Alastair Cook must surely be the greatest left-handed batsman England has found over the last 135 years since Test cricket began.
Of course the elegant David Gower, a man who could look stylish handing round cups of tea, is by far the most affectionately remembered and Frank Woolley was long held to be the most illustrious but for sheer effectiveness, for the ability to score runs by the dozen or by the hundred, there cannot be anyone to rival Cook.
There are contenders for the title. Geoff Boycott’s long-term opening partner John Edrich, with a background of a large family of cricketers; Graham Thorpe, the finest manipulator of a field and a master of spin bowling; Maurice Leyland and Willie Watson, Yorkshire’s skilled middle order players; Chris Broad whose three centuries won the Ashes in Australia, Marcus Trescothick who quit Test cricket early and Andrew Strauss, recently retired with Ashes honours and 21 centuries.
Great batsmen all, but now they have to stand aside as Cook — sure to be known as Captain Cook after the man who mapped Australia in the 18th century when he sets foot down under as the England skipper — takes the centre-stage.
In Kolkata he has made his 23rd Test hundred and become the youngest batsman — in front of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and a host of other memorable players — to score his 7,000th Test run.
Remember he began his Test career in Nagpur with a century and this week scored his fourth in India, a rare feat by a rare young batsman.
Remember too that so brutal is the rumour factory in England with its descriptions of ailments, bad conditions and appalling pitches in India that no young player can be expected to anticipate a tour this country with enthusiasm. That’s where you will see the measure of the man.
On top of that, Cook is making his first major tour as captain with a side that had grown comfortable with Strauss’s leadership and was split over the Kevin Pietersen controversy. Taking charge cannot have been an entirely inviting prospect but yet you can watch him grow as a leader in each Test.
Players will follow any captain who is successful and that bodes well for the tough Ashes series planned for the next couple of seasons.
Quiet and tough
Cook’s success will not surprise anyone who has been close to the England team since he checked into the team. He is quiet, reserved but tougher than farmers’ boots.
He came to receive the Cricket Writers’ Young Cricketer of the Year award and next day scored a double hundred against the Australians.
He flew from the West Indies where he was touring with the England Lions — its second team — to score his debut Test hundred.
He is clearly admired by his coach Graham Gooch who would not move from his chair while the Essex player was batting on Thursday.
He has ignored the temptations of central London and spends his time off on a farm far from either Lord’s or his home county. He is, in modern words, a thoroughly grounded man, sure of himself and his way to the top.
His personality would be surprising in a man well into his thirties but when he celebrates his 28th birthday on Christmas Day he will be able to reflect that he has achieved enough to wonder if he can one day rival Tendulkar’s massive statistics and so compete with Gary Sobers, Lara, Matthew Hayden and Clive Lloyd as the greatest of all left-handers.