at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London - Alastair Cook’s patience with his arch-critic finally snapped on Thursday when he accused Shane Warne of making personal attacks on him and his England captaincy.
The Australian has seemingly had it in for Cook ever since he called his 294 against India at Edgbaston three years ago ‘boring’ but he cranked up his criticism of the England captain last winter and throughout the first Test against Sri Lanka.
Ahead of today’s second Investec Test at Headingley, Cook responded to persistent negative comments from Warne on Sky TV and in his newspaper column about his tactics and the timing of his declaration against Sri Lanka at Lord’s by saying ‘something needs to be done’.
Cook refused to bite when asked about Warne and other criticism in his press conference on Thursday but was more forthcoming in a radio interview with the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew.
“Something needs to be done because in my eyes I’ve been criticised for a hell of a lot of my three years as captain,” said Cook when asked for his response to ‘voluble’ remarks, in particular from Warne.
“Yes, when you lose as captain you get criticised but I’ve also won a lot for England. I’ve won more one-day games than any other England captain, I’ve won an Ashes and away in India. I’m proud of that, so to be criticised for three years I find quite hard to take.
“Support and positivity is what this England team need. The crowd at Lord’s were brilliant, the public there were fantastic and got behind the lads. A bit more support like that would stand everyone in good stead.”
Does Cook believe the criticism is personal? ‘Yes, I think it is,’ he said.
But would a century in Leeds silence the noises? ‘It probably wouldn’t, which is sad, but hopefully for the good of this England side it would.’
There is no question to this observer that Warne (right), a close friend and confidant of Australia captain Michael Clarke and an ally of Kevin Pietersen, has been harsh and relentless in his attacks on Cook but whether the England captain should have responded in this way at this time is questionable.
Cook will only stoke the fire and increase the pressure on himself by responding to Warne and he would have been better off ignoring a man who is undoubtedly one of the greats but to my mind is a one-eyed and repetitive commentator.
Quite what Cook feels can be done to stop Warne is not clear but he cannot expect to silence or censor a pundit who is paid to give his views. The deportation of voluble Australians is beyond the power even of an England captain, or an ECB chairman in Giles Clarke who complained to Sky about Warne’s attacks on Cook after the disastrous Ashes winter.
Other than Warne, and perhaps a couple of other observers, Cook and the new England have received a lot of support from the media and there were far more positive assessments of the Lord’s performance by England and the tactics of their captain than negative ones.
Cook said on Thursday that the man outside the England set-up he approaches for advice is former England captain and Sportsmail columnist Nasser Hussain, and it is his prerogative to seek opinions from whoever he wants rather than pander to Warne just because the Australian has been critical of him.
“Everyone will have different views on how to get results and I’m doing it the way that feels right to me on the pitch,” said Cook. “We keep things in-house but I spoke to Nasser the other day, not just about captaincy but all sorts of things. He is a good friend of mine and made some good points.
“I feel we did a very good job at Lord’s without quite getting over the line and if we continue to play like that I will be proud as England captain.”
What Cook needs most of all to repel Warne’s near-unplayable deliveries is to score his first Test century since he last played here at Headingley against New Zealand just over a year ago. And the England captain knows it.
“It’s crucial I score runs as captain,’ said Cook. ‘I am doing the hard work. I’ve just got to score in the middle. I think this run is different to the poor form I had a few years ago because back then I didn’t know where the next run was coming from. The difference now is that I haven’t been converting starts to hundreds and that’s frustrating.”
Sri Lanka want to complete a tour that has seen them win the Twenty20 international and one-day series with a victory that would give them their first Test series win in England. Cook hopes the Headingley pitch will have more pace, bounce and carry than Lord’s.
“Eventually we dominated Sri Lanka at Lord’s but it took us four and a half days of really hard work to do so,’ said Cook. ‘Yes we desperately want to win this Test and to do so we’ll need to play good cricket.”
And if they do, maybe even Warne will be impressed.