Paceman Tony Palladino's latest column for The Cricketer Magazine, as he offers a brilliant insight into the mind of his former team-mate and current England Captain Alastair Cook.
I will never forget the day I first met the future England captain Alastair Cook. Essex v Somerset in the ECB two-day under-17 semi final at Shenley. Cooky had been drafted in to the team as a 15-year-old fresh from a youth world cup and looked a little nervous as he walked into the changing room.
Chatting to him in the warm-up his voice hadn’t quite yet broken and still had some high-pitched notes to it but he seemed very calm and keen to impress. Opening the batting, I think he made only 20 or 25 but the technique and temperament that he’s exhibited throughout his career was plain to see. This lad was a player.
Over the next few years I watched that young choirboy grow into the man he is today. In the dressing room you couldn't ask for a better team-mate, always willing to help out with throw downs or to hit some catches. His personality is as you see on tv. Never flustered and generally always calm. He knows how to enjoy himself though and with his best friend Mark Pettini in tow, a good night was always had if the opportunity arose.
As his England appearances grew you could tell that he wanted to be more involved in that set-up; all sportsmen strive to play at the highest level and he was no exception. At some point I think there was a change in mindset – he became an England player playing for Essex. He wanted to be playing for his country as much as possible and to not be involved at times was tough for him.
Cooky is very talented but to be honest I’ve seen and played with more naturally gifted batsmen. This doesn’t however mean they were necessarily better. He’s taken his talent and worked his nuts off to make the most of it. Fitness sessions at 6am in the pool at Bedford School meant that he was always in peak physical condition, while pre-season bleep-test scores were always high.
Once the fitness was taken care of it was into the nets for relentless hitting of balls under the watchful eye of Graham Gooch. The England legend’s guidance and coaching is a big reason why we have such a good player as our captain.
Having worked with Goochy at Essex myself I can safely say he’s one of the best around. He’s a master at testing your concentration levels when practicing: a normal warm-up with Mr Gooch requires you to run some shuttles with a pack on your back and fully padded up, then some squat shuffles side to side and finally some full sprints. This ‘warm-up’ ensures you’re out of breath and working hard to maintain concentration right away.
By testing himself in this way Cooky has made that mental toughness one of his biggest assets. Being able to get ugly runs is something he’s perfected during his career, meaning that even if he’s out of form or on a difficult wicket he’s been able to put together innings of high value.
Shane Warne recently criticised Cooky in the press for being too boring and unimaginative with field placings or bowling changes. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion but I have to disagree. Being boring has been mistaken for being in control. If an opposition batter is getting away from England, a sweeper is put out, catchers are removed and a period of attritional cricket takes place. As and when a wicket falls the catchers go back in and England attack again. This style of captaincy represents perfectly who he is a person: calm, humble and always in control of his emotions.
As England captain he conducts himself in a way that demands respect from not only the opposition but also his team-mates. He leads by example and as a and player it’s exactly what you want from your skipper. It’s been no surprise to me or anyone else who’s followed his development that he’s been as successful as he has been.
When he hangs up his boots Alastair Cook will have more Test caps than any other England player and will be England’s leading run-scorer. I guarantee that.
Tony Palladino has played 90 first-class matches for Derbyshire and Essex and will be writing a column every Thursday for The Cricketer. Read the full article here: http://tinyurl.com/qdlh4vk
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