sport

Cook unburdened by extra pressure

Captain Alastair Cook feels no extra pressure as his England team try to kickstart a successful new era.

Cook is a notable survivor, in his prominent position, amid the departures of several others following England's embarrassing Ashes whitewash last winter.

As he and returning coach Peter Moores try to plot a way back to more successful times, former England captain Michael Vaughan has been among those suggesting Cook will be feeling the weight of expectation more than ever.

The man himself, however, insists he has no such anxieties - but merely the onus he habitually puts on himself as a high-profile professional sportsman.

Cook's team will start a five-match Royal London One-Day International series against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Thursday - but he will not lead them out with the weight of the world suddenly on his shoulders.

"I don't feel that," he said.

"You're under pressure when you play for England - you're under pressure to win games of cricket.

"It doesn't feel any different to me.

"I'll be just as nervous as in any other game of cricket I've played, and that shows I'm ready.

"That's when you can start heaping pressure on yourself, when the mental side of cricket comes in to it."

He knows nonetheless that the stakes are high, after a miserable 2013/14 in which England lost the Ashes 5-0 and then went out in the group stages of the ICC World Twenty20 - won by Sri Lanka.

"It is incredibly important we win games of cricket - that has never changed," he said.

"To me, it hasn't changed anything.

"You are always under pressure to win games of cricket, whether you're at home or away, because of the support we have."

An opening victory, especially after Twenty20 defeat at the same venue on Tuesday, is very much on Cook's wish-list.

But if it does not turn out that way against formidable opponents, he will redouble efforts for round two.

"It would be great to sit here (tonight) with a win, because it would make people happier," he said.

"But if that doesn't happen, you dust yourself off and go again."

Standing in England's way, among a clutch of superstar players in the opposition ranks, is expert white-ball bowler Lasith Malinga.

His three wickets two days ago helped to defeat an England team led by Eoin Morgan, and Cook said: "He's incredibly dangerous.

"If you take him out of those final three overs, you'd have backed England to win that game."

The home captain is impressed especially with Malinga's enduring knack of adapting to a changing game.

"He's got a very unique skill which he has harnessed incredibly," Cook added.

"He's changed even since I've played against him.

"You don't want to be leaving too many off his overs. He still went at seven-an-over [on Tuesday] - but if you need 12-an-over, it's almost impossible.

"Nine times out of 10 he'll win those games of cricket, and you'd love to have someone like in your side for those death overs."