All along the ground © Getty Images
All along the ground © Getty Images

Although England did not profit tangibly from Alastair Cook’s marathon effort at The Oval, it shows the England captain has a underlying, underplayed strength. Abhishek Mukherjee writes his opinion on the 85 he scored under pressure.

Alastair Cook is familiar with adversity of varying kinds in his professional career. The challenges he has faced as an England captain have perhaps hardened his already bulky armour that helped him come up the ranks as a batsman. On Saturday, with the backs against the wall, he produced a typical innings of defiance that may not have been enough to save his team from going down, but defined his cricketing and personal character. He batted almost an entire day against a persistent bowling attack, was awkward and bumbling at times, and intermittently stroked the ball sweetly but maintained his equanimity till a few minutes before the end of the day. Touted potential wielder of many a batting record, cricket has not been perfect for him, like being slain by a part-time spinner after a marathon, undefeated battle against men of more distinction.

He consumed 234 balls to stroke 85. While his partners lost shape or patience one after the other, Cook became the wall. His unique stance involves widening his eyes at the point of facing his delivery, to perhaps underline the old-school importance of watching the ball from the hand and through to the wicketkeeper. The routine is for the rewards of a respectful score against his name at the end of the day. In the first innings he was undone by a drifting, spinning delivery he had little idea of. But in the second, he upped his discipline. READ: Being underdogs ahead of the Ashes 2015 helped us win

So much so that barring a single cover-drive and an edge that went between two slip fielders, all his shots were played along the ground when he chose to put bat on ball. The shot that reflected his resolve was a gentle drive through extra-cover off an over-pitched delivery from Mitchell Starc: a ball there to be put away had him caressing it gently to avoid any potential trouble. David Gower, in the commentary box, described it as ‘firm push, beautifully timed push, timed-for-four push’ as the ball teased the extra-cover fielder to trickle over the boundary paddings at the last moment.

His runs arrived in nudges and pushes, and the boundaries were scored  square of the wicket; there were also cover-drives here and there, cuts, and the rare pull. He enjoyed the width provided by Nathan Lyon, cutting him fiercelypast point on a few occasions. But equally importantly, he left many balls from him, including the jumping, turning variety. READ: Alastair admits to considering resignation as Test captain before Ashes 2015

In May at Lord’s, after his bland century was backed up by a spicy one from Ben Stokes to lead England to a come-from-behind victory over New Zealand, Cook had admitted to not possess the capability to counterattack in the spectacular fashion. His strengths, all through his career, has been obduracy. It is a quality that has enabled him to succeed as a batsman, and convinced selectors to hand him captaincy. It is what enabled him to carry on despite the humiliation of a 0-5 defeat in Australia and the volatile upheavals that followed. It is what disallowed him from giving up one-day cricket for form or scrutiny: he had to be removed. It is what enabled him to score two centuries and an 85 after being asked to follow-on.

They never throw in the towel. That is typical Cook.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)