Alastair Cook    Getty Images
Alastair Cook Getty Images

Alastair Cook is never set. There are no early jitters or unease. If you observe any, they are sheer optical illusions.

Cook gives an impression that you can dismiss him anytime, and that is true. He may edge the same ball that he had previously scythed past point. He may miss the same ball that he had previously flicked past fine-leg. He may get knocked over off the same ball that he had previously straight-driven. You need not fear him. He will soon depart.

And then there are those pokes he is infamous for. Corridor of uncertainty is one place Cook is terrified of, a spot he considers haunted, that all his nightmares pop out from. Close your eyes and paint a picture of Cook batting. Did you see him edge it behind the wicket? The picture is as familiar as Anil Kumble trapping Inzamam-ul-Haq LBW or Mohammad Azharuddin flicking the ones hurled outside off or Rahul Dravid ducking off a bouncer or Ricky Ponting playing a pull or India beating Pakistan in World Cup or Misbah-Ul-Haq and MS Dhoni lifting their teams out of ruins.

Cook can bat all day, find his feet, get his eye in, accustom to the conditions, belittle the bowlers, and poke. No, Cook is never set. His batting comprises two poles of equal measures: A and B.

A is when is he not set yet and B is when he is not set. And sandwiched between these poles are a legion of runs. You can place a bet on Rohit Sharma but Cook. Rohit’s mistimed shot may still go for a six, but Cook will edge the one he had a million times manoeuvred past gully.

While he struggled between A and B, Cook amassed 11,956 runs. While you were perhaps still stuck on A and thinking of B, Cook collected 11,956 runs. While you were in awe of Kevin Pietersen’s strokeplay, Cook accumulated 11,956 runs the most by an Englishman and sixth-most overall. There, I said it.

And how many scoring shots do you think he is armed with? He flicks, yeah. He pulls, yeah. He drives only when the ball is absolutely under his bat; he is lazy otherwise. And he cuts, hell yeah. His variety is limited. There is nothing extraordinary. You have seen or even played those shots. You can do everything that Cook does, but you cannot be Cook. You lack the flavour of which aroma seduces the fanatics. You lack the appetite of scoring runs that Cook has. The only cricketers who have more runs than Cook are Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, and Kumar Sangakkara. He recently turned 33, and has missed a mere Test in his 151-Test career. No, he has never been dropped: Cook missed the third Test of his maiden series against India in 2006 due to stomach bug (oh, the irony: Cook and stomach). In all he has played 149 Tests on the trot (also, a few with Jonathan), the second-most by any player.

Cook has been hit on the helmet, toes, elbows, ribs, and whatnot. During the 2015-16 Ashes, Cook was hit in the groin at first slip. He was in such pain that he refused to stand up for a few minutes, leaving the mischievous Joe Root in splits. If Mitchell Johnson thinks Cook has been thinking about his retirement, he has not judged a matter as worse as this one.

Cook barged into the critics and forced them to put the swords back into the sheaths. Everyone’s at peace. For those who thought that Cook’s sheen has worn off, he stamped the highest score by an overseas batsman at Melbourne Cricket Ground during the fourth Ashes Test. For those who thought that Cook is a flat-track bully, Cook is the only player to score hundreds in five grounds in two overseas nations India and Australia.

If you think the tracks in India are easy to bat on, Cook played on rank-turners and against Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, and Ravichandran Ashwin who appear in the top five of highest wicket-takers’ list for India. If you think the Australian wickets suit Cook’s style of play, he played against Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Johnson, among other dreadful bowlers.

Oh, yes, Cook is a flat-track bully, but not everyone is. And had there been more flat-track bullies, Cook would not have surpassed Brian Lara. There, I said it.

And we have no clue what does he play cricket for? Extravagance is too bitter for Cook s taste. If he plays for records, let him. He is good at it. He is a mere 3,965 runs away from Tendulkar, and again, he recently turned 33. We, however, realise his achievements only when he raises his bat.

No, he is never set. If he continues playing cricket at the age of 43 and has 21,000 Test runs to his name, he will unaesthetically, gracelessly poke the one he had been a billion times manoeuvring past gully.