Gooch lauds protégé Cook's best
Graham Gooch believes today’s superb unbeaten 168 is as good an innings as he has ever seen from Alastair Cook and proves he is blossoming under the responsibility of being England captain.
By stumps on day four of the first Test against India - his first as permanent captain - Cook had batted throughout the four sessions of England’s second innings and helped them successfully overturn a mammoth initial deficit of 330 runs.
Cook’s 21st Test century, combined with Matt Prior 84 not out in an unbroken 141-run stand, took England to 340 for five at stumps and a lead of 10 heading into the final day in Ahmedabad.
It was an utterly defiant and resourceful performance on a worn pitch favouring India’s spinners, which might not yet save England.
Gooch, England’s batting coach, has spent much of the past decade, for club and country, being impressed by what he has seen from his Essex protégé - but does not believe he has seen anything better than this knock.
“Some players blossom under the captaincy as a performer, and he has certainly blossomed under that responsibility here,” said Gooch, who as of today stands one behind Cook in England’s list of all-time most prolific centurions.
“It was great commitment from our guys and great fighting spirit. There was belief in their own ability, and Alastair led from the front as captain.
“That will do him the world of good to put that score on the board, showing what he is capable of and what this team is capable of.
“I think that was as good an innings as I’ve seen him play, because he was under great pressure after a poor first-innings performance from the team.”
Cook’s great strengths, Gooch points out, are his ability to adapt to conditions and an awareness of his own limitations.
“He can do it because he is one of the best players in the world,” the former England captain added. “It is not just physical skill I’m talking about - you need skill between the ears.
“This lad has had a great temperament from when he first started and came here (to India) to make his debut (at Nagpur in 2006)
“He proved even then the priceless skill of knowing how to play. From the outset, he knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do - and he still has that skill today. He crafted a century today. It wasn’t a flamboyant innings - he did the job that was necessary.”
Prior’s effort, meanwhile, should also not go unnoticed, for once again he showed an exceptional ability to adapt to circumstance in a patient 190-ball stay that still featured some typically fluent strokes through the off side.
“Matt has been a fantastic cricketer for England over the past few years,” said Gooch. “He has played some great counter-attacking innings.
“He comes in at seven; he likes to take on the bowlers a bit and he likes to play an aggressive type of game.
“He tailored that general style to stay with Alastair. You still saw some shots, but he showed resolute defence - and that is the style of play that worked.
“If you saw how the Indian players played, they do attack but they also stick in there and don’t take chances. Matt did that today, and showed he was adaptable.
“The skill of scoring runs is being adaptable; you can’t score the same way every time. You have to tailor the way you play to the conditions. That is what stands one player out from another.”
India remain favourites to go 1-0 up tomorrow, but, even if they do, Cook and Prior have made them work much harder than it seemed they might.
Gooch is reassured that England have shown their opponents they will not be pushovers in this four-Test series.
“India put 520 on the board and played very well. They are a very good side and exceptional at playing in these conditions,” he said. “We’ve shown today that we can cope with those conditions as well.”