As the fourth day of the final New Zealand-England Test in Auckland ended I wrote off the chances of Alastair Cook’s side coming out of the game with any sort of glory.
Let’s face it, there was no Kevin Pietersen, the middle order seemed to consist entirely of shot-makers and, from heaven alone knows where, the Kiwis had found a captain who must have learnt his strategy at the feet of the sporting gods and an attack that was willing to put every effort in to beating the invaders.
I watched until just before lunch on the fifth day and quit before — as I saw it — England collapsed in a heap.
England’s defeat had been threatening from the first ball of the first Test and I could not bear to watch. It had taken New Zealand too casually — I don’t care how often the coach Andy Flower denies it — and the game had taken revenge for its lack of effort.
Instead of defeat England staged a magnificent recovery, Matt Prior hit a fighting hundred, the tail clung on in an act of pure defiance and dear, laughable Monty Panesar even dived for the crease 10 yards too soon so determined was he not to let his side down.
Superb; I believe that despite all the valiant efforts as it won back the Ashes, England grew up in Auckland, became a team and will now — despite all the trials and tribulations that will hinder it — go on to be one of the great teams in cricket history.
Before this drawn match I had begun to doubt the captaincy of Alastair Cook who seemed to exhibit all the errors of a young leader, determined to prove he could win a Test by putting in the opposition, sure that his unorthodox ways would upset the Kiwis.
Instead it was his opposite number Brendon McCullum who pulled the finest strokes, who made it clear he understood the simple tactics, and whose rough visage was constantly in the eyeline of the England batsman.
McCullum is still the better captain, but if Cook has a brain he will have watched the ways of his tormentor, learnt a few lessons and be a vastly improved skipper for his experience.
All the same Cook has a merit that McCullum does not. He has only been in charge since the unexpected retirement of Andrew Strauss last summer but he has clearly made an impression on every one of his players so that they will fight for him, sacrifice their personal hopes and ambitions and try their hardest even if — don’t do it again, Monty — they find themselves crawling towards the crease while everyone in the ground, including the opposition fielders, are laughing fit to burst.
So Cook, 28, and still a Test baby after 24 hundreds, has made his point and now he has time to learn his trade.
There are plenty of former England captains around who can give him a pointer or two: Mike Brearley, Ray Illingworth and Michael Vaughan all have a vast knowledge to impart although I suspect Vaughan’s brain is already fully explored by the wisest men in the England dressing room. If not, why not?
Cook, who has already shown his batting strength, has the chance to go on to be a great captain in his own right and, with three defensive batsmen at the top of the order, Pietersen to lead the way in attack, and Prior to make the middle of the batting order a fearful combination, to set new captaincy records in the Ashes. Whatever Michael Clarke offers in return.