Ashes 2023: Losing first Test at Edgbaston was a big miss for England, says Alastair Cook

New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) England’s quest for winning the Ashes 2023 ended when day five of the fourth Test was abandoned without a ball being bowled at Old Trafford. It meant the Ben Stokes-led side could not push for a victory, as England played a draw for the first time since they changed their approach to playing Test cricket.

With one more match to go at The Oval, starting from Thursday, England will aim to draw the series at 2-2, a situation similar to the one they faced and emerged victorious from in the 2019 Ashes.

Ahead of the fifth Test, Alastair Cook, England’s highest run-scorer in Tests, spoke exclusively to IANS about the Ashes and how the hosts could have won the series.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q. What are your views on the ongoing Ashes, which has been a very thrilling and exciting series to watch till now?

A: I think it’s been the most unpredictable Ashes series that I’ve watched or commentated on. Every day when I’ve been going to or when I have been speaking on the radio, there was always the question of what’s going to happen. You just couldn’t write what happened in those 90 overs for the day, like going back to Joe Root’s second innings reverse scoop for six (against Scott Boland).

The series has been enthralling, starting from the first ball four by Zak Crawley to Pat Cummins finishing the chase at Edgbaston. It’s been great to be a part of this series, albeit not playing. But the fact that it has generated more interest than any other previous Ashes series in a long time shows the amount of entertaining cricket being played this year.

Q. Now with England aiming to square the series at The Oval, where do you think they could have done better which would have propelled them to win the Ashes?

A: I feel (losing) the first Test at Edgbaston was a big miss for England. You could easily say that England would have been 2-1 up now. Australia dominated the game at Lord’s and were always ahead of the game there. England were 180 for one there, but one felt that when Australia got 450, they were always in control of the game. But Edgbaston to me was such a vital moment.

From the moment Zak Crawley hit the first ball for four, one felt England was always ahead and had that edge in the game. That was also probably the only time in this series so far where Australia went aggressive against England was when Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon came out to bat. They really took the attack, and it was a fantastic innings from Pat Cummins to go over the line. But that’s the only time in that Test match where one felt Australia were ahead.

So, I think that was one which got away from England and that has proven to be a bit of a key moment for me in this series. Like, Australia won at Lord’s. Then at Headingley, England won that one and probably this also (at Manchester) if it wasn’t for the weather. So, 2-2 would be a fair reflection and it could have been 3-1 or 2-1, just the balance besides I would say.

Q. Talking of Crawley, he was magnificent in slamming 189 and lighting up the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. What more are you expecting to see from him?

A: Zak Crawley probably played one of the best innings in Ashes history, purely on seeing the quality of his stroke-play. Everyone who’s seen Zak Crawley play knows he has that ability in his game to play some extraordinary innings. The reason why Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have kept backing him in Test matches is because of him playing an innings like what he did in Manchester.

I am not sure if many other people could play like that or in history. I mean it’s up there, like a (Virender) Sehwag innings in terms of controlled aggression and hitting good balls consistently for four. That’s why he’s been picked. But the challenge has always been for Zak Crawley to be a little bit more consistent.

But in this series, he’s the leading run scorer on both sides, against a very, very good bowling attack. So, I’ve been impressed with that. He’s probably in one sense left a few runs out there (at Manchester) and that’s how well he’s been playing. So hopefully more of the same from an English point of view at The Oval.

Q. In the last few days, there’s been a lot of chatter about James Anderson playing or not featuring at The Oval. How do you feel about this issue?

A: I still think he gets into England’s best Test side. His stats over the last 18 months, ever since Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have taken over, have been actually as good as they’ve ever been. Yes, he’s had a couple of tough games. But one thing he will always do is give you that control. Everyone else tends to go through over three runs an over, but he’s always given less than three runs an over.

Look, he hasn’t bowled quite as well as he could have done. But I still think he gets into England’s best Test side, as who’s going to doubt a bloke with almost 700 Test wickets (689)? We all know that and what I think the tough thing about cricket is, he’s one of the all-time greats of England and the world. Yet, you can have tough games, it’s not just plain sailing.

I have always said, Ricky Ponting is really one of the best players I’ve ever seen, didn’t always score runs. He went through a tough period. I’m not saying James Anderson is in a tough period. But he hasn’t got the results he probably would have liked it on.

As for his retirement, I’ve given up trying to talk about it. He’s proved us all wrong over so many years that he will know when it’s the right time to go. That would be when he feels he’s not adding value to this side, which at the moment, I still think he is. He has a lot of credit in the bank. So he can surprise at The Oval if he gets good conditions for bowling.

Q. Do you think England’s approach to playing Test cricket has been a hit in this Ashes series?

A: Absolutely. I mean, I try not to call it Bazball. I try to call it just that this is England’s new way of playing; it has been entertaining. It has managed to put Australia under a lot of pressure at certain times. It does feel and seems like it’s changing what is perceived acceptable in Test cricket now, like breaking down some boundaries.

Who would have thought you can score seven runs an over in a session. Good skill and shot making ability are necessary to just execute it, as shown by Joe Root and Zak Crawley.

There will be times where you might have to rein it in when under pressure, especially when the ball is moving around. But that’s the beauty of Test cricket compared to one-day cricket. This side, though, is evolving, and it’s certainly made it good cricket, and they’ve pushed the world’s best side very, very close.

Q. What has been your view of Australia’s approach of playing in the Ashes, which is opposite of what England’s mantra has been?

A: Well, the beauty of England playing this way is that it’s very confrontational. Because it’s not always attacking, and you can sit in for a bit. Then you can push on when you want to, like Ben Stokes went into it (at Lord’s). So, it hasn’t been just about playing all the attacking shots.

I think Australia have come up with a tactic of being quite defensive towards it. I feel it is a shame for me as I would have liked for them to go a bit harder on England, because they can be a very positive side.

But they tactically have chosen to be a bit more defensive. Clearly, if they win the series 3-1, they’ll sit there and say, “Well, that’s how you play against this England side”. I say if England go to 2-2, which I think will be a fair reflection of the series and they will say well they actually got Australia under pressure.

Q. Could you suggest ways by which important matches like the one in Manchester can be saved from ending in draws caused by rain?

A: The only thing I would say is now you should think about bowling 90 overs in a day. However long it takes, you got to bowl 90 overs in a day. If the rain happens, then it happens, and that is what cricket has always been about — you can’t control the weather.

Plus, it added something to the series in one sense — that England had to play a very aggressive brand from day two or three onwards, because we knew what was going to happen.

So I don’t think about a reserve day. But I would say when the weather is sunny, you should be able to get the 90 overs in a day as you have signed up for it.

The fifth Ashes Test will be broadcasted live on Sony Sports Ten 5 channels from July 27-31 at 3:30 pm IST.

–IANS

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