In depth with Alastair Cook
PUBLISHED: 13:00 20 September 2014
England captain talks to Thomas Reeves at Wanstead CC
England cricket captain Alastair Cook is on a mission to raise funds and awareness for a charity which puts his on-field troubles into perspective following the death of his former batting partner.
Cook began his rise to prominence at Maldon CC in Essex alongside close friend David Randall, who died of cancer in 2012 at just 27 years of age.
So Cook, 29, has a very personal reason for devoting his 2014 benefit year to charity and being able to briefly forget the predicament of England captaincy in a break from international cricket.
Speaking at Wanstead, he said: “We were really good childhood friends, and unfortunately as the way life is, one gets dealt a cruel blow and he got cancer, which unfortunately he didn’t survive.”
Cook selected the Randall Foundation, a charity set up in his friend’s memory, as one of four causes he would help to support during his benefit year.
More than half the proceeds raised will be given to the charities with many events organised during the calendar year to raise funds.
“The David Randall charity was a no-brainer because I’m the patron of that,” Cook said.
“It’s a small charity, so we thought we’d use this year to raise as much awareness of it as possible.”
The opening batsman went onto say what support the Randall Foundation helps to offer.
“It’s for people with terminal illnesses to enjoy their final special family days if they possibly can,” he said.
“That is one side of the charity - to enjoy the time they’ve got left.
“The other side is he was a very talented sportsman and musician, so it’s like a scholarship for musicians and sports people, who, if they are getting hindered by financial things, we try to support them.”
Cook also spoke about the other charities he has decided to support - the Professional Cricketers Association Benevolent Fund, Chance to Shine and Mind.
“You can’t see what happens to the mind and being aware of it in cricket is important. The awareness of it, in all kinds of lifestyles, is kind of unspoken about,” he added.
“The PCA Benevolent Fund speaks for itself. Whether you have played one game or thousands of games, you (all cricketers) are part of a community, and I’m one of the lucky ones, that my health and fitness have managed to survive.”
On the Chance to Shine scheme, Cook said: “I firmly believe cricket shouldn’t be an elitist sport, and the awareness and getting kids back playing in states schools, is important to the future of our game.”
Cook was playing in a benefit game at Wanstead cricket club, despite being unavailable for his county Essex, who are pushing for promotion from the LV County Championship Division Two.
He said: “Unfortunately you have to be a little bit selfish, and for me personally, my priorities are with England.
“That’s what takes up all my time and the decision to not play in the final games of the season is absolutely the right one.
“I’m a pretty spent force mentally and I don’t think I could do myself justice. Looking to the future, this doesn’t mean I’m not committed to Essex, it’s just one of those things.”
Cook has, of course, been through a lot in the last 12 months, as he has struggled for form and faced constant speculation over his future.
“It’s been an incredibly tough year,” he admitted.
“I’ve never experienced the level of pressure on me and scrutiny as a leader or a player because of our results and because of the situation over the summer.
“I can’t remember an England captain, who has been asked to discuss his future as many times as I have.
“Maybe, it’s because I haven’t been scoring runs. But I’m not the first England captain to struggle with the bat.
“It is what it is. I don’t want people to read this and think he is feeling sorry for himself because you are England captain and that is part of the terrority.
“In some ways, it’s part of the enjoyment of it all because trying to lead through adversity is probably the hardest thing you will ever do but also the most rewarding.”
Following last winter’s Ashes whitewash down under, the questions over Cook’s leadership ability intensified in what proved to be a strenuous two-match Test series against Sri Lanka at the start of the summer.
The Three Lions were denied victory in an incredible finale in the first Test with Sri Lanka’s last-wicket pair able to see out the final five balls.
“I remember going into that press conference at Headingley (ahead of the next game) thinking they will talk positively about the game. We were a review away from winning and a catch that could have carried, which didn’t on a flat wicket,” he recalled.
“All they did was talk about negative stuff in that press conference, the media as a whole. It was Ian Bell’s 100th Test match and nobody asked me a question about it. That really got me angry.”
Then, in the second innings of the second Test, England slumped to 57-5 on what Cook described as “one of my worst days” before Sri Lanka sealed the series win the next day.
He added: “I came close (to quitting as captain) the fourth night at Headingley.
“That was probably the closest because the emotions were really raw and I was in a bad spot mentally.”
But far from taking his role lightly, he stressed, “I can’t tell you how proud I am to be England captain.
“The honour that has been bestowed on me is an incredible one and one which, for this experience, will define me.”
Next up in the 2014 summer schedule was a five-match Test series at home to India.
Things began slowly again for the hosts, who were 1-0 down after two games. But the third Test at the Rose Bowl proved to be a turning point for England and their skipper.
When asked why he thought things turned around at the Rose Bowl, he said: “I think it got to the point, where I thought it couldn’t have got any worse. I just was determined to enjoy the week.”
From then on, England won the fourth and fifth Test to win the series 3-1.
Cook smiled and said: “To turn it around and say I averaged 50 in the India Test series, meant a lot and to win 3-1 was a great achievement by the guys.”
England sealed an extraordinary series comeback with a massive victory of an innings and 244 runs over India at the Oval.
“The Oval was such a surreal day,” said the 29-year-old.
“It was kind of like playing Brian Lara cricket, back in the olden days with your computer, because we kept getting wickets when we wanted to!”
On a high after the Test series triumph, England headed into the One-Day International series against India in good spirits.
But the visitors won the series 3-1.
“It was a blow,” added Cook. “It was a shock how badly we played those first couple of games if I’m being honest.”
Cook’s men will head to Sri Lanka next for a seven-game ODI series, as they continue their preparation for the 2015 World Cup in Australia.
“For the next three months, we have a really good schedule coming up. We will go to Sri Lanka, where we will play against a lot of spin and test our technique. It will be tough, but our scope for improving how we play against spin will be huge.”
On his side’s chances for the World Cup, he said: “I still believe any of the top eight sides can win that World Cup.
“You need to get on a good roll; you need people playing well at the right time, that is crucial.”
England have made several changes to the Test team throughout the summer with the likes of all-rounder Moeen Ali and wicket-keeper Jos Buttler given a chance to impress.
Cook was full of praise for the newcomers, adding: “I firmly believe the future for English cricket is going to be bright.
“I can see the likes of Joe Root, Gary Ballance and Jos Buttler leading England through in 10 years time. They are extraordinary talents.”
Flocks of enthusiastic junior cricketers turned up at Wanstead cricket club for Cook’s benefit event, which he was delighted to see.
“The benefit has been incredibly well supported, and today is the prime example, you hope the kids have good fun,” said Cook, who praised the set-up at Wanstead, which has produced four current Essex players. including former England wicket-keeper James Foster and talented England Under-19 batsman Kishen Velani.
“They have an amazing record of producing players. Hearing the list of players to have come through from Wanstead, they must be doing something right,” he said.
“But, at this age, it’s not about that is it? It’s about the kids having a really good day and using cricket as a social club in one way and also to develop their skills in another.
“Are we looking at one of the next England captains out there? Who knows? But the reality is, there is an 11-year-old out there somewhere who will be England captain at some stage.”
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