Alastair Cook paced his innings beautifully © Getty Images
Since the Ashes whitewash there have been questions regarding Alastair Cook’s leadership. There have been voices that have wanted him out of the ODI side as well. Abhishek Mukherjee wonders whether the Chelmsford blitz would mark his return to pomp.
Things have not looked good for Alastair Cook. England’s blue-eyed boy — the man who had beaten India in India and had retained the Ashes in the summer of 2013 and the one who has been marked out as the “chosen one” to go past Sachin Tendulkar’s Test numbers — had suddenly found both his role as the Test captain and a slot in the ODI side in jeopardy.
He may not have been the most confident person when he walked out to bat with Essex captain Mark Pettini against the touring Sri Lankans at Chelmsford. The Lankans struck early too, removing Pettini, Greg Smith, and Ravi Bopara with 21 runs on the board. The match was reduced to a 21-over bout, and the Sri Lankans had won World Twenty20 recently; the conditions were gloomy; the Lankans were moving the ball menacingly; Essex ambled to a measly 46 for three after ten overs.
Then Ben Foakes launched the assault, taking Chaturanga de Silva for consecutive sixes; all eyes, however, was on Cook: could he find his way back? He was happy to let Foakes do the scoring, taking a backseat, reaching 25 from 25 balls. He had played and missed early in his innings; one could feel that the knives were being sharpened in the press-box.
Then came the onslaught: first came the occasional four; then came the booming drives. Cook suddenly raced through the thirties and forties, and brought up his fifty with a six off Perera. The next three balls went for ten, and before being caught by Suranga Lakmal off Prasad the next over, he managed to clear the ropes yet again.
He fell for 71 from 49, which meant that the last 24 balls had accounted for 46. Most importantly, only 28 of these had come in boundaries, which meant that he had scored 43 off 43 (42, if one discounts the ball that had dismissed him) only in singles. It was a perfectly planned innings — starting off with singles, handing the strike over to the dangerous partner, and exploding just when it was needed. It was a shaky start that had culminated into a brilliant finish.
The last 11 Essex overs had gone for 115; thanks to Messrs Duckworth and Lewis, the tourists were set to chase 169 from 21 overs; they never got going, and finished on 146 for nine.
It may be too early to judge the Sri Lankans by a single performance in a rain-washed match, but things are finally looking good for Cook: it may be the gush of air needed before the long summer ahead of him.
He has been missed.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)