky contributions from his batsmen this week.
“Over the last couple of years there have been some high-scoring games here and it’s quite similar to Lord’s,” he said.
“If it’s sunny, it can be a nice pitch to bat on, and we will have to work hard in every session.
“We were in a position twice, in both our innings (at Lord’s), to really try and nail New Zealand.
“We were 190-4 and 160-2; we had a chance to really build a lead, but we didn’t.”
Cook believes New Zealand deserved credit for the way they bowled and said England’s batting is in a transitional phase.
Not only is Pietersen absent, but Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are finding their way at international level and each striving for a maiden Test century that could arrive at no more apposite location than Leeds.
“Clearly the batting line-up has changed from the time a couple of years ago when it was very settled,” added Cook.
“There was a lot of experience there with Colly (Paul Collingwood) and Straussy (Andrew Strauss); we were getting slightly more scores than we have done recently.
“There has been a slight changing of the guard, young guys coming in, taking their time to find their feet at international level, but they’re quality players.
“I have got no doubt about their ability at all.”
Cook also has no doubt that Root will one day follow in his footsteps and open the batting.
The 22-year-old will remain at No 5 this week, with Somerset’s Nick Compton continuing to partner Cook.
“I think Rooty has always opened the batting, so he sees himself as an opener,” said Cook.
“He’s been given his chance in a different position and I think anyone would say that you’re prepared to bat anywhere to play for England.
“I’m sure down the line at some stage in the future of course you will see Joe Root opening the batting, because that’s where he bats. But Compo’s got the shirt at the moment and he fully justifies that selection.”
Compton and Bairstow are presently the most vulnerable of the top-order for when Pietersen returns from a knee injury, which England hope will be in time for the Ashes in July.
Cook also denied at his press conference yesterday that talk of the Ashes has been banned in the England dressing room to prevent the players losing focus.
“We’ve got to make it quite clear the word has not been banned in the changing room,” said Cook.
“It’s just very important as a sports team and us as cricketers that you stay in the present; that’s how you have to live your life.
“We know what’s coming up in the summer, we know how exciting it is to play in an Ashes series, but that’s when that comes. We have to focus on this game and these five days now; that’s the way you have to operate so that’s the way we’re going to operate.”
Root and Bairstow may well draw added inspiration this week from action montages of Yorkshire’s cricketing past and present that have been installed at Headingley in the corridor outside the dressing rooms, the players’ dining room, the viewing gallery and the stairway down onto the field.
However, Tim Bresnan’s inspiration may have to wait for another time if England, as expected, retain Steven Finn and field an unchanged side.