Alastair Cook is England's leading run-scorer in Tests     Getty Images
Alastair Cook is England’s leading run-scorer in Tests Getty Images

There has seldom been anything glamorous about Alastair Cook. They will probably laugh at you if you put up Cook s name for consideration in an all-time England XI a team where Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, and Len Hutton will contend for two slots. Even after you ignore these three titans, not everyone would place Cook ahead of Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch. Even Marcus Trescothick probably had more devoted fans. And I am not even talking of middle-order mavericks like Wally Hammond, Denis Compton, or Kevin Pietersen (even Joe Root) as well as that voracious run-glutton called Ken Barrington. No, few would list Cook among England s all-time greats. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot

But then, if you do not put Alastair Cook s name in the mix, you will be missing out on the man with most runs and hundreds in the history of English cricket. It is not only about being at the top: Cook has almost 1,800 runs and 6 centuries more than any Englishman, and he is not even 32. A batting average of 46.87 is not much, but that goes up to 48.91 overseas, and that includes the recent ordinary series in Bangladesh. And of non-Asian batsmen only Stephen Fleming, Clive Lloyd, and Brian Lara average more than Cook s 57.09 in Asia if you put a 1,500-run cut-off.

Note: Curiously, Pietersen, the man everyone seems to be missing on the India tour after the Mirpur debacle, has the worst average under the same restrictions.

There is nothing extraordinary about Cook s approach. He is unattractive. There are numbers to back up the Cook success story, but little finesse. His drives are not even authentic drives: they are pushes, hard pushes down the ground. He pulls confidently, but chases balls 10,000-run men are not supposed to change. He flashes needlessly. He edges. He struggles. He departs. READ: Finn: A worthy back-up capable of producing terrorising spells on his day

Indeed, that was what happened with Cook in Bangladesh. He looks ugly, very ugly when he fails. His failures are so ugly that at times it seems he does not belong there. He makes you wonder whether it is this man who holds got all those records.

But at times he survives, which happens far too often than you actually realise. And when he survives he makes them count, for he faces 99.6 balls per dismissal on an average, which is impressive for anyone who spends half his Test career opening batting in England. He also goes past fifty once every three Test innings. He gets those hundreds. Twice in his career he has bettered 250.

Cook survives. He looks ugly, but he is quicker than you think. His strike rate of 47 is not much, but one must remember that he is yet to find a steady partner at the top. Andrew Strauss was the best he had; despite his success as captain, Strauss averaged 40.91 in Test cricket; the others were worse. READ: Chris Woakes: England s joker in the pack

This year Cook s strike rate has shot up to 56 (64 at home). There has been a distinct change in approach. He has gone after the wide ones more often. The effort to rise beyond the tag of the grafter is evident. The hundreds have not come, but he has gone past the fifty-mark 7 times in 23 innings. Despite the marked increase in pace, his runs have come at 45.05; the new Cook has been almost as prolific, but gets his runs at a faster pace, perhaps because he is aware of the fact that all good teams have got their runs quickly, and who better to show the way than the man at the top?

It almost worked in Bangladesh. After three failures, Cook had finally got going in the fourth innings at Mirpur. Chasing a steep 273, Cook and Ben Duckett had taken the score to 100 for the first wicket. The two men had gone after the bowling from the beginning. Despite the fact that Cook dropped anchor, his 59 had come off 117 balls when he middled one to silly-point.

The intent, of course, was there throughout the series. At Chittagong he had tried to sweep Shakib Al Hasan s second ball, clearly with the intention of hitting him out of the attack, lost his balance, and was bowled. The old prod came back in the second innings, and Mehedi Hasan Riaz claimed him, once again cheaply.

Come Mirpur, and the second-innings wicket at Chittagong seemed to be an aberration. Once again he came out with an aggressive mindset. He spanked Mehedi through cover and mid-wicket for two fours in three balls. Two balls later he survived against one that turned: he was caught back in his crease; the ball took turn and headed for his edge; but Cook s adaptive skills led him to change the face of his bat. The ball dropped in front of slip and raced to the fence. READ: Gareth Batty: Alastair Cook s potential trump card against India

He had raced to 14 in 11 balls. Unfortunately, the 12th ball turned out to be his last, for he played back to Mehedi, could not bring his bat quick enough to cover his pads, and was ruled leg-before.

Cook had failed in Bangladesh, but the intent was clear; he was going to lead the charge, and was not going to let go of any loose delivery. He will be happy to take backseat if his partner rules roost, but if that is not the case he will be the one going after the bowling even if it means he would risk his wickets.

It is a curious approach, for England already boast of men like Joe Root, Ben Stokes, and Jonny Bairstow, even Moeen Ali, all of whom can score rapidly. Indeed, they are part of the new-look England side that are a significant improvement on the outfit that had disastrously exited from World Cup 2015.

Cook s reasoning might have been based on two aspects. First, he knows that he does not have the best of spin attacks in the world. Moeen, Adil Rashid, and Zafar Ansari may be bowlers of different styles, but they are certainly no Jim Laker-Tony Lock-Johnny Wardle. There is also no certainty when James Anderson, his spearhead, will be back in business. Cook knows he needs to give his bowlers sufficient time to bowl in order to create an impact of any sort.

