Alastair Cook has announced his arrival with a painstaking century that usually comes with a high degree of diligence. This is his third tour of India in seven years and on the basis of the skill, ability, knack and capacity to adjust with the heat and humidity, the 304 runs he has scored in four Test matches with a half century and century on debut in Nagpur, he’s all set to join the select band of England cricketers who have in their own way and effectively conquered India’s spin bowlers.
Looking beyond this four-Test series, Cook can also be said to be proceeding towards achieving greatness; his facts and figures (83 Tests, 6555 runs, 20x100s with 294 as highest and 29x50s for an average of 47.85, 73 catches) are almost phenomenal and bear testimony to his success away from home and on territories spinners have ruled the roost. His performance in 36 Tests away from home (3147 runs at 51.59 with 10x100s) is the reason behind England and the world’s estimation of him as a solid and reliable player.
Cook is a sort of batsmen who will grit his teeth, show his chest, grind the opposition and steer his team to safe waters. He may not be always pleasing to watch, but nonetheless, effective.
On Wednesday at the Brabourne Stadium he got acquainted with the brown surface and clear light conditions which are more likely to be prevalent in the first two Tests at Motera and Wankhede. Neither was he forced to flinch by an ordinary quartet of seam bowlers nor hoodwinked by the spinners he faced for six hours.
On Thursday Ashok Dinda bowled around his pads the first ball and the left-hander neatly directed the ball to the fine-leg fence. The Bengal seamer, who was an honest trier among the Indian bowlers, did manage to end the England captain’s innings after the latter had shown watchfulness for six hours and nineteen minutes.
In his first long occupation of the crease Cook demonstrated the virtues of a typical left hander — working the ball of his pads and hips, push than firm drives and interspersed the odd fiery cuts and pulls — and most importantly the patience of a dogged opener; unlike the flashy and flamboyant David Gower who scored 558 runs in a dozen Test matches.
The 27-year-old left hander from Chelmsford has a good and inspiring record in India and Sri Lanka (5 Tests/435 runs) where the cricketing ecosystems are a far cry from the often cold and grim conditions at home and where the upper and lower limbs are demanded a different work load and tuning to play shots.
It’s a matter of fact that England faltered and floundered against Pakistan’s spinners — off-spinner Saeed Ajmal (24 wkts), left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman (19) and Mohammad Hafeez (5) — but even on the face of extreme predicament Cook made 49 and 94.
England lost that series 0-3 and as he said at the press conference his team has done lot of work to make amends in India. They bought SG Test balls a year ago and have worked under Andy Flower and Graham Gooch.
As he himself has admitted, Cook learnt to ply the trade as an opener from Gooch and Flower who spent five summers at Chelmsford from 2002 to 2006 and at a time when Cook cut his teeth in County cricket.
The significant part though came when he opened the England innings with Strauss and since he has not looked back, scoring enough runs to be placed behind Gower (8231 runs in 117 Tests), Strauss (7037 runs in 100 Tests) and Graham Thorpe (6744 runs in 100 Tests).
In a short span of time Cook has become the 13th highest run getter after Gooch, Alec Stewart, Gower, Geoff Boycott, Michael Atherton, Colin Cowdrey, Wally Hammond, Kevin Pietersen, Strauss, Len Hutton, Ken Barrington and Thorpe.
How important the rise of Cook is also evident in his partnerships with Strauss (4711 runs in 68 Tests at 40.97), which is third behind Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (6482 runs in 89 Tests at 47.31) and Mathew Hayden and Justin Langer (5655 runs in 64 Tests at 51.88).
Furthermore Cook has also been successful in the second wicket partnership with Jonathan Trott (1381 runs in 19 Tests at 69.05) and with Pietersen for the third (2544 runs in 35 Tests at 63.60). All this impressive set of numbers stack up heavily in his favour to succeed in the four Test series to be played at Motera, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur.
England (runs scorers in India): Mike Gatting (13 Tests, 862 runs), Tony Grieg (10/724), Ken Barrington (6/674), Keith Fletcher (14/655), Graham Gooch (9/591), David Gower (12/558), Ian Botham (7/554), Denis Amiss (8/507), Andrew Strauss (5/489), Allan Watkins (5/450), Tim Robinson (5/444), Graeme Fowler (5/438), Alan Knott (16/436), M.J.K.Smith (9/432), Ted Dexter (5/409) and Paul Collingwood (5/400).