By Bharath Ramaraj
A long while back, when Alastair Cook was just 15, former England batsman Keith Fletcher and his then coach had said about him, “Just about the best young cricketer I have ever seen…” When asked how far away is Cook from playing for England? He replied, “Perhaps half a season if things go well this winter.”
A few years later when Cook started to accrue mountains of runs in the Under-19 World Cup held in Bangladesh in 2003, he seemed destined to reach greatness. With a dash of bravado, he played rapier-like cuts and debonair pulls in that tournament, to give an inclination of what was to come. Days have turned into months and months into years. An entire decade has passed by since Cook topped the batting charts in Bangladesh. And the young prodigy Cook destined for success is about to play his 100th Test at the WACA. Keith Fletcher must be a proud man indeed.
If we turn the clock back in Cook’s career, over the years, he has shown that he is an epitome of serenity and poise at the crease. Who can forget him being called up at the age of just 21 as a replacement for Marcus Trescothick in 2006 in India, and Cook responding to the challenge of playing in alien conditions with a zen-masterly hundred in his very first Test at Nagpur. The touch of calm countenance and equanimousness he showcased in that match was something that one won’t expect from a debutant.
Actually, it seemed like every-time his detractors have found flaws in his game, Cook has given a fitting-riposte to them. Last time around in Australia, critics were baying for his blood and there were calls for him to be dropped. But they had to swallow a bitter-pill, as Cook grafted, grafted and still grafted his way to the pinnacle of success by accruing three centuries. The series against Australia in 2010-11 was an epochal-making moment of his career.
Further back in South Africa in 2009-10, question marks were raised about his technique, but on expected lines, he played a heart-stirring knock at Durban.
Last year, Cook led from the front in India and came out as a true winner against quality spinners. As other batsmen suspiciously looked at spinning tracks as though there were king cobras and common Indian kraits underneath, he came up with intrepid performances. He undoubtedly, played a major part in England achieving a historic Test series win in India for the first time in well over two decades.
Even in One-Day cricket, cricket pundits believed that he never had it in him to score quickly. However, in that format too, he has blazed his way to success.
Cook is a batsman who would never send the crowd into a tizzy with grace and grandeur. He is a workman-like player who waits for the bowlers to bowl to him. His bread and butter shots are the cut and the pull. Such is his unwavering concentration prowess that he can wait until the cows come home for the bowlers to bowl to his strengths.
The essence of his simple and straightforward batsmanship can be encapsulated by the way he played in India in 2012. When Indian spinners drew him forward, he would defend most of the times by taking a big front-foot stride. Once the spinners got tired, he would make most of the short deliveries bowled to him by playing his favourite shot — the cut. Only occasionally, he would dance down the wicket with twinkling footwork to hit the spinners mainly through the long-on region.
Playing 100 Tests is a monumental feat for any cricketer. It must feel like being on a magical flight to the outwardly high of the universe for any cricketer. Regardless of performances, to achieve such a monumental feat at the mere age of 28 is a rarity in international cricket. So, one can only salute Alastair Cook for his glittering achievement.
(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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