Sir Alastair Cook says Dom Sibley has earned the chance to open for England against New Zealand
Watch the first Test between New Zealand and England on Sky Sports Cricket from 9pm on Wednesday, November 20
By Oli Burley
Last Updated: 11/11/19 1:47pm
Twenty-five years ago, England were preparing for an Ashes campaign under Mike Atherton and the UK's number one song was Pato Banton's 'Baby Come Back'.
The first National Lottery draw was also about to take place. Fast forward a quarter of a century and the urn is retained in Australia, Tom Banton is making the headlines and the lottery has generated £5.7 billion of investment for over 106,000 community sport projects.
Former England captain Sir Alastair Cook - the nation's leading run-scorer of all time - explains why that funding is so crucial and looks at England's opening options ahead of the two-Test series against New Zealand, which you can watch live on Sky Sports Cricket from Wednesday 20th November…
In terms of cricket, where is that lottery money spent?
Cook: "The grassroots: it helps fund facilities, as well as clubs and initiatives like All Stars - the ECB's scheme which introduces children aged five to eight to cricket. It gives such a boost to the game. The week after Ben Stokes took England over the line in the Cricket World Cup final, 7,000 more people signed up to All Stars.
"It's one thing having a successful England team but you need the funding to support that at grassroots level. That's how you find the next Ben Stokes. It's something you're aware of when you're playing but it's only when you stop playing that you fully appreciate it. I've got young children myself and have a much better grasp now of what goes on to help grow the game. It's extraordinary."
How big a challenge will it be for England to win the Test series against New Zealand?
Cook: "It's a tough place to go and play. The people are friendly and it's a relaxed place to go, but the quality of the opposition is very tough. I toured there three times and only won once - in 2007/08 - and once again England can expect to face a good side out there.
"New Zealand are well-drilled and have a very good bowling attack in those conditions, led by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, with the option of Neil Wagner who offers them variety. Factor in world-class players like Kane Williamson and it will be exciting.
"England have a new coach in Chris Silverwood and when that happens you can feel a new cycle building and it will be interesting to see how the new guys who have been picked go, and how Chris starts building the momentum for the side. Knowing Silverwood like I do, from his time in charge of Essex, he will get the team very, very focussed and he will have a very clear and simple game plan."
Who would you choose to open alongside Rory Burns?
Cook: "Without wanting to be harsh on Zak Crawley, I would go with Dom Sibley given the amount of runs that he has scored over the last couple of years. He is streets ahead of everyone else in that regard when it comes to county cricket. I know that doesn't mean you are going to score runs in international cricket, which is a very different game, but he's earned his chance over the last couple of years.
"He's faced the most number of balls and is an old-school opener, who will lay a foundation; there aren't many frills to his game but he'll look to take bowlers into their third and fourth spells. He bats at the same pace - if he gets past 60 or 70 he'll carry on in the same vein and get a big score. He's always been on the radar and in the last couple of years he's taken a step up."
Where does that leave Crawley?
Cook: "The selectors are always looking for people who are slightly different - players who might not have the stats behind them but when you watch them bat you see a bit of class.
"I saw him play a couple of times against Essex this summer in one-day and four-day cricket and he had something different. He hit the ball very cleanly, very straight and he's a good player of the short ball. For a young kid, his rise has been very steep and meteoric: a couple of years ago he wasn't in the Kent side and now he's one of their leading batters. We don't know if he'll play on this tour but he's certainly one for the future."
One of the abiding memories of recent tours of New Zealand is the way Matt Prior and Monty Panesar clung on to earn a nail-biting draw in the third Test in 2013. As captain, what are your memories of that finish?
Cook: "I was so nervous - especially watching Monty's running between the wickets! It was one of the great Test match finishes, with Prior and Panesar clinging on to the very last ball. Not much happened in the previous days but we found ourselves under the pump and it took a heroic innings of nearly 200-balls faced from Prior to save the game.
"We had a few nine-wicket-down draws under my captaincy but that was up there. Fate was with us that day as Prior overturned an lbw decision and got bowled but the bails didn't come off. It was a remarkable game."
Earlier in that series, Steve Finn scored 56 off 203 balls batting at number three as nightwatchman! Was that one of the more surprising innings you've seen?
Cook: "The Watford Wall! He was on an incentive scheme, so every time he passed a certain milestone he got an award or treat from the team. We haven't really seen it from him since; he's the type of batter who thinks he's in once he's played one good shot and he goes after another. But what a great man."
England now have Jofra Archer in their pace ranks. Could he be the deciding factor in this series?
Cook: "Jofra has come in and done extremely well. His pace gives England a different attacking threat and he can turn it up on flat wickets. We saw on a green top at Headingley that he cut back on his pace and concentrated on hitting areas and got a five-for, highlighting what a talent he is. He complements the bowling attack really well. It's not all going to be plain sailing for him but he's an outstanding cricketer."
Finally, as we celebrate 25 years of the National Lottery, how has your luck been?
Cook: "I wouldn't say I play religiously but I do have a go if it's a big rollover! I can't remember even winning a fiver. Tom Westley keeps telling everyone at Essex that he is going to win the lottery; he's utterly convinced so let's see how that pans out."
Watch day one of the first Test between New Zealand and England live on Sky Sports Cricket from 9pm on Wednesday, November 20.