Cook: Opening options fluid
Alastair Cook admits England are keeping their options open when it comes to their opening partnership for the World Cup.
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Captain Cook has confirmed he will open with one-day international debutant Alex Hales when the Royal London Series gets under way in Bristol on Monday. Previous incumbent Ian Bell will bat at number three.
Yet in almost the same breath, Cook acknowledged the elevation of explosive short-format specialist Hales may yet be a mere watching brief - with the restoration of Bell, in time for the World Cup early next year, still a fallback option.
As for his own position, set in stone as England seek to avoid the untimely upheaval which has beset previous World Cup preparations, Cook insists the identity of his opening partner will entail no significant amendment to his methods.
As he approaches a five-match, late-summer home series - yet with the modified demands of an impending global tournament in Australia and New Zealand very much in mind too - he argues his brief remains a constant, irrespective of opening with Hales or Bell and their contrasting strike rates of almost 100 or 76.
"I don't think it changes my role," he said.
"The job of the top four or five is to try and score a hundred, and win the game by setting up the game.
"You have to try and do it in your way. I have got to convert starts into scores. That's the job of an opener.
"When you win one-day matches, it's a common theme - one of the top four or five has scored a hundred."
Cook has enhanced his own strike rate since his return to England's 50-over team after the 2011 World Cup, but it still pales in comparison to the one Hales has established in List A cricket.
He said: "I still have to strike too - I can't let Alex do all the scoring.
"Since I have come back into the side, my strike rate hasn't been bad - it's at over 80."
Bell is the one who must adapt - although, as Cook admits, his repositioning may yet not be terminal.
"There is a different role for Ian to play," he said.
"But Belly's a world, world-class player. So I have no doubts he can do that - and also, if we want to change it (back) up at the top of the order, mine and Belly's partnership has been a good one over the last couple of years.
"It's nice to know we've got different options, and we'll look at them over the next few months. So that when we come to the World Cup, we're very clear on what we think our best side will be."
Cook has no qualms about describing India as the likeliest winners over the next two weeks, despite their recent 3-1 Test series humbling and given their pedigree as World Cup and Champions Trophy holders - having beaten England in the Edgbaston final of the latter just last year.
"A change of format will obviously do them good.
"It's not quite the same groundhog day for them, probably.
"We've got to remember they're world champions at 50 overs, so they obviously know what they're doing and will probably go into this as favourites.
"But if we play well, we're hard to beat in our conditions."
Whatever the outcome, Cook knows he has at least earned himself some breathing space - after resisting calls to stand down as Test captain, turned round his and England's fortunes in the pinnacle format and therefore cemented his limited-overs role too.
"There are always question marks," he said.
"That is the nature beast, when you don't win games of cricket.
"There are always going to be people moaning but it is what it is.
"There's no point me worrying about it any more. I don't try to prove anyone wrong or right; I just try to do the best with my ability, and that doesn't change."
He can speak from a much loftier perch than he had to less than a month ago, when England were 1-0 down with three to play after being trounced at Lord's in the second Investec Test.
"It's a far, far better place than it was three weeks ago," he said.
"I clearly feel a bit more comfortable in my position.
"You're never going to silence critics - that's impossible. One bad result or one bad performance, and everything changes.
"What it has shown me is that I am resilient and I have the skills to lead England.
"I have always said that.
"Even in the darkest times we have had this summer, to come through that - I can be very proud of that."