Sam Tobin finds England skipper Alastair Cook in buoyant mood before the challenges of a new season at Test level and domestically
Eddie Jones has breathed new life into rugby on these shores and Alastair Cook believes Trevor Bayliss has wielded the same type of influence over English cricket.
England came so close to replicating Jones and company’s Six Nations Grand Slam success at the T20 World Cup – only for Carlos Brathwaite’s hailstorm of sixes off Ben Stokes to tear apart their challenge in Kolkata.
But for that, the two regimes have been eerily similar thus far. Both Jones and Bayliss were born and bred in Australia and rode to the rescue last year after two disastrous World Cup campaigns.
They are no carbon copies of each other in terms of personality – Bayliss is less of a headline writer’s dream than the outgoing and outspoken Jones – but both have adapted to their players’ natural strengths.
In Bayliss’ case that has been to release the handbrake in the limited-overs formats while maintaining a Test team that saw England clinch the Ashes fewer than three months into his reign.
Much of that may not have been achieved if not for the groundwork laid by Peter Moores, and according to Test skipper Cook, parallels can be drawn from Jones’ succession of Stuart Lancaster at the RFU.
“Trevor’s obviously done a pretty good job, him and Paul Farbrace,” said Cook, who was speaking at the launch of this year’s NatWest CricketForce. “He’s built on a lot of hard work that Peter Moores started.
“It’s pretty much the same players who have gained another year’s experience and are starting to feel at home in international cricket.
“It’s kind of the same job as the one that Eddie Jones is doing, just changing a few little things that have made a big difference, so he can take a huge amount of credit.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with him and hopefully can do into the future as well.
“It’s been a really good winter for English cricket. A lot of good things have come out of it. Winning the Test series in South Africa is a great achievement, winning the one-day series against Pakistan in UAE and now the icing on the cake is this run in the T20 World Cup.
“And what’s pleased me is that it’s been different people now that are stepping up and they’re pushing their name – just because it’s in one form of the game – pushing for a different form.”
There is, however, one piece of the jigsaw that continues to elude Bayliss and every England selector since Andrew Strauss hung up his spikes in 2012 – the man who opens with Cook. Alex Hales struggled mightily to put a lid on his natural attacking instincts during his maiden Test series in South Africa and, without any obvious alternatives, fellow one-day opener Jason Roy could be the next man off the carousel.
The same worries persist – Roy throws caution to the wind and his first-class average is well below 40.
Cook, who himself points out that Roy bats in the middle order for Surrey, nevertheless admits the 25-year-old has proven he can rise to the occasion for England after some sublime showings in India.
“The opening position, the top order, has certainly caused us a few problems,” Cook added.
“We haven’t scored the runs we would’ve liked consistently as a side and there are places up for grabs.
“The selectors have an interesting decision to make again because no one’s really nailed their position down in that top three.
“Jason’s done really well, obviously a stand-out performance in that semi-final (78 vs New Zealand), and looks at home in international cricket.
“You know, he doesn’t open for Surrey, so that’s certainly a point, you do need some experience of opening, but he shows he can do it in one-day cricket.
“But it’s great that people are throwing names in the hat to try to play in the Test team.”
That question will be left until next month and Sri Lanka’s visit of England in a three-Test series starting on May 19 at Headingley – a match in which Cook could become the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test runs.
But Cook admitted: “I think leading up to it the danger would be looking at those 36 runs. The only thing I suppose I can say is it’s not a bad problem to have.
“If it happens, it’ll be a great moment, but I’d like to do it as part of a significant score. I think it was last time I was at Headingley when I needed 32 to go past Goochy’s record so I’ve been there in the past.
“The danger is thinking a lot about the actual 10,000. You’ve just got to think about trying to build a score for England.
“If we win the toss, or whatever happens, the first time I’m batting is to take those 36 runs out of it.
“Of course, if you get to 34, 35, it will be on your mind, you can’t possibly not think about it.”
For now, Cook will try to kickstart Essex’s County Championship campaign, as they aim for promotion under new head coach Chris Silverwood at the first time of asking.
Another Yorkshireman in Anthony McGrath has also winged in as Silverwood’s No.2 and as Essex approach the new season with fresh optimism, Cook admits some things never change at Chelmsford.
“The last three or four seasons I’ve played the first couple of games for them. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Cook, who could play up to four first-class games before returning to England duty.
“Some new players have come in and a couple of players have gone, so it’s a different start, different captains as well.
“Some of the guys have moved on like Mark Pettini, but there’s still people like Ravi Bopara, Ryan ten Doeschate and James Foster.
“Graham Napier is in his last season, who I’ve played pretty much all my county cricket with, playing second team with him since I was 15.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 8 2016