he last Cook to play for England – a certain legendary opening batter – was James Anderson’s best mate. The next might one day prove his successor.
That was the lofty expectation being bestowed upon the uncapped Sam Cook by the end of his superb 2022 County Championship campaign, including by Tom Westley, the seamer’s captain at Essex, where among others to have sung his praises is, of course, namesake Sir Alastair.
After taking 51 wickets at 16.23 in the Championship last summer, Cook has spent part of the winter training alongside Anderson, who, like the fit-again Jofra Archer, joined the England Lions’ camp in the United Arab Emirates ahead of the Test tour to Pakistan before Christmas.
“To bowl in tandem with Jimmy was brilliant,” Cook tells Standard Sport. “The style of bowler that we are is probably more similar than with myself and Jofra, so picking his brains on how to move the Kookaburra ball, using reverse swing, different techniques of running in and covering the ball, making it harder for the batter to pick – all these things.
“I’m desperate to play Test cricket so to have the opportunity to learn the skills off England’s greatest ever bowler is invaluable and something I’ve been incredibly fortunate to do.”
Cook is back with the Lions this week as they begin their tour of Sri Lanka, one of only four players involved in both red- and white-ball squads having enjoyed something of a breakthrough year in the shorter formats, excelling in the Blast, before being named player of the match in the Hundred final and then earning a first overseas franchise gig in the Abu Dhabi T10 league.
The 25-year-old has ambitions to play “at the highest level, whatever the format” and jokes that Chelmsford has “felt a bit sparse” this winter, with young English white-ball players in increasingly high demand in T20 leagues around the world. On his current trajectory, more short-form offers will not be far away. The immediate focus, though, is on pushing for a maiden Test call-up.
The effectiveness with which Ollie Robinson and Matthew Potts have taken domestic form into international cricket in recent years offers Cook cause for optimism, but he accepts that, even as the probable next cab off the rank, gatecrashing a side that won nine out of ten matches under the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum revolution last year will be a tall order, particularly with the likes of Archer and Chris Woakes fit again, too.
“There’s no secret of: ‘If you do this, you’ll play for England,” Cook says. “But having the exposure to train and be around the Test set-up, you see the brand of cricket they want to play. It’s incredibly attacking, they want you to take wickets and that’s what I’m focusing on going into this tour and going back into county cricket as well.”
Cook has already experienced ‘Bazball’ first-hand, part of a Lions attack belted for 501 runs in 79 overs during a practice match in the UAE.
“It’s funny because if you chucked a white ball in our hands you wouldn’t think anything of it and you’d just go into white-ball mode,” he says. “But when a batter is coming at you that hard you’ve got to think a bit – as I worked out in that game – you’ve got to flip your mindset.”
He points out that a couple of weeks later, in home conditions, Pakistan’s Test attack were taken apart by the same England batting lineup to the tune of 506 runs in just 74 overs. “If we’re judging ourselves as a Lions team in that game, I think we actually bowled extremely well.”
Heading to Sri Lanka, where the Lions play two four-day Tests, the collective emphasis is on emulating the feats of England’s bowlers in Pakistan, who managed to take 60 wickets across three matches, including 20 on the most lifeless of decks in Rawalpindi. On an individual level, Cook is keen to test himself in sub-continental conditions, having only previously played in Sri Lanka during a World Universities T20 tournament.
“England play 50 per cent of their games away from home and the majority of that is in the sub-continent so it’s about developing my skills out there,” Cook says. “I want to play Test cricket for England, not just in this country, but around the world.
“The India tour next winter is something I’ve got aspirations for so hopefully I can put my best foot forward and display the skills that the Test team are looking for.”
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