Secondly, though England do not have big names in their batting line-up, they bat deep, almost without a proper tail. Every single person who took field for England at Chittagong had at least one First-Class hundred to his name, averaged over 20, and had over 3,000 runs. That is not something most sides can boast of. READ: India vs England: Jake Ball’s golden opportunity to break the ice

Cook perhaps thought he could afford to take risks at the top. There was no need to protect your wicket if you batted that deep. As it has often happened with England in 2016, two men have got together to forge a partnership to bail England out if they were in trouble. They crumbled in spectacular fashion in the fourth innings at Mirpur, but that was an exception, not the norm.

Indian adventures

Cook should have fond memories of India. His previous three outings have fetched him 866 runs at 61.85. He may become the fourth overseas batsman after Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, and Matthew Hayden to score a thousand runs on Indian soil. He also has 4 hundreds in India, a count matched only by Everton Weekes, Lloyd, and Hashim Amla. His only outing short of outstanding came in 2008-09, when he scored 2 fifties from 4 innings.

Cook had got 60 and 104* on Test debut. In 2012-13 his average was 137 before three successive failures brought it down to 80. At Ahmedabad, he was seventh out for 176 in the second innings after getting 41 in the first innings. That did not save the Test, but was enough to make India bat again despite a 330-run deficit.

At Mumbai Cook (122) and Pietersen (186) added 206 in contrasting styles, turning the Test and the series on its head. And if that was not enough, his 190 at Kolkata ensured a decisive 207-run lead for England.

It is different this time. The senior men, Ian Bell and Pietersen, are both gone. Jonathan Trott, yet to be intimidated into retirement by the Mitchell Johnson assault, was a steady presence at the top. Matt Prior had five years, 3,000 runs, and 6 hundreds behind him. Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar formed a threatening pair. Anderson was a fit man who took 12 crucial wickets in the series. READ: James Anderson s unavailability a massive setback for England, but all is not lost

In other words, Cook had an army of seasoned men around him. This time it will be different. Stuart Broad, his ace fast bowler in Anderson s absence, has been a disaster in India. On the last tour he played 2 wicketless Tests. Like Broad, his teammates have tasted success, but not under these conditions.

The onus will be on Cook this time. Root will probably be England s star batsman going into the series. In all probability he will establish his claim as the finest of the four youngsters whose names are always mentioned together (the others being Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, and Kane Williamson a list that does not, for some reason, include Quinton de Kock).

The focus was not on Cook during England s Ashes win in Australia in 2010-11. He amassed 766, a number that became iconic enough to lend its name to a book on the series. Those huge grounds did not fetch him boundaries he has never been one of those bludgeoners so he had to run hard, keeping himself fresh; indeed, 57% of his runs on that tour came in singles.

Perhaps the biggest example of that approach came at Sydney. Anderson and Tim Bresnan had bowled out Australia for 280. Cook knew he had to make it big. Cook also knew he had to get them quick. He had already established himself as the danger man, so they had come out to prevent Cook from getting boundaries.

So England reversed the strategy. Strauss went after the bowling with his 58-ball 60, while Cook ran, and ran hard. A remarkable 66% of his runs came in singles, and despite that he got his runs at 55 runs every hundred balls.

Of course, that was six years back. But then, a year back he had seen off 528 balls over 14 hours for his 263. A telling statistic of that marathon was his singles, which amounted to 73% of his innings. Cook ran 191 singles in the scorching heat of Abu Dhabi, something he is certainly not used to. There is still some life in those bones, after all, for Cook is only 31, slightly more than the age at which Ryan Harris had debuted; and Harris was a fast bowler. READ: Will Jonathan Bairstow’s run-scoring juggernaut continue versus Ravichandran Ashwin and co.?

Unless there is a major slump in form or a grievous injury, Cook will tour India again, but it will certainly not be as difficult. He has talented men, but almost none of them have faced world-class spinners on rank turners, which India will prepare for England, more so after the latter s dismal show at Mirpur.

England had problems against Yasir Shah at Lord s and The Oval on pitches they had prepared themselves. Handling Ravichandran Ashwin (whose tweets have made it clear that he had been following Bangladesh versus England keenly) and Ravindra Jadeja on Indian pitches will be far, far more difficult. The injury of Rohit Sharma and the inclusion of Hardik Pandya probably indicate that India may throw in the in-form Amit Mishra in the mix as well, using Pandya as the second seamer.

If that is indeed the case, the pitches are going to be vicious. England may bat deep, but so does India, with Wriddhiman Saha, Pandya, Ashwin, Jadeja, and Mishra all capable men down the order, which will nullify England s strength. The Root advantage will be balanced out by Kohli; if one argues that Root has superior numbers to Kohli in Test cricket, a counterargument will be that the Kohli-Ajinkya Rahane pair is at least as good as any pair in the English line-up.

India do have a strong and deep batting line-up. Their bowling attack is superior on spinning pitches. England s biggest card can be their 10,000-run man, their captain, at the top.

Make no mistake, Ashwin is waiting for the challenge, for he has a tendency of taking out the stars in the opposition line-up. He will go for Cook and Root.

It will be a tough challenge, but Cook has had his share of tough days, and has come out in flying colours, top-scoring in what history will remember as two of England s most famous series wins. A lot will depend on whether Cook rises to the occasion once again, as batsman, as captain.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)