LONDON (AP): Alastair Cook denied Wednesday he gave an ultimatum to England management to relieve him of the captaincy if Kevin Pietersen was recalled, but agreed with Pietersen's extended exile from the team.
Cook's comments at Lord's, on the eve of the first test against New Zealand, were his first in public on the recent turmoil in English cricket. Former captain Andrew Strauss was appointed director of cricket and immediately sacked coach Peter Moores, and told Pietersen, discarded since the 2013-14 Ashes series, that he would not be considered until after the summer campaign.
"I do agree with the decision," Cook said of barring Pietersen. He declined to say why, with some despair.
"This has been going on for 15 or so months. We've got to start really looking forward, we have to really, really focus on what's important to us (as players).
For me, it's about leading the team out tomorrow at Lord's. All that external stuff over the last 10 or so days isn't important."
Pressed about whether he could play with Pietersen, Cook said it was irrelevant.
"That's not a decision I've got to make, or have to make," he said. "That's not a decision I have to worry about."
But the prospect of the two of them in the same dressing room beyond the summer has been widely speculated in English newspapers.
Most believe Cook, not willing to forgive Pietersen for criticisms in his autobiography, barred the batsman's recall by threatening to resign as captain.
The English and Wales Cricket Board, so the media say, went with the least worst PR problem. But Cook holds sway only as long as he's captain, and if results don't come against New Zealand, then especially Australia, he will likely be replaced by new vice-captain Joe Root.
"There was no ultimatum," Cook said. "I can deny that, I don't quite know where that came from."
He said he and the players weren't consulted by Strauss and new chief executive Tom Harrison regarding the moves against Moores and Pietersen.
"I want it to be that way," said Cook, in defining the trust between the team and management to do their jobs without interfering with the other.
Cook appreciated Strauss spelling out his reasons and vision to the team on Tuesday, and said he was sorry for Moores, who was a players' coach and helped him improve. Cook noted that, as captain, he's working with a fourth national coach, caretaker Paul Fabrace, the former assistant.
Strauss was searching for Moore's replacement, and Fabrace, who coached Sri Lanka to victories in the World Twenty20 and Asia Cup last year, confirmed he was willing to become head coach, or continue as assistant.
Cook confirmed he will open the batting with Adam Lyth, who will make his debut as the replacement for the retired Jonathan Trott, but wouldn't reveal the fate of the squad's other uncapped player, fast bowler Mark Wood.
As for New Zealand, captain Brendon McCullum said the late arrival of himself, Kane Williamson, and new-ball bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult from IPL duty, would not be offered as an excuse if they don't hit the ground running.
"Last year, a few of us went from the IPL to the West Indies and we scored 500 in the first innings, so it can be a positive," McCullum said.
"We've still been playing cricket, still been playing in pressure environments. The guys have got simple games which we'll try to roll out, and they're very professional about how they go about things, so that won't be an excuse for us."