Alastair Cook has broken his silence on the Kevin Pietersen affair to hit out at accusations of a bullying culture in the England cricket team and to defend coach Andy Flower and team-mate Matt Prior, who bore the full brunt of Pietersen's bile in his controversial autobiography.
The England captain took the decision to speak on behalf of his team today at the end of a week which has seen one of the greatest of all England teams being under repeated attack from the man they jettisoned in January.
“It's been a really sad week for cricket,' said Cook. 'After talking to quite a few of my teammates on the England team, we have to draw a line under it at some stage and this is a good time to do that.
“I am very proud of the era I have played in; to win three Ashes, to become the best side in the world; to play with some great players. I really only have fond memories of that. I am incredibly proud to have contributed in that period.
‘To play under Andrew Strauss, to have played under Andy Flower as coach, I have only got respect for these guys. I do believe that era has been tarnished, and I am sad about that.” “I have known Andy [Flower] since the Essex dressing room, when he took me under his wing as a player. Obviously, your relationship changes as a coach and captain and I only have respect for him as a man, and as a coach.
‘He was an amazing coach for our side. Chatting to some of the guys about it, they feel the same; a lot of the success was down to his drive and determination to make us a tough England side.”
In reference to accusations about Prior in the book Cook said in an interview with the BBC: “That was probably the biggest shock for me. He is a great man who has been a fantastic servant for English cricket.
‘Hopefully if he can get through his really nasty injury, we could see him again in an England shirt. He has to be remembered as a guy who put his heart and soul on the line for England all the time, and the team was all that mattered to him.
‘He has put everything into the England shirt and he should be incredibly proud of that.”
Asked if he recognised the accusations of a bullying culture in the book Cook was adamant. “No I don't,' he said. 'International cricket is a tough place and as a team you are striving for excellence at all times.
Certainly at some stages those frustrations probably boiled over more than they should have done, but that was only people desperate to succeed and wanting to know the other ten blokes around them were committed 100 per cent to them.
‘Did it over step the mark a couple of times? Possibly, but we addressed those issues – this is something that always happens in teams. It certainly wasn't a ‘bullying environment' at all in my eyes.”
‘As the captain over the last couple of years, I have tried to make it as successful as I can for the young players coming in and to make them feel comfortable.
‘International cricket is a tough environment to perform in compared to county cricket because of the level of scrutiny. It's a big step up and it is a tough environment.
‘From this summer you have seen those young guys coming in and I take a lot of pride from that – seeing people like Gary Ballance, Joe Root and Chris Jordan really thriving in this environment playing international cricket.”
Cook finally emphasised his determination to carry on leading England next year when they will compete for the World Cup and the Ashes. “Without a doubt.
It's been an interesting summer for a number of reasons, but we finished off in great style by winning the Test Series against India.
‘You always learn as England captain and I made great strides forward and I will continue to do that. I feel very comfortable now in the England captaincy role, I really feel that I have the support of the lads. We just can't wait to go to Sri Lanka now and face the challenges ahead over the next twelve months.”