26 October 2010
20 July 2010
The second half of England’s winter was notable for a tour to Bangladesh that had a 100% win record. Every international that England played, they won. Admittedly, the calibre of opposition wasn’t the highest – Bangladesh, though improving, are no Australia. But England were calm, efficient and they played their cricket in a professional and highly effective manner. They were also led by Alastair Cook, deputising for the absent Andrew Strauss. Cook, a man touted for the England captaincy almost from the morning of his Test debut, led them to a 3-0 one day series win and a 2-0 Test clean sweep, in which he racked up two hundreds in four innings.
Whilst many held reservations about his inexperienced captaincy, few could complain about his batting form. A Test best of 173 in Chittagong was followed by a match winning 109 not out in Dhaka as Cook, like so many before him, found the captaincy to be a positive influence on his game. Now that Strauss has returned to lead the team and Cook has returned to the ranks, what’s next for the young left hander? After a stellar start to his international career, his star has ever so slightly fallen. Despite the good recent form, the runs aren’t coming as prolifically as they once were and it only takes a couple of bad scores for the cynics to start questioning his value to the side.
Cook’s debut seems like a lifetime ago now. Drafted into the injury hit touring party in India in 2006, he made his debut in Nagpur and immediately had people talking. A sedate 60 followed by a classy 104 not out demonstrated a temperament that was ideally suited to the rigours of Test match cricket. He’d already set pulses racing the previous summer against the touring Australians when he raced to a double century in a single day and now he was confirming what those in the know had long suspected about him. His was an old head on young shoulders and he confirmed his promise with stylish hundreds against Pakistan that summer.
A chastening Ashes experience followed. Cook’s technique was brutally dissected by a rampant Glenn McGrath and his Australian colleagues, yet a fighting century in a losing cause in Perth enhanced his standing and hundreds against the West Indies the following summer put him statistically amongst the greats. At 22 years of age and with six Test centuries to his name, he was only two behind the number held by Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar at the same age. Cook was being earmarked as a fixture of the England side and as a future leader.
Problems and promotion
A tough period followed. Between December 2007 and February 2009, Cook failed to pass three figures. The fifties were coming with regularity but he was unable to capitalise on the numerous good starts. It was a frustrating time for him and the weight of expectancy was weighing heavily on his still young shoulders. The fiasco surrounding the England side at the time didn’t help. Coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen were sacked after a dispute and, despite Cook’s promotion to vice captain under the new leadership of Strauss, he, like his team, were suffering.
There was soon to be, however, a brief return to big scoring. Cook hit an uncomplicated 139 not out in a bore draw with the West Indies in Barbados before racking up 160 in a win over the same opposition. Questions were still being raised about his technique, though, and particularly about his weaknesses around his off stump. A lean Ashes summer followed and after a double failure in the first Test against South Africa in Centurion, Cook’s place in the side was, for the first time, genuinely under threat. He responded in brilliant style with a gutsy century in the next Test to help set up victory and a pair of fifties in Cape Town confirmed to many that he had ironed out the flaws in his technique. Gone were the careless thrashes outside off stump. Back was the resolute concentration and desire for runs. As the England team were on the mend, so was Cook.
The next step
Though his numbers aren’t so atmospherically high as they once were, Cook is still statistically punching above his weight. 56 Test matches have brought him over 4000 runs and 12 centuries. He averages a very healthy 44. He’s led the team and put in match winning performances doing so. So what’s the next rung on the ladder for him?
Consistency would be a good start. Cook performed brilliantly with the bat in Bangladesh but for the return series in England last month, he failed to pass fifty. Admittedly, he only batted in three innings and was on the receiving end of some questionable umpiring decisions but he’ll know more than most how fickle the game can be. A couple more low scores could see the same panicking over his place from last summer. But it would be best for him to look forward.
Along with his opening partner Strauss, Cook is one of the bedrocks of this team and still one of the first names on the team sheet. His no-nonsense approach to accumulating runs can only be a positive for the side and if he is able to recapture the stratospheric form of his early England days, then the team will have rediscovered a precocious talent. The Ashes series in Australia this winter is a perfect opportunity for Cook to erase the demons of his last trip and to consolidate his standing as one of England’s finest. That’s what he should aspire to be – one of the greats.
They say that with great power comes great responsibility and, make no bones about it, Cook certainly carries the weight of responsibility. Be it responsibility to get England off to a good start or to help his captain in the field or to play his role as a senior figure. He is no longer the child batting talent of this side, fawned upon by the media. Cook has grown up. Time to start acting the part.
Time to step up to the next level.
28 June 2010
4 June 2010
3 June 2010
Ervine joined Adams at the crease and the two put on a nerve-reducing partnership. Ervine looked particularly in the mood and found the fine leg area much to his liking, hitting identical boundaries. With almost half the runs made, Adams gave his wicket away, top edging a sweep off Tredwell straight to Khan at midwicket. Ervine was then dismissed in similar fashion and Hampshire looked to be feeling the heat out in the middle.
Razzaq joined McKenzie at the crease and the two took Hampshire to within 20 runs of their target with some clean striking and sensible running. Razzaq, known for his big hitting for Pakistan, deposited leg-spinner Bandara over midwicket for consecutive fours and looked to be steering the Royals home. But the returning Stevens had him caught behind as the nerves increased around the ground.
Needing a run a ball from the last three overs, Pothas and McKenzie calmly took Hampshire towards their victory target. Bandara’s last over was picked off for two boundaries and with two needed off the last three balls, Pothas ran one down to third man for the winning runs.