I’ve never been Alastair Cook’s biggest fan. I doubt anyone has spent longer discussing his technical frailties against top class bowlers than me. At the end of the day, I just don’t like watching him bat. But I’ve loved and cherished every single second of his whitewash-avoiding double century in this match. My vocabulary doesn’t possess the superlatives to describe it.
In many ways Cook has been a punchbag for English cricket’s dissidents over the years. There was his role in the KP sacking – although I personally don’t think he played much part at all and simply followed orders – and Giles Clarke’s revolting “right kind of family” comments will probably haunt him forever. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if some England supporters covertly wanted him to fail in this match. They’ve waited years to put the boot in, and call for him to be dropped, and after an abysmal sequence of scores this year they probably though Cook was finally finished. They might have to rethink that one now!
The truth is that the England cricket team would be lost without Cook. He hasn’t always produced against the best, or stepped up when we’ve really needed him, for a long time. But he’s still the only player we’ve got who’s capable of digging in and really making the opposition pay. He doesn’t let teams off the hook (like Joe Root does so frequently) and I think he’s delightfully old school. Tom Harrison probably sees him as some kind of amusing anachronism.
Yes we can pick holes in Cook’s marathon effort. He was dropped twice by Steve Smith, should have picked up the fact that Dawid Malan and James Vince both got inside edges when they were dismissed lbw, and we can’t ignore that fact that conditions in this match were tailored made for Alastair – there was precious little seam movement, no spin, Australia were missing their fastest bowler and, of course, the Ashes had already gone.
However, no other England batsman took advantage of the situation, did they? All the other batsmen either weren’t good enough on the day or got themselves out to lazy shots. I’m looking at you Joe Root and Moeen Ali in particular. The truth is that Cook (with the possible exception of Malan) is the only batsman in the team capable of playing this kind of marathon signature innings. The others are all ‘modern batsman’ or products of England’s white ball revolution. They can all muscle the ball over the boundary in multiple ways, but they neglect the muscle that matters most: the one between their ears.
The fact is that Cook has almost singlehandedly saved England from a humiliating whitewash against a flawed Australian team than possesses three superb fast bowlers (when fit), the world’s best batsman, and precious little else. Did you see Jackson Bird bowl? There can’t be any strength in depth in Australian cricket if this is the best reserve seamer they’ve got.
Yes there’s still a long way to go in this game. England might still screw things up. But if England manage to win or draw this game I will be forever grateful to Alastair. He’s saved us from total humiliation, restored some pride, and shown his colleagues exactly how to construct a proper, disciplined test innings. Well played, sir. And don’t go retiring just yet.