Cook: Australia monkey is off my back
Alastair Cook believes his hundred today against Australia, following a first-innings fifty, has gone a long way to correcting the major blemish on his Test batting record.
Cook, whose unbeaten 132 on day four put England in a position from which they should at least save the opening Ashes Test tomorrow, previously had a modest record in his two series versus Ricky Ponting’s side.
In those 10 matches he averaged 26.21, with only one century - at Perth in December 2006, compared to his overall Test mean of 44.30.
But Cook, who put on 188 with Andrew Strauss at the Gabba before England overturned a 221-run first-innings deficit to lead by 88 at stumps, feels that monkey is off his back.
“It was very satisfying,” Cook said. “I said at the start of the tour I had a point to prove. In my last two series against Australia I hadn’t done that well.
“Over the last 12 months I’ve had a bit of a tinker with my technique and tried to improve it. The results today, I’m very happy with.”
Cook followed Strauss to three figures after the captain, whose ton was his first in Tests for 16 months, became the only wicket to fall today - for 110.
It could all have been very different, however, had Strauss not survived a Decision Review System call from the first ball of the innings yesterday when Ben Hilfenhaus thought he had him lbw.
As he reflected on his and Cook’s achievements, he still had wry recollections of that near miss - and his first-innings duck.
“The third ball of the game was pretty much close to as bad as I’ve felt on a cricket pitch, getting out in the first over of such an important Test match,” he said.
“But that is this wonderful game of cricket; sometimes it does remind you that you need to respect the game.
“The the first ball in the second innings, I thought was a very good leave,” he joked.
“My heart was definitely in my mouth. I did think it was a bit high - I was clinging to that hope anyway.
“Thankfully, it was the bit of luck sometimes you need. It wouldn’t have been a particularly pleasant match if that one had been out.”
Strauss knew he had to make the most of surviving that scare, to prove a point for himself and his team after the draining experience of seeing Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin apparently take the game away from England with a ground-record triple-century stand.
“Yesterday was a very frustrating day for us. We did a lot of things right, but Australia batted exceptionally well,” he added.
“We had to come back into the game today, and that meant some of our batters had to stand up and deliver - and thankfully, Alastair and I were able to do that.
“It was important I took my opportunity, and showed the way. That is one of your duties as captain. It is just a case of sticking to what we have done in the past.
“We have been a very resilient side; we needed to show that today - and we will need to show that numerous times in the coming weeks.”
Yet even with a precious century under his belt, Strauss rues the manner of his eventual departure - stumped when he went down the wicket and failed to cover Marcus North’s off-spin.
“It was not the sort of dismissal we were looking for, quite frankly,” he admitted.
“It was not the sort of dismissal I was looking for as both a batsman and a captain. I picked the wrong ball to go down to, and paid the price.”
Strauss quashed any suggestion of the tourists pushing for victory tomorrow, when Jonathan Trott will resume on 54 alongside Cook, insisting there is still work to be done to secure a draw.
“We don’t like to look too far ahead. It’s a case of starting off tomorrow where we have finished today,” he added.
Strauss and Cook claimed a very notable piece of history early in their stand when they surpassed pre-War greats Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe as England’s most prolific opening pair.
“It’s a nice feather in our cap,” said Cook. “We are very similar-minded and we suit each other batting out in the middle.
“We don’t get too flustered about a lot of things and we keep things quite in perspective. If someone bowls a really good ball, we laugh it off - and move on to the next one.”
Strauss is thankful the run-making milestone, which has long been in view, has finally been passed.
“People have been talking about that for about six months - and since then, we have been averaging about 10 as an opening partnership,” he said modestly, and with a smile.
There was little to cheer Australia, and their all-rounder Shane Watson admitted: “It came down to sustaining pressure, and unfortunately we weren’t able to do that throughout the whole day.
“We let the English batsmen bat well today - and they definitely did that.”