Alastair Cook started Day Four of the first Test against India on 74 not out. He ended it on 168 not out, scoring 94 runs from the 90 overs he was part of on the day. He faced 217 balls out of the 540 India bowled, which is about 40 per cent of the deliveries. He let Matt Prior, who shared an unbeaten and potentially match-saving 141-run stand with him, face 190 of them. The wicket-keeper batsman got 84 of those 141 runs.
All these numbers do not make for impressive reading when read out of context. Now, let’s add some background settings.
After watching his side crumble to 191 all-out in the first innings in reply to India’s mammoth 521 for eight declared, Cook had forged an unbeaten 111-run stand with opening partner Nick Compton (37) for England after being asked to follow on. England went into stumps on Day Three still 330 runs behind. Even with 10 wickets in hand, the visitors had to bat out the majority of the next two days and 180 overs that lied ahead of them, after being polished off in 74 overs in the first innings by the Indian spinners.
The flights out of Ahmedabad had been booked for Sunday evening; Sourav Ganguly even announced so in the commentary box. The hotel the two teams would be residing at in Mumbai for the second Test would’ve anticipated an early arrival. Even the Barmy Army would probably have planned a sightseeing trip of Gujarat for the extra day. But Alastair Cook had different plans.
The newly-appointed England captain produced a monumental and exceedingly industrious innings of 168 not out to shoulder his team out of the big ditch it had found itself in. With the support of Prior (84 not out), Cook inconspicuously wiped off the deficit to propel his team to 340 for five at stumps on Day Four, taking a paltry lead of 10 runs, but a lead nonetheless. If anything, England went into the fifth day with their noses psychologically ahead, after not many would’ve expected India to bat again 48 hours ago.
Cook literally did not break a sweat as he batted through the day in Ahmedabad’s dry heat and drove England past their deficit. He has now batted for 75 overs over the course of the two innings and given England more than a snowflake’s chance in hell of saving this match. More importantly, he's given his team the confidence to go and score some runs against the Indian tweakers on slow, parched turners. Even if England do go on to lose this match, they’ll go out with the belief that they can rectify things in this series if, perhaps, they get the chance to bat first and put the runs on the board.
Patience is a necessary virtue for visiting batsmen in trying Indian conditions, something which many touring teams have learnt the hard way. Cook’s innings at Ahmedabad should go on to be the ideal example of using patience to play spin in India.
Cook showed admirable temperament in building his innings of 168 off 341 balls. He was patient with his shot selection, played with soft hands and punished any loose deliveries to the fence. He hardly played any shots that made you go wow, with the exception of a sublime pull off Umesh Yadav’s bowling towards the end of Day Four. He primarily played on his more educated backfoot, punching the ball on both sides with ease. He took on the spinners confidently, cutting them and driving them with a pleasure unseen in the rest of the England team.
Not a single person present at the Sardar Patel Stadium realised when he reached his century and, later, his 150.That is most likely to be the case if he goes on to score a double century on the final day today.
Cook gave a lesson in how to use your bat as an anchor and slowly build the innings around you. He took 70 singles in his knock and scored 20 fours. Someone more extravagant like Kevin Pietersen would hardly reflect such numbers; but Cook is not Pietersen. He scored all around the park sans the ‘V’ region, unlike India’s star batsman Yuvraj Singh; but Cook is not Yuvraj either.
If Test-match batting is just about accumulating the runs without anyone noticing it; if it is about knowing your strengths and limitations, and using them astutelyto get the results for your team, then it is difficult to find a better batsman in the world than Alastair Cook.
If the Kevin Pietersens and the Virat Kohlis of the world – with their swashbuckling style – are the protagonists of batting, Alastair Cook is the textbook antagonist. If the Virender Sehwags and the Chris Gayles are the sprinters of cricket, then Alastair Cook is the marathon man. And the cricketing world needs more such antagonists and marathon men to do the donkey work for their sides without getting the deserved adulation.
Cook, only 27 years of age, scored his 21st Test ton in the process. Only the great Sachin Tendulkar had more tons (25) at this age. The century places him on par with his predecessor in captaincy, Andrew Strauss, and Pietersen. Only Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott have more, at 22 tons. Considering Cook plays for another decade, he is sure to go well past that record.
Cook’s168 not out at Motera is now the highest score by an English captain in India. It is also the first time that any captain has scored three centuries in his first three matches in charge. It also makes him England's top centurion in the subcontinent, with five hundreds.
Alastair Cook, thus, even broke records without anybody coming to know.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and Editorial Consultant at Cricket Country. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn't fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber)