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A tough Cooky

Everyone's talking about it

Is Alastair Cook ready to lead England in an Ashes series?

Leading England into Ashes battle takes plenty of 'ticker' and tactical nous. Will Alastair Cook prove up to the job this summer?

David Gower, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton haven't just taken on the challenge themselves - they've seen others tried and tested up close.

So how great will the demands on Cook be this summer and what, if anything, could he learn from those who have gone before? Here's what our Ashes Panel think of Cook the captain... How is Alastair Cook shaping up as England skipper and what makes a good Ashes captain?

BEEFY: Alastair is still learning his trade as captain and I'm sure that given the right advice from those around him, he'll learn how to become a little more positive in his approach. At times I think he sits back a little bit too long but you can't blame him for that entirely because that's been the England way. To be the best team in the world you have to put your foot on the throat of the opposition at times and let them know that you mean business.

England v Australia

First Ashes Test
10am, July 10, Sky Sports Ashes HD

I started my career under Brian Close at Somerset and he certainly told you when to push the opposition down and rub their noses in it and Mike Brearley had that philosophy, too, but back then we were an attacking side that believed in creating and making the most of any opening. Occasionally you have to sit back and wait for your chance but when you get an opportunity you have to take it and I think that England can be a little bit slow on the uptake rather than just going for it.

A captain's strength lies in his man-management, his tactical ability and his cricketing brain - that's why he's the leader, because he has the ability to bring 11 individuals together and get the best out of them. Every player is different and a good captain can't afford to tar everyone with the same brush.

ATHERS: Overall Cook has done pretty well so far. He has led from the front magnificently, with seven hundreds in 11 Tests as captain and he steered England to a magnificent victory in India. This summer he needs to produce more of the same. The selectors knew exactly what they were getting from his predecessor Andrew Strauss and they are on safe ground with Cook, too.

Cook's record

Overall: 92 Tests, 7524 runs, av. 49.17
nCaptain: 11 Tests, 1311 runs, av. 69.00

The Ashes will bring a little extra pressure, tension and hype to deal with but the fundamentals of the game and trying to get the best out of your players remain the same. Each captain is different and that was particularly true of the Australian captains I came up against during my career. I started off captaining against Allan Border - an extremely tough, durable man who was very aggressive in the way that he approached the game. Mark Taylor was a slightly different character - less overtly assertive but very shrewd - and then there was Steve Waugh, who was a bit more Border than Taylor. They each had slightly different styles but they had excellent teams to lead and their records were fantastic.

NASSER: You may not rave about Cook's great technical nous but his record suggests he's doing pretty well! To go to India and win - especially after going 1-0 down - is a phenomenal effort. The winter tour of New Zealand was a little bit of a blip but they didn't lose the series and they've come back and smashed New Zealand in the home series. Cook has also taken England to a Champions Trophy final. He leads from the front and lets his bat do the talking - he's a better batsman now he's captain - and he's got the team united 100 per cent behind him, which I think is half the battle.

When you go into an Ashes series you need a captain who can handle pressure well. The weight that must have been on Michael Vaughan's shoulders in that 2005 series must have been absolutely incredible - just as it was for a Michael Atherton or Nasser Hussain when England were 3-0 down and everyone's criticising you.

Alastair Cook Exclusive - Part 1

It's all about how you deal with that pressure and expectation. In my era the expectation was that Australia would come and wallop us and that was generally how it turned out; this summer it will be the other way round. There are plenty of people out there talking about 5-0 whitewashes and you can already see Cook and Andy Flower trying to quell all of that optimism by saying 'this Australian side isn't as bad as everyone is making out'.

BOB: Captaincy can adversely affect people but as the lads say that's clearly not the case with Cook. I think his captaincy on the field is still a little bit formulaic and he remains in the shadow of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss on that score - his is a pretty conservative, safety-first approach - but you always have to remember that five-day cricket is a long road. While we may be encouraging him to enforce the follow-on from the commentary box or place a more attacking field, you can't argue with the results that he's achieved so far.

I played under several different characters in the Ashes, starting with the very tough and uncompromising Raymond Illingworth. He was a terrific tactician who was lucky to have cricketers of the quality of Boycott, Snow and Underwood at his disposal. Mike Denness was never really comfortable in the job in 1974/75 - he was a little bit awe-struck with the company he was in - and although I didn't play under him in an Ashes series, Tony Greig was an up-and-at-them character in the Centenary Test.

Get ready for the Ashes!

Then there was the cerebral Mike Brearley who took over and came back in 1981. He didn't offer much with the bat but was a great man manager and in 1981 galvanised a side that had lost its way and stimulated them into a famous victory. Beefy had a couple of Tests in 1981; he has a great cricket brain but isn't really cut out to look after other people's needs when he was busy motivating himself.

DAVID: I think Cook is learning pretty quickly; he seems to have taken control of the team quite nicely and controlled the dressing room. You are always learning as captain - every day there is a new situation. Some days you cope with that situation well, on others you think 'maybe I should have done something different'.

There is something very special about captaining an Ashes series - and winning one - but the basic elements of captaincy don't change. You still need to make the right decisions at the right time in the right way. It's important to be your own man but at the same time it would be foolish not to learn from your previous experience under other captains - and in that Cook has an ideal role-model in Strauss. Captaincy has come to Alastair at a similar age as it came to me and if he's made more notes than I did before I got the job, he's starting in a much better place!

Sky Sports Ashes HD will show exclusively live ball-by-ball coverage of the Investec Ashes this summer. Find out more about our coverage and how you can tune in here.

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