A Cook with the perfect recipe
Over the past 12 months Alastair Cook has taken apart several records set by greats of England’s past, and following his latest century for the Three Lions, when will his exploits at the crease cease to amaze? His Test average over the past 10 innings sits at 122.3 and following his latest knock, a typically patient 106 from 231 balls, he is the third man to secure eight Test centuries since the turn of the decade.
The 26-year-old’s future may have been all the more gloomy had his inconsistent form going into the Ashes Down Under cost him his opening spot. Yet the selectors’ maintained their confidence in him, despite only picking up 226 runs in 10 innings against Pakistan and Bangladesh last summer.
He has been personified by his ability off the back-foot ever since he opened his international account against India in 2006, cutting and pulling with brutal, yet elegant strokes that rendered him a dangerous opponent to any attack. But ever since that opening Test in Nagpur, where he collected 164 runs, the Essex-batsman struggled to maintain his dominance over bowling attacks that exposed his then flawed footwork.
Before the Oval Test last summer against Pakistan where he would have sold his house for a decent score, his feet would shuffle about the crease, his head would fall over to the off-side and that would be that. That score of 110, a potent combination of superb balance and precise placement ushered in a change of form for Cook.
Following intense alterations to his technique over the autumn with England batting coach Graham Gooch, the talismanic opener dispelled any doubts over his abilities on the front foot and is now enjoying the majority of the power struggle over opposing bowling attacks once again. Indeed when it comes to power, mainly through media exposure today, Cook remains unswayed and relaxed, spending time away from the limelight with his girlfriend in the countryside following his heroic Ashes exploits last winter.
The 766 runs he achieved in the space of a record-breaking 36 hours at the crease laid waste to a shell-shocked Australian attack and brought England their first Ashes win Down Under since Mike Gatting’s elite of 1986-87. His prowess at the crease took him to 13th in the all-time run-scorers for a Test series, a certain Sir Don Bradman notching no less than three of the totals above him; Wally Hammond the only other Englishman to succeed him with 905 during the Ashes in 1928-29.
The notable innings in which he scored an unbeaten 235 over the course of 630 minutes at the Gabba in November epitomised the intense concentration and focus that England fans and pundits alike have come to cherish. The individual tenacity that brought him several records in that series alone have rendered him a national hero, his name being uttered alongside the likes of Sir Jack Hobbs and Colin Cowdrey, a feat that many have strived to achieve but failed in doing so.
He has become such an immovable object at the crease in recent times that rash shots and now stumpings have brought his downfall, the latter incurring for the first time in his Test career. It even becomes a surprise to many when he misses the ball, and when he is dismissed people are reduced to some degree of shock.
Prior to the recent draw at Lord’s, Cook had played a significant part of the four innings victories that the national Test side has enjoyed in the last six games. But even without victory, his presence is steeped with authority, the five centuries in his last 10 Test innings justifying his command at the top of the order.
Still closer to his 26th birthday than his 27th, Cook is shaping up to be a man that will be written into English cricketing folklore, with 18 Test centuries to his name, six from the last nine games, he is just four shy of matching Geoff Boycott, Wally Hammond and Cowdrey at the top of the England pile.
His style of play has been criticised in the form of playing patient knocks, struggling to rattle through the gears when necessary and up the ante. He is fast becoming the James Bond of the back-foot nudge, the heart-throb of the new-ball-leave, his strike-rate even dropped in the final hour before lunch on the fifth day at Lord’s; it is an area where his game does suffer and it will need to improve, particularly with the ODI captaincy now resting on his shoulders.
His performances have come against bowling attacks devoid of the notable heavyweights of old, but you cannot take anything away from a man who has discovered a purple patch that has shot him up to fifth in the Test batting rankings. Alongside fellow batsmen Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, England look to have finally produced players capable of bullying bowling attacks without fear, a luxury that the team has not been able to enjoy consistently for many years.
Form will come and go for the Essex-opener, but he has set his bar high and from what we have seen, he will continue to be England’s run machine more often than not.
Picture: Getty ImagesTagged in: Alastair Cook, Cricket, england, The Ashes
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