In Part Six of the series, we look at two cricketers who could easily be mistaken for siblings in the way they went about their game. Arunabha Sengupta compares Bill Lawry and Alastair Cook - two men at the top of the order, linked by the penchant of putting substance over style.
Both left-handers. Both openers. Both started out on their respective journeys as attractive stroke-makers, but along the way each chose to put a non-negotiable price on his wicket, preferring survival to panache.
Each formed half of a celebrated opening collaboration – and each inherited the mantle of leadership when his partner at the top moved away from the scene.
Separated by four decades and diametrically distinct cricket calendars, Bill Lawry managed far fewer Tests in his career than Alastair Cook has already played by the tender age of 27. Yet, there are angles, viewed from which, their careers seem scripted with the same pen, facets furnished with the same fundaments.
Lawry started his career with strokes that spoke of a left hander’s natural elegance, charming many during his first English tour of 1961. Cook at the crease sometimes seemed to conjure magical memories of David Gower – the eerily similar languid ease as he drove crisply and pulled with élan.
However, circumstances forced Lawry to modify his style, making it lean and spare, cutting out the flair and flamboyance till it looked almost skeletal – as indeed he did himself. Ian Woolridge called him a corpse with pads.
Cook, especially after the Australians had probed his weakness around the front pad, gradually shifted focus towards ensuring the immutability of the not out beside his name on the batting card. Runs became a by-product of crease occupation, accumulated as a function of time rather than etched with elegance. He has seldom scored faster than 45 runs per hundred balls since the beginning of 2011, the strike-rate dipping to a ridiculous 35 on Asian tracks.
While Lawry distinguished himself with sterling performances against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, bringing out his tenacious best against the supreme attack of his day, Cook chose to plunder 766 runs in five Tests during a dream run against the Australians. Both managed four hundreds in the inhospitable lair of their Ashes rivals.
Lawry forged a legendary collaboration with Bobby Simpson to add 3600 runs at the top of the order. Cook combined with Andrew Strauss to amass 5253. When he decided to call it a day, Simpson handed over the reins of captaincy to Lawry. Strauss, on his part, made way at the helm for Cook.
And while Cook perhaps has the greater part of his career yet unrealised, steps of numerical immortality that look set to welcome his tread, at the current moment the numbers they have left in their wakes look distinctly alike. While both average 47– even more striking is the fact that when Cook had played the same number of Tests as Lawry, they had scored within 200 runs of each other; which, adjusted for Bangladesh, almost manages to achieve perfect congruence.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)