ALASTAIR COOK has told England they must stay true to themselves in the Lord’s Test, because he believes that is their best chance of beating Australia again.
As Cook’s men seek to win back the Ashes, after the miserable whitewash tour Down Under two winters ago, their next critical step is to add victory at HQ to the 169-run triumph in Cardiff.
The captain might have looked as if he was tweaking his own record-breaking batting in that first Investec Test.
But he dismissed such suggestions as he prepared for England’s follow-up mission, choosing to emphasise instead the collective commitment to attacking intent and the success it has already brought.
Cook was twice spotted in Wales advancing to Nathan Lyon’s off-spin, to no avail in his first-innings 20, and he then fell second time round too when he went on the attack early.
He declined to acknowledge the significance of that apparent departure from the methods which have helped him become England’s leading Test run-scorer, as he re-stated a determination to follow the brief agreed by himself and new coach Trevor Bayliss.
“That’s probably reading a little too much into it,” he said.
“Trevor has said all along that it’s absolutely vital we play to our strengths.
“That is why you all got picked in the first place.
“It is an old saying, but you have to stay true to yourself.”
To that end, it is non-negotiable that England do not restrict themselves to thoughts of mere consolidation.
Cook added: “It is all about looking forward, not protecting what we have got – looking forward to this game and trying to reach those standards again.
“This summer, there has certainly been a real feel-good factor about English cricket.
“Whether we’ve won or lost, it has been a bit of a crest of a wave.”
The requirement here, against opponents destabilised by veteran wicketkeeper Brad Haddin’s absence for personal reasons and the likely dropping of mainstay Shane Watson, is that England avoid their recent habit of immediately losing a series lead – as they did in the West Indies in April and then at home to New Zealand.
Cook just hopes they can tap into the Cardiff vibe again.
“We have to get on the front foot, as we did in that Test match.
“One from one is pretty good – the challenge now is can we do it again here? The last (two) Test series, we haven’t done that.
“We hope we can get the crowd behind us like they were in Cardiff.
“They (Australia) will come back hard at us. It’s how we respond and whether we can put the pressure back on them.”
England ought at least, according to Cook, have a full-strength and unchanged team available to them.
He allayed any concerns that Moeen Ali, who practised only sparingly over the past couple of days, is a significant doubt – after a recurrence of pain in his side, having missed the start of the Caribbean tour with a similar problem.
He hit a half-century and took five wickets in Cardiff, and Cook appears confident he will be fit to play his pivotal role with bat and ball again.
“It was precautionary,” he said of the all-rounder’s comparative inaction at nets. “He felt his side a little bit in the last game – and with his previous history, our medical team are wrapping people up in cotton wool.
“You have to be a bit careful with back-to-back Tests, but, unless he gets a reaction overnight, we expect him to be in our team (today). He’s an important part of that success at Cardiff, and we hope he can do the same here.”
Should Moeen get the green light England are almost certain to go in unchanged, with back-up spinner Adil Rashid, of Yorkshire, again sitting out.
Whoever is in his armoury, Cook knows it will be he who has to account eventually for their success or failure.
He said: “When we win, the captain gets the plaudits; when we lose, the captain picks up the negative bits as well – that is part and parcel of the job.
“It is all about the English team, not one person.”
Martyn Moxon’s Ashes thoughts: Page 24