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We can handle being favourites - Cook

George Dobell at Trent Bridge
July 9, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Alastair Cook: 'It's the same 22 yards, the same red ball. The cricket stays the same. You have to remember that this is what we have been doing all our lives' © Getty Images
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Alastair Cook admitted to "a few nerves" on the eve of his first Ashes series as captain, but insisted he and his team were ready for everything that Australia could throw at them.

Cook, 28-years-old but already the scorer of the most Test hundreds by any England player, is famed for his calm but accepted that this series brings with it added pressure and exposure. Even those famously sweat-free palms may feel a little clammy at present.

But he was sure that England could cope with the expectation and suggested that the players, rather than shy away from the spotlight, revel in an environment in which most of them would have dreamed of playing from childhood.

"Everyone is just desperately excited to be here," Cook said. "It has been such a big build-up to the game and we finally have arrived at pretty much game day. There is excitement and a few nerves floating around.

"People are using those kind of words, saying it is a 'huge series' or a 'massive series', all that kind of stuff. I know my decisions will be scrutinised a little more because there is more interest in this series. That is the big difference. There is more hype and more media interest in general.

"So you try not to get it out of all proportion. You have to keep yourself very true to what you are and remember that it's another game of cricket. It's the same 22 yards, the same red ball. The cricket stays the same. You have to remember that this is what we have been doing all our lives. We have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be playing in an Ashes series at a fantastic venue with great support. It's where you want to test yourself.

"Sometimes you have to try and take yourself out of the moment and enjoy it. Because this is why we play sport in the first place. We have handled these situations before. I don't see reason why we can't now."

Cook had sound reasons for his confidence. Not only did he feel that England have a bowling attack equipped to deal with whatever conditions they encounter, but he felt that, in Joe Root, who will open the batting for the first time in Test cricket, and Kevin Pietersen, they had two batsmen for whom the big occasion will hold few fears.

"We have bowlers for all conditions," he said. "I think that's been proven now over quite a long period of time. Whether it is in the sub-continent or here, or in Australia in 2010, I think the group of bowlers we've got have the skills and experience that holds us in good stead and allows us to adjust depending on the situation. That's quite a comforting thing as a captain. We're pretty happy with the composition of our side and we're very lucky we have got a strong squad to choose from.

"Joe Root has been kind of thrown in there, but he has handled every situation fantastically well since he made his England debut. It's quite similar to what happened to me really, when I moved up from No. 3, although I had opened a couple of times in India.

"What has impressed everyone is he has always batted the situation fantastically well, whether it has been a one-day game where you need to score quickly or see the side home, he has managed to change his style for Twenty20 and Tests as well. I can see no reason why he can't handle himself. He is a fantastic young player. Yes, he has got a huge amount of improvement to do but I think he will be absolutely fine.

"Kevin has looked really good in the nets these last couple of days and obviously that 170 he scored for Surrey shows that he's ready to play. He's hungry and he has performed on numerous occasions when the pressure has been at its biggest and, as it is an Ashes series, that is heightened. It's not just down to him but he loves the big occasion and it won't surprise me if he scores a hell of a lot of runs."

Cook was unruffled by England entering the series as favourites. While he acknowledged it was unusual in an Ashes encounter, he said he felt he had grown into the role of captain enough to cope.

"We have been favourites in series before," he said. "Just because it hasn't been Australia doesn't mean it's any different to when we play any other side. What we're very aware of is that cricket isn't played on paper and it never will be played on paper. It's about who delivers out there come tomorrow and the next 24 days of cricket.

"We don't really pay much attention to what goes on in the other dressing room. That is one of the great strengths of this side. We have always known it was going to be one hell of a battle these five Test matches. Australia have some fine, fine cricketers.

"I think I'm ready. I have played quite a lot of cricket now so I feel pretty experienced and as a captain as well, I think I have grown into it quite nicely. I have got a huge amount of learning still to do. But we're ready to play now."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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