Cook prepared for tough talking

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Alastair Cook insists he can be tough when he needs to be Alastair Cook insists he can be tough when he needs to be

Mild-mannered Alastair Cook insists he can still get tough if he thinks his team need a talking-to.

England's descent to the brink of a whitewash in this winter's Ashes might have been enough to make most leaders lose their cool at some stage but if Cook has done so, it has been behind closed doors.

The clean-cut captain is never going to morph into a sporting hot-head.

But as he tries to galvanise England for one telling last effort, from 4-0 down with one to play - the Sydney Test, starting on Friday - he acknowledges there can be a time and place for a little controlled anger.

At the suggestion he may imitate a 'hair-dryer' outburst, made infamous by the phrase former Manchester United footballer Mark Hughes coined for manager Sir Alex Ferguson's style, Cook's response is characteristically measured rather than dismissive.

"There's always times when you need to use it and there's always times when you need to be sympathetic too," he said.

"That balance is the answer to being a good leader.

"I hope I can be firm enough when I need to be."

Has he got it right this winter, though?

"The results would suggest that I haven't done - but you would have to ask people who see us work behind the scenes whether I get that balance wrong," he said.

"Yes, I can get cross. But it's not my style to go ranting and raving."

Cook is not notably demonstrative either when he is setting his fields out in the middle.

"The bowler has got to be totally happy with what he's doing, but there are times when the captain has to rule the roost," he added.

"Just because it's not always me moving the field, it doesn't mean it's not me telling the bowlers what to do at the top of their mark.

"When you're winning games of cricket little things like that don't get noticed."

The opposite is true at present, of course, with Cook's every move under scrutiny following four landslide Test defeats.

Even his opposite number Michael Clarke was prepared to offer him and coach Andy Flower a public tip for the fifth Test - bring back Matt Prior.

England dropped their triple Ashes-winning wicketkeeper after losing the urn in Perth, only for replacement Jonny Bairstow to have a chastening experience himself - in front and behind the stumps - in Melbourne.

"In my opinion, the one player I think England missed last game was Matt Prior - and more so for his leadership and experience," said Clarke.

"I think he's a similar personality to Brad Haddin.

"One of the best things that has happened to our team is having Brad back because of his experience, because of his leadership, because of his toughness.

"That's certainly not having a crack at Jonny Bairstow - he's a wonderful talent and has a huge future for England - but I think when you're not performing as well as you would like as a team that senior player, that tough-nosed senior player helps the group a lot.

"It's probably not my place to say that - but if I was in England's shoes, I would certainly be getting Matty Prior back into my team ASAP."

Advice is coming from all quarters for Cook, who said of Clarke: "He's entitled to his opinion.

"We know what a good player Matt has been over 75 Tests. He's had a lean year and he's the first to hold his hand up about that.

"He's nowhere near the end of his career.

"He's got to go back and prove that he's the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the country if he wants his place back."

Cook, who has already confirmed England will be making more changes for the final Test, found himself forced on the defensive on another front on New Year's Day.

England's decision to skip an early morning net practice and hold only fielding drills an hour and a half later raised eyebrows.

"We had about an hour and 10 minutes' fielding," said the captain.

"We've done a hell of a lot of batting and talking on this tour and we just need to get ourselves ready tomorrow, as much mentally and how we want to play the game rather than having endless hits two days out."

Being called to account about the specifics of preparation is, of course, further demonstration that Cook is right when he points out beaten teams - no matter what their methods - will always attract criticism.

"You get flak when you lose games of cricket, whatever you do - and we've lost four in a row," he said.

"You're going to get flak for that."

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