Sir Alastair Cook looks for new motivation with Essex
"The feeling of being totally at ease with yourself after winning a series - that was the only real time where I missed it. "
Last Updated: 09/04/19 12:36pm
Alastair Cook, back at his boyhood club Essex and surrounded by some team-mates he has played with since he was 13, is in a cheerful mood as he jokes about reporters who attempt to work out how to refer to the newly-knighted former England captain.
The 34-year-old called time on his 12-year international career in September 2018, leaving him with a far quieter winter, although he was tending to a very young baby at home, than he has experienced for many a year.
It is a decision Cook is more than at ease with but he admits to not being aware at first of what his motivation for playing cricket would be without the pinnacle of Test cricket to aim for.
"Absolutely there was a question of if I was still motivated to play cricket," he tells Sky Sports at Essex's media day in Chelmsford.
"We are in a slightly unusual situation as this is the first year that I have ever played cricket without the carrot of international cricket and without that motivation of something bigger.
"No disrespect to county cricket but when you're playing for England it is the ultimate, it is what has always driven me to push myself above and beyond.
"Without that I don't know how I'm going to respond. So far it has been great, I've really enjoyed it, I've gone about my business in the way I think is right, but it is a change.
"I have got to give (head coach) Anthony McGrath huge credit for the way he has liaised with me. We planned the winter, he has given me a little bit of leeway here and there. He has been fantastic and hopefully I can reward him with some runs."
England sealed their first overseas Test series victory in almost three years in November as Joe Root's side crushed Sri Lanka 3-0, while Cook sat watching on from home.
The country's leading run-scorer shared in the joy he saw his team-mates express on the television in the sub-continent but felt a slight twinge of regret at not being able to share in the post-match celebrations.
A late night text from Ben Stokes provided little comfort in that moment, Cook confessed.
"When you give up something as big as playing for England there are going to be moments when you miss it," he explained.
"When England won the Test series in Sri Lanka, the end of that second Test match, knowing what they were going to experience that night - having put so much into a tour as a group, it has been hard and you have been under pressure when you win something like that and it is a job well done.
"Test cricket gives ultimate satisfaction that I don't think any other type of cricket does due to the nature and longevity of it. The feeling of being totally at ease with yourself after winning a series - that was the only real time where I missed it.
"I got a text from 'Stokesy' of him and Root with a beer at the back of the bus and it was kind of like kicking a man when he was down but that was the only time I felt I missed it."
Much of what Cook has experienced over the course of the winter has been uncharted territory, with the opener going five-and-a-half months without picking up a bat.
The decision to have a complete rest has allowed him to return to the Essex nets, for the first time since he was a young 13-year-old boy with a dream of one day playing for England, completely refreshed.
His first net session in February did not all go his own way though, which coming from a player as accomplished as Cook may offer some comfort to all cricketers around the country as they prepare for their first matches of the season.
"It has been a bit surreal coming into the indoor nets where I had been coming for sessions when I was 13 and doing a lot of time in there, which I hadn't done for a while," he said.
"I was trying to remember which way to hold the bat and wondering if it would still work. It was amazing - I was having throw-downs and for the first 15 minutes I wouldn't have been a club third-team player
"Then suddenly I got a couple of cuts away and in the last 45 minutes of the session Tom Huggins, who was throwing to me, said: 'It's come back hasn't it?' and it was amazing how quickly it did."
There has of course already been one post-England high point for Cook, who was knighted at Buckingham Palace in February after being included in the New Years Honours.
While he may have a 'Sir' at the beginning of his name now, it has not stopped the dressing room from coming up with an abundance of new nicknames for him.
"There have been some jokes about it! Some of them call me 'Sir' but that's more tongue in cheek," Cook explains while laughing.
"I'm SAC (Sir Alastair Cook), that's my new nickname and something else normally follows it after! I seem to be the butt of most people's jokes in general at the moment. It definitely keeps your feet grounded!
"It was a very special day but very surreal, it is even surreal now even talking about being a 'Sir' and I don't think my words could ever do it justice. It is very humbling to be in quite an elite group."
Read part two of our exclusive interview with newly-knighted Alastair Cook where he discusses a new motivation for play playing cricket on Sky Sports' digital platforms on Tuesday, April 9.