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Taking a fresh guard

Bharat Sundaresan

Posted: Oct 30, 2012 at 0345 hrs IST

Mumbai: The hair was combed back slickly, the England practice jersey neatly tucked in. As he walked in sporting an apologetic grin, Alastair Cook resembled a nervous teenager arriving for his first job interview rather than a visiting Test captain set to address the foreign media.

There’s a sense of languidness in almost every aspect of the left-handed opener’s demeanour, but it seems to stem from an inherent geniality rather than some boastful apathy.

The square cut may rank as his trademark shot, but rarely does he hit the cover off the ball. It’s always a caress with Cook. And he carries this controlled elegance into all other facets of his personality.

Cook is an exception in more ways than one. The last few Englishmen to lead cricket teams to India were anything but subdued in their disposition. Be it Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Nasser Hussain or Graham Gooch, England have always arrived in India with larger-than-life characters at the helm.

Men with massive egos. Men who never shielded their urge to be the epicentre of their respective teams.

Hussain was arrogance and aggression personified, despite his limitations as a cricketer. Pietersen and Flintoff, though slightly different in their approaches, were the best cricketers in the teams they led. And neither ever refrained from shooting from the hip. Gooch — presently the team’s batting coach — was never brash, but was often accused of being too caught up in his own game to be a leader.

Cook is the quintessential Mr Nice Guy. Someone who would pose for a gay magazine to spread awareness for cancer and let his slightly more talented teammates hog the limelight. As an opener his record is impressive. An average of 47.84 and 20 centuries in just 83 Tests. And he’s scored those runs in the most unobtrusive manner.

Over for his first Test series since officially being named captain, Cook is replacing a straight-talking and eloquent Andrew Strauss. Cook may be just two months short of turning 28, but still seems not to have outgrown a wide-eyed pubescence. But a Test tour to India, where his predecessors have failed to win a series for 28 years, could cause a few worry lines to appear on his boyish countenance.

The next month and a half, Cook admitted, could be among the most challenging of his cricket career yet. But there was no attempt to antagonise the opposition. And no ‘final frontier’ talk.

“History suggests how hard it is for an England side to win in the subcontinent. I made my Test debut in India and I feel I can pass on my experience to the younger players who have not played much here,” he said.

It was plain from Cook’s first media interaction that the Pietersen factor will play a major role throughout the tour, but he underplayed the controversy.

“We all landed here quite early in this morning around 5 am so it has been a day of recovery. We have seen Kev; he is desperate to get going and we are desperate to have him back in the team,” he said.

Cook is known to make good beginnings, especially in the subcontinent. He started his Test career with a silky-smooth century at Nagpur, and celebrated his first shot at captaincy with a 173 at Chittagong in 2010. He can also take inspiration from the last England captain to taste success in India. Someone who shared his languidness. David Gower might have been much more pleasing to the eye as a batsman, but his captaincy approach was very much a precursor to Cook’s laidback style when England came back from behind to win 2-1 in 1984-85.

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