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New Zealand Test marks start of Herculean effort
10:18am Wednesday 6th March 2013 in Sport
ALASTAIR COOK’S England are about to embark on a Herculean feat of endurance which they hope will eventually deliver double Ashes glory.
There will not be 12 labours for England’s cricketers, over the next ten months, but instead 15 Tests – starting against New Zealand – in which they must set and maintain their highest standards.
Whether they can do so, and stay fit, will doubtless be career- defining.
For Cook himself, the challenge is even more onerous.
The captain must lead, plot and inspire, switch between formats – there is the small matter of a Champions Trophy on home soil thrown into the bargain next summer too – while ensuring throughout he never loses that priceless habit of churning out the runs which got him into this position in the first place.
He could be forgiven, you might think, for feeling a little daunted about the responsibilities stretching in front of him.
If Cook’s public assurances are to be taken on face value, however, no such thought has occurred to him.
‘‘It’s actually a great challenge for us as a side to see what we can do in these 15 Test matches.
‘‘I don’t think any England side has had the opportunity to play two back-to-back Ashes series – and play New Zealand as well – so we have the chance to do something very special.
‘‘But it’s only a chance if we perform to the level we can; if we don’t, we’ll get found out.’’ The most difficult task of all will be borne not just by Cook and his team-mates, but the management and specialist medical staff whose expertise will help determine the extent and impact of inevitable injuries.
Cook knows there will have be personnel changes, enforced and otherwise, long before England make it anywhere near the finish line in Sydney.
Graeme Swann’s elbow and Stuart Broad’s heel spring to mind at the top of a long list of concerns which are an occupational hazard for any cricket team – let alone one set to play a scheduled 75 days of Test cricket by next January.
“It would be very naive of me to say we’re going to use the same 11 players for those 15 games – that just doesn’t happen,” said Cook.
‘‘In an ideal world, you would. But we know how injury, especially for fast bowlers, plays a very important part.
“I think we’re very lucky with the strength in depth (we have) in that (pace) department, and we can rotate players if we need to or – if someone gets injured – replace them with similar ability.”