England duo Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara available for opening weeks of Essex’s season

Monty Panesar

Monty Panesar

England skipper Alastair Cook will be given the perfect opportunity to rekindle his international form by making runs in Essex’s top-order during the opening weeks of the season.

Cook, who captained England to a recent 5-0 Ashes defeat against Australia, is available for the county’s opening four Division Two County Championship games (Derbyshire and Leicestershire at home and Surrey and Gloucestershire away), as well Essex’s first NatWest T20 Blast game against Middlesex at Lord’s.

He will be joined by England team-mate Ravi Bopara, who will add much needed firepower at the top of the innings as well as an ability to be useful with the ball.

The duo’s inclusion has meant coach Paul Grayson has resisted the temptation to draft in an overseas player for the time being.

“We are holding fire at the minute,” said Grayson.

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“I feel really confident and comfortable with my squad for the first month and having Ravi (Bopara) and Cooky (Alastair Cook) is great news for Essex and England.

“We’ll see how the squad develops in the opening weeks.

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“If we pick up any injuries on the bowling front, then we might have to bring in a bowler, if not we might go for a batsman.

“We have got one or two players that want to come and join the team, but at the moment we are holding fire.”

He added: “With a match-winner like Monty Panesar in our side and Cook and Bopara starting the season, we have a nice balance, but that’s only on paper and we know we have to perform this year, especially at the start of the season.”

Meanwhile, England skipper Cook expects the reasons behind Kevin Pietersen’s controversial axing to be made public soon.

The mystery surrounding the ECB’s decision to call time on Pietersen’s international career has remained unanswered in the fall-out of the winter’s 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

The ECB have suggested they are not yet in a position to reveal why Pietersen’s glittering career was cut short – a position Cook, reiterated yesterday at his county’s press day at Chelmsford.

“It was a tough decision. The decisions will be made clearer in due course,” he said.

“You just have to respect that at the moment. It is frustrating.

“That is the position I’m in.”

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