Alastair Cook is the most experienced cricketer contesting the Ashes series, so he can take comfort from the longer view when considering England’s chances in Australia.
He has seen all the hype about banter and aggression before, having played 30 of his 147 Tests in the Ashes environment.
Cook was captain when England were swept 5-0 on their last Ashes tour of Australia amid the intimidating pace of the now-retired Mitchell Johnson and Australia are focusing on the legacy they believe that leaves for the tourists, but Cook, now “back in the ranks” after standing down as captain, does not think memories from that series, or the fact England have not won a Test at the Gabba since 1986, will count for much after the first session of the series in Brisbane.
“England have won four of the last five Ashes series, so you can look at [whatever statistics] you want,” Cook said.
The England batting crumbled as Johnson took 37 wickets in five Tests, backed up by pacemen Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle.
Even Cook struggled, averaging only 24.6 and with a high score of 72.
His overall average in Ashes Tests in Australia is 49.53 and he scored four centuries across his previous two tours — including his 235 in the drawn Test in Brisbane in 2010.
Joe Root, who became England captain in July and has won five of his seven Tests so far, did not see out the series in 2013-2014, missing the final Test after averaging just 27.42.
None of that concerns Cook, who said that there are only a few players still active on either team from that series.
“Mitch [Johnson] bowled outstandingly in that series, one of the best periods of bowling I’ve ever faced, backed up by Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle — [but] they’re no longer playing,” Cook said. “So in one sense it’s a bit irrelevant. It happened four years ago.”
Australia are taking a similar tactical approach, relying on a pace trio comprising Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins supported by spinner Nathan Lyon.
Cook said it is a quality attack, but not an extraordinary one.
“They’re not suddenly bowling 150 miles per hour,” he said. “They’ve got [no] magic balls which start way outside the stumps and swing miles. They’re very good bowlers with good records. As batters, that is the challenge we’ve got in the next seven weeks.”
Much of the attention on England’s lineup has been on the inexperience in the batting department and the absence of all-rounder Ben Stokes, who might take part later in the series depending on the outcome of a police investigation into a nightclub incident he was involved in on Sept. 26 in Bristol, England.
Cook said England have “pretty much accepted” that Stokes will not play a part in the Ashes, countering media speculation that he would still be part of the England squad for the later Tests.
Cook was encouraged by his 70 in a tour match in Townsville last week and said he has been improving in each innings in Australia with his timing and rhythm.
Moeen Ali, who has recovered from injury and is likely to bat at No. 6 or No. 7, was similarly upbeat about England’s prospects and was not interested in speculating about the return of Stokes or the banter coming from the Australia team.
“There’s genuine confidence we can win here,” Ali said. “It’ll be great to come away with a win and get a good start to the series.”
Cook is also advising any teammates who have not played an Ashes Test in Australia not to take any notice of the hype or the boisterous crowds.
“All the talking stops very quickly and the series becomes a normal series after the first two hours,” Cook said.
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