By David Green
Let's go back in time to two summers ago. Pakistan were visiting English shores for what would prove to be an eventful and never to be forgotten tour - and not for the right reasons sadly.
Alastair Cook couldn't buy a run. His game looked completely awry and Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer toyed with their new victim like an excitable pair of kittens with a cornered mouse.
Drop him was a familiar cry from pundits and spectators alike. But then, from the depths of despair, Cook came out firing at The Oval with a courageous second innings hundred that silenced the doubters and confirmed his place in the Ashes squad that winter. Not that it was ever really in question thanks to England's wise trigger shy selectors.
We all know what happened next. Cook morphed into a left-handed Jack Hobbs and plundered three hundreds and 766 remorseless runs as Australia were ground into the dust. Cook hasn't looked back and since the start of that Ashes tour has amassed over 2,000 runs at 72.75 with his hundred against South Africa in the ongoing first Test against South Africa making it seven hundreds in 21 Tests. These are phenomenal figures.
But Cook has not been content in merely becoming the best opener in Test cricket today. When he was handed the One-Day International captaincy after Andrew Strauss retired from the 50-over format after yet another disappointing World Cup, even supposedly informed observers like Michael Atherton likened Cook to a donkey that did not have the game for 50-over cricket. Others felt Cook was not captaincy material not least because his supposed limitations as a batsman meant he wasn't worth a place in the side.
The critics were wrong again on both counts. His batting in a format that many thought was alien to him has been nothing short of a revelation. In 25 matches since assuming the captaincy, Cook has plundered 1180 runs at 51.30 with four hundreds and seven fifties. More telling is that he has done that at a strike rate of 88.65. Not bad for a donkey!
And what about his captaincy? Whilst his skills as a leader are still clearly developing, he has won five out of his six series at the helm - the aberration of course being the 0-5 whitewash in India - as England have climbed to No 3 in the ODI rankings.
In two years, Cook has gone from chump to being spoken of as the only challenger to Sachin Tendulkar's haul of 100 international hundreds. That is ridiculous of course as Cook is some 75 hundreds off achieving that, but it does show how far this unassuming character has come. Long may it continue.
(David Green is the brain behind the irreverent The Reverse Sweep blog and also writes for a number of cricket publications and sites such as World Cricket Watch. You can follow him on Twitter also @TheReverseSweep. David was a decent schoolboy and club cricketer (and scored his maiden 100 the same week that Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test ton) but not good enough to fulfil his childhood dream of emulating Douglas Jardine by winning the Ashes in Australia and annoying the locals into the bargain. He now lives with his wife and two young children in the South of France and will one day write the definitive biography of Hedley Verity)