Now we’re Cookin’ – day two from Kolkata

India 316. England 216-1. Stumps.

If the fairy godmother (Geoff Boycott in a pink leotard and sparkly skirt?) had visited Alastair Cook in the middle of yesterday night, and asked him how he wanted day two to unfold, he might have said something like this:

‘I’d like to polish India off without conceding more than about forty runs, then put on a huge opening stand with Compton and get close to India’s score without losing more than one wicket’.

Then, just as sparkly Geoff was about to disappear in a puff of smoke, England’s skipper might have added: ‘oh, and on a personal note, if I could become England’s leading century making in the process, that might be quite nice too’.

Well, it all came true. After the debacle in Ahmedabad, would saw this turnaround coming? All the talk was about England’s frailties against spin. It was codswallop.  England don’t have a weakness against spin in test cricket – they have a weakness against mystery spin. There is a huge difference. The only mystery about India’s spinners is where Ashwin’s supposedly unreadable carrom ball has gone.

The main talking point of the day, of course, was Cook’s record breaking century. But before we get to that, we should quickly mention our bowlers. They were simply exceptional. It’s brilliant to see Anderson back in form (he hasn’t bowled well since the UAE), and Monty was highly entertaining as usual. His figures of 4-90 off 40 overs were exemplary. Meanwhile, Finn has definitely added extra firepower to the attack.

We should also mention Patel’s performance. He didn’t concede a single run in the entire innings. His figures of 0 overs 0 for 0 were by far his best in tests. Sorry Samit.

So now we turn to Alastair Cook. The man can do no wrong at the moment. What more can we say? To become the youngest player to score 7000 test runs is phenomenal. So what if Tendulkar did it in fewer games? We have to remember that Cook’s form two years ago was so awful that tests in 2010 probably shouldn’t count.

It seems strange with the benefit of hindsight that so many journalists and bloggers were calling for Cook to be dropped during the home series against Pakistan. Myself and my TFT colleague Maxie were two of them.

I still stick by what we said. Cook’s technique was so atrocious during that poor run of form that he didn’t warrant a place in the side. He needed time off to find his feet again; much like Andrew Strauss did before he made his triumphant return to form in New Zealand.

It demonstrates Cook’s considerable mental strength, and the faith that England have always had in him, that he got through this dip in his career unscathed. It might have buried lesser men. Cook’s struggles were very public, but he eventually came through with flying colours.

Who’d have thought that the solution to his technical problems were simply the words ‘back off Goochie’. England’s coaches tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. Some batsmen simply don’t do things in an orthodox way – look at Shiv Chanderpaul. When Cook ignored all the advice, stopped over-thinking, and just played his natural game, the runs returned … and thank heavens they have.

Cook has overcome every single challenge in his career. After a disappointing summer, his most recent challenge was to score runs as captain. People forget how prolific Michael Vaughan was with the bat before he took the England job; his captaincy was brilliant, but England lost their most fluent batsman in the process. Much like his mentor Graham Gooch, Cook’s batting actually seems to have actually improved because of the captaincy. This is absolutely vital for the team.

So is Cook really England’s best ever batsman? Of course not. Had he made any runs against South Africa last summer, then he might be able to claim that crown. However, at the age of just 27, Cook still has time on his side. Unless he loses his balance at the crease again, or suffers a serious injury or mental condition, Cook will probably make somewhere close to forty test hundreds. If he does that, then he surely must be considered England’s all time best.

For now, however, we don’t want to get into this debate. It’s impossible to compare eras anyway. Who can say for certain whether Cook is any better, or worse, than Wally Hammond or Ken Barrington?

Let’s just enjoy Cook for what he is now: a young captain who has given his England team a great opportunity to win a test series in India – something which, in the days when we used to pick four seamers while India picked three spinners, we thought might never happen again.

James Morgan


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