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London: June 11, 2014
England captain Alastair Cook is set to face an intriguing examination of his leadership skills when a new-look side take the field against Sri Lanka in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on Thursday. Following their 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia, England are set to field three debutants in Australia-born opener Sam Robson, Barbados-born all-rounder Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali, the batsman and off-spinner who, although of Pakistani descent, was born in Birmingham in the English Midlands.
Meanwhile the fall-out caused by Jonathan Trott’s stress-related illness and Kevin Pietersen’s banishment has led to Gary Ballance, on the back of one Test, being promoted to number three with the experienced Ian Bell taking over from Pietersen at four.
Add in the possibility that England are set to recall fast bowler Liam Plunkett after a seven-year absence and have brought back wicketkeeper Matt Prior, despite concerns over an Achilles injury, and it’s easy to see how Cook, together with returning coach Peter Moores, has his hands full even before he’s considered the strengths of the Sri Lanka side.
However, Cook said Wednesday: “It’s been a pretty heavy load for every England captain. There are always different challenges.” Nevertheless, he added: “It feels like a fresh start. “I’m a pretty open guy, and people have had pretty good chats with me.
“They can walk up to me, rather than me walking up to them. All the newcomers will want to prove they are international players, and they deserve to be here. I’ve been impressed by these guys coming into the dressing room.”
The series starts in the shadow of the ‘Mankad’ run out of England one-day wicketkeeper Jos Buttler but, for all the furore, Cook said he still respected Sri Lanka. “They are incredibly competitive. I think they have always punched above their weight. It’s in their character,” Cook explained. Cook said all-rounder Ben Stokes, coming back from injury, had been left out because “he’s only bowled 30 odd overs, and when he bowled he was a bit rusty”.
Yet he was happy to go with Prior, who was dropped during the Ashes, despite Australia great Shane Warne saying Wednesday that England had missed a trick in not giving a Test debut to Buttler. “I’ve no doubt Jos is an exceptional talent who will play Test cricket for England,” said Cook.
“But we’ve got a guy in Matt Prior who averages over 40 in his Test career. He’s an outstanding batsman who had a tough six months. I’m backing his ability at the moment, and the quality we know he’s got.”
As for Plunkett, resurgent after moving from Durham to Yorkshire, Cook said: “I think he understands how to get the best out of himself — he looks a different guy around the camp from the one I met in 2006. “He’s really relaxed, matured… and certainly knows his cricket. He’s seen the other side. Life isn’t that bad if you aren’t in the England side, but he just wants to prove how good he is.”
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