Alastair Cook has dealt with high-stakes pressure throughout his professional career and sees no reason why he cannot do so again this summer.
Cook’s England team have failed to win a Test since last August, and he has gone even longer – more than a year, and 24 innings – without a century to add to his all-time national record of 25.
An Ashes whitewash, on his watch, and then a shock series defeat at home to Sri Lanka as England’s much-discussed ‘new era’ got off on the wrong foot, have brought Cook’s career to a critical point.
He is not arguing otherwise, but at 29 has banked more than a decade of success in the public eye and is confident he can up his game again.
Loss and recovery of form is a constant theme for all batsmen – and as captain too, preparing for the first of five I Tests in 42 days against India, Cook reasons that current difficulties simply go with the territory.
He said: “There is always pressure, isn’t there?
“It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are in, you always have it.
“That’s the beauty of the job – to see whether you can handle it or not.”
Cook acknowledged after the second Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley, where James Anderson’s dismissal to the penultimate ball of the match sealed England’s fate, that ultimately others will decide whether he remains in charge or not.
He stands by that premise, secure in the knowledge he will continue to give everything he can in the collective cause – starting at Trent Bridge this morning.
“It is a huge honour to do this, and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve thrown everything I’ve got into it,” he added.
Some pundits are likely to remain on his case, come what may, and Cook will have to stay thick-skinned to keep his mind on the job.
“I think you need to be,” he said. “I think you have to be determined and stick to your guns as well.”
Another series defeat would surely put his position in jeopardy, whatever the mitigation – but Cook is not ready to consider that eventuality.
“We all know you are judged on results, and results have not been good enough,” he said. “(But) I’ve never felt I’ve been hitting the ball particularly badly through this summer.
“I scored some runs for Essex at the beginning of the season, and I haven’t managed to transform that into runs for England.
“I know how important it is at the top of the order to do that, and I’m desperately keen to lead from the front.
“You’re in there because you are the top six batters in the country, and your job is to score the runs and set up the game for England. I haven’t been doing that over the last year or so, and no one is keener than me to put that right.”
He has had a short but precious break since England lost in Leeds on June 24, and hopes he has struck the right balance to rediscover that lifelong knack of scoring runs when required.
“I’ve worked very hard over the last 10 days. I’ve just got to make sure my mind is totally clear so that when I go out there I can concentrate on the most important thing – which is that ball coming down.”
Whatever happens on day one in Nottingham, Cook is one of 22 initially who will have to dig deep to sustain success and fitness in the punishing schedule up to August 19 at The Oval.
“I have never experienced five Test matches in 40 days ... (but) it’s the same for both sides,” he said.
“I’m sure there will be times when we’re going to have to look at workloads.
“We have a lot of sports science in monitoring the amount of overs people are bowling, for example, and the danger zone is very clear of injuries.
“Missing one game is better than a serious injury.”
England’s primary concerns on that score will be over senior pace bowlers Stuart Broad and Anderson.
The first injury scare of the series, however, concerned Matt Prior - who hurt his right thigh in practice on Monday.
England called up the uncapped Jos Buttler as cover. But after both wicketkeepers trained long and hard on the eve of the match, Cook indicated strongly the hosts will be able to go with Plan A after all.
He said of Prior: “There was obviously a bit of a concern yesterday. But he’s done everything we’ve asked of him today, and looks really good.
“We’re 99 per cent certain he’ll be fine.
“Of course, we’ll have a little check in the morning just to make sure, but all things at the moment are looking good.”