Cook calms waters after Swann stir

Salisbury Journal: Alastair Cook Alastair Cook

Graeme Swann's parting shot at arrogant international cricketers caused a stir in the England camp - until he gave his former team-mates an absolute assurance he was not talking about any of them.

Test captain Alastair Cook, trying to inspire his tourists to salvage pride in the Boxing Day Test after already losing the Ashes, admitted his initial surprise when he read Swann's remarks about players being "up their own backsides".

As a predictable Twitter storm broke amid headlines suggesting who might be the target of Swann's ire, the off-spinner - who had just announced his shock retirement mid-series - insisted to his own followers that it was no-one in the current England side.

He then had to give the same guarantee, it seems, in person over breakfast to the players he will soon leave behind in Australia.

"When we heard about it this morning, it was a surprise comment," said Cook.

"But Swanny has made it very clear to the lads he didn't mean any England player."

Cook appears prepared to take his friend and former team-mate at his word and is more than happy to confirm his personal and professional admiration for what Swann has achieved by taking an English off-spinner's all-time record 255 wickets in his 60 Tests.

"He's had a fantastic career," Cook said.

"He has been an integral part of our success, both on and off the field."

Cook is thankful for Swann's impact not just with the ball but his wisecracks to lighten the serious mood which often inevitably surrounds Test cricket.

"He can take great credit for the way he managed to bring that more relaxed atmosphere to the team," said Cook.

"I played a year or two before he came into the England team, but I noticed straightaway he made people enjoy playing cricket for England maybe more than when I first started."

The timing of Swann's retirement has divided opinion, but the England captain said: "Obviously, it is a huge decision to make.

"Knowing you are never going to pull on an England shirt again must be quite a scary feeling - especially when you make that decision yourself.

"I think it is a very brave decision for him to do it now, in terms of what he is giving up and everything that goes with playing for England.

"But I think he knows deep down, after speaking to him, he had no more to give - and he didn't feel he could perform to the standards that he set for himself."

England are likely to turn in the first instance to Monty Panesar to replace Swann, if they decide spin is needed at the MCG.

Cook acknowledges it is a tough act to follow.

"He is going to be missed hugely," the 28-year-old said.

"(But) he just knew this was the time.

"He'd given his all in the England shirt and can be very proud of his achievements."

The captain is not anticipating the raft of retirements many have predicted from England's other thirtysomethings at the end of this tour, but does concede changes often follow a collective dip in performance.

"When any team doesn't win, you are always looking for new guys to push out the established guys," he said.

"We've had a fairly stable run, with excellent results.

"The team stays stable because people are performing.

"When you lose and don't perform, that's when questions are asked."

The balance of England's team to try to stop Australia in Melbourne will be clearer after Christmas Eve practice, when Stuart Broad is expected to bowl again for the first time since a Mitchell Johnson yorker bruised his right foot during last week's defeat in Perth.

Cook sounds far from confident yet about the frontline seamer's fitness.

"He's not 100 per cent ... it is in the balance at the moment," he said.

Panesar, meanwhile, is relishing the prospect of another chance to re-establish himself as England's number one spinner - an opportunity he feared had passed him by, after being beset by problems off the field.

"I thought my chance had probably gone in the summer," the 31-year-old said.

"I thought that was it, really ... 'maybe I won't get another chance'.

"I'm very lucky to be out here."

His difficulties, infamously, included an incident in which he was arrested for drunkenly urinating on nightclub bouncers in Brighton.

"That's all behind me," he said.

"It's time to move on and look forward to exciting times ahead."

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