Alastair Cook warns England must wise up to a changed world if they are to regain the respect of a nation.
Cook will become the first Englishman to reach 150 Test caps when he tries to help Joe Root’s troubled Ashes tourists turn their series around in Perth this week.
But, it is a stream of off-the-field, alcohol-related controversies which has placed England’s reputation most in jeopardy.
As their 32-year-old national-record runscorer seeks to arrest his worrying dip in form, he concedes the bar room backdrop to England’s two defeats so far owes its genesis to Ben Stokes’ arrest outside a Bristol nightclub back in September.
Cook knows that incident, awaiting resolution with Stokes still absent while police decide whether to charge him, has drastically altered public perception.
There will be no wriggle room at the WACA, as Root’s men bid to overturn almost 50 years of near unchecked failure at this venue, and Cook accepts there is none either whenever his teammates venture out after dark these days.
Two episodes, six weeks apart, but played out in the same Perth bar, go a long way to proving his point.
First, Jonny Bairstow made all the wrong headlines with his misjudged ‘headbutt’ greeting for Australia opener Cameron Bancroft; then, five days ago, Lions batsman Ben Duckett chose to pour a drink over all-time national leading wicket-taker James Anderson’s head.
“The world obviously changed for the England cricket team in September,” said Cook. “Those last two incidents have proven there is very little margin for error when you’ve had a beer.
“We’ve just got to smarten up, and we’ve got to do it quickly – because there’s too much at stake.”
The former captain knows what it is like to play to an unappreciative audience, having won the Ashes in 2013 only to discover most people were disengaged.
“We won an Ashes series 3-0, but the public weren’t happy,” he added. “There was a disconnect between the players and the public, and in the last four years we’ve made a massive effort to get that connection back. The last couple of months have damaged that.”
It will of course be a special moment when he wins his landmark cap on Thursday.
“Not many people play 150 Test matches – so to do that, and at the top of the order, I’m quite proud.
“(But) my job … is to try to get England off to a good start – and on this tour I have struggled. We’ve got the biggest game of our lives coming up and we’ve got to scrap unbelievably hard for the five days.
“I try my hardest all the time and I prepare as well as I can. I try my b******s off really – it’s as simple as that – and I’ll do that for as long as I can.”
There have been suggestions that Cook’s renowned determination is beginning to wane, and may point towards the end of his career.
But he said: “The people who are saying that have had no contact time with me. They wouldn’t know the extra nets I’ve been doing behind closed doors. I was with [batting consultant] Gary (Palmer) for an hour-and-a-half yesterday morning, desperately trying to keep working at my game.
“That’s probably not a guy who has given in.”
Why not, though, after all these years? For Cook, that remains the easiest question of all to answer.
“It is a very special thing to pull on that hat. It’s a special thing to walk out and play for England – and that’s why I love doing it.”
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