For the last few years, Alastair Cook has been one of the bedrocks of England’s batting line-up. However, in his last fourteen innings in Test cricket, he hasn’t notched up a century, which is a a major cause for concern for England. Cook’s poor run puts more pressure on him and his side. Bharath Ramaraj has more.
When England toured Australia in 2010-11, Alastair Cook’s detractors were convinced that after his struggles earlier during the summer against Pakistan on wickets that largely offered copious juice for pacers to exploit it to the hilt, he was going to be a sitting duck against Australian seamers.
However, Cook didn’t not only score mountains of runs to make his critics swallow the bitter pill, but his incandescent performances erected large edifices for England to build humongous totals, and subsequently win a series in Australia for the first time in more than two decades. In a stark contrast to 2010-11 Ashes series, Cook has been in woeful form by his high standards in the ongoing series Down Under. This time around too he came on the back of struggling to hit top form in England. Yet, there were hopes that on tracks with pace and bounce, he will shine like a beacon and rekindle fond memories of previous tour. Unfortunately, his barren run of not having essayed a century now has extended to 14 innings. To make it worse, being the opener and the captain of the side, everyone expects him to lead from the front.
Yes, there have been instances when despite the captain of a national team struggling for form, others with gladiatorial-like intensity scripted some famous victories. For instance, when Australia’s tactically brilliant captain Mark Taylor found runs hard to come by in the 1996-97 season, the Waughs, Greg Blewett and company touched towering peaks for Australia to beat both West Indies and South Africa.. In late 1970s and early 80s, England’s captain Mike Brearley was never known for being a fine batsman. Yet, he led England to memorable wins. It can be said that they are exceptions to the general rule.
A case in point of Cook leading from the front could be seen when he brick-by-brick constructed three remarkable hundreds in India last year. It sort of galavanised others in the side and England went onto record their first Test series win in India since 1985.
The swashbuckling middle-order batsman Kevin Pietersen sent seismic shocks to Indian spinners at Mumbai last year with his awe-inspiring hundred was a proof of the fact that Cook’s performance in the first Test at Ahmedabad had shown the path to success for the right-handed Pietersen.
Australia certainly have given a lot of thought on how to bowl to England’s seasoned campaigners, including Cook. They have pinned him down by largely angling it across him outside the off-stump by hitting the good length spot. Cook is a back-foot player who rarely plays shots through the covers. So he has been a touch late on the ball when it is pitched up to him and has edged it to the slip cordon.
If we jog our memory back to the Under-19 World Cup in 2004, after Cook’s resplendent showings in the earlier part of the tournament, in the semi-final, the West Indies tempted and teased Cook by pitching it up on a fourth stump line. Finally, Ravi Rampaul, by bringing one back into him shattered Cook’s off-stump. It is a well-known weakness that Australia have exploited now in this Ashes.
Ever since Cook almost single-handedly took England to the semi-final of 2004 Under-19 World Cup with two monumental hundreds, he has showcased incontrovertible self-belief and the willingness to pass the trial by fire with consummate mastery. His recent failures will again test his resolve. However, it will not be surprising , if he for umpteenth time is able to empty his mind and banish those inner demons to essay one those big knocks, termed as ‘daddy hundreds’ by England batting coach and Cook’s mentor Graham Gooch.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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