Monday, 19 November 2012

A Tribute To Grit

The first Test match between England and India ended this morning in what will seem a crushing nine wicket defeat for the visitors, with India chasing down a paltry 77 to win just after lunch on the 5th day.  That the match lasted this long is a testament to a great partnership of 157 between wicketkeeper Matt Prior, desperately unlucky to miss out on a 2nd innings century after missing out on a fifty in the first innings, and England Captain Alastair Cook, who defied the home bowlers for 556 minutes and 374 balls for a marathon 176.

Since vehemently calling for Cook to be dropped during the 2010 home summer, I and all other England fans have watched him go from "satisfied with a 60" to "not quite pleased enough with 160".  He of all the other England players have embraced batting coach Graham Gooch's "daddy hundred" mentality with the most relish.  Since the first Ashes test of the 2010/11 series, Cook has scored 2408 runs in 24 matches (averaging 65.08), with 8 hundreds and 7 fifties.  Of those 100s, for half of them Cook has batted past 150 with two of those four ending with him past the 200 milestone.  He has developed that most wonderful trait of a successful batsman, that one thing that sets them apart.  Greed.  He wants to score as many runs as he can, and he is angry when he feels he has left runs "out on the field", as it were.  At the age of just 27 (he will be 28 on Christmas Day, a birthday he shares with another left hander who has opened the batting for England in the last decade, Marcus Trescothick), he currently has amassed 6772 Test match runs for England.  The English record is 8900, held by...Graham Gooch. Of the major Test playing nations, England are the only one that do not have a bowler with more than 400 Test wickets and/or a batsman with at least 10,000 Test runs.  Cook should, baring injury, put that right before too long.

Like his South African contemporary Graham Smith, Cook is not the easiest on the eye of batsman.  His style of batting is to grace what Pot Noodle is to the fine dining experience.  He is content to leave the ball, waiting for bowlers to get too straight and stray onto his pads.  If they learn this lesson and try and drop it short, he has a punishing cut shot and a decent command of the pull shot.  He is by no means a big hitter (he has 777 Test 4s, and only 7 maximums), but he is aware that six singles dropped into the leg side carry the same value as one massive boundary clearing blow.

The First Test will disappoint him in its result, as it is the first time he has tasted defeat as Captain in a Test match (he won both matches during his caretaker spell in Bangladesh in 2010), but he may well be happy to reflect that he is the first Test captain EVER for ANY country to score a century in his first three Test matches, he has notched more centuries on the subcontinent for England than any other player (5), and he has just notched the highest score EVER by an England captain in a Test match in India (his 176 beat the previous holders 144.  The previous holder was Kevin Pietersen).  These three milestones are very nice, and will probably produce a wry smile on the captains still boyish face, but he will want the rest of team to follow his lead and find a method with which to combat the attack of India.  If he doesn't pass fifty again on this tour, but England somehow pull out a win, then he'll be happy.  But I suspect if England are to come back in the series, the captain staying at the crease will be crucial to achieving this.  The voyage with Captain Cook is only just beginning.

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