Cook reflects on nerve-jangling day
Alastair Cook’s nerves were so shredded by England’s great escape at Eden Park that he could not bear to watch the final three overs as Matt Prior and Monty Panesar defied New Zealand.
For the fourth time since July 2009, at the start of that summer’s Ashes victory, England today hung on with nine wickets down to somehow salvage a stalemate.
This time, it came on the final evening of the series for good measure; Prior’s unbeaten 110 was the outstanding performance but number 11 Panesar’s assistance plus determined innings too from Ian Bell and Stuart Broad were also part of an unlikely last chapter.
Cook, who has witnessed all of those close shaves yet been unable to affect any from the dressing-room, managed the tension until Broad and then James Anderson were out within the space of three balls to Kane Williamson.
At that point enough was enough for the long-suffering captain, who retreated to a dark corner and relied on fitness coach Huw Bevan and England’s number three Jonathan Trott to relay an ad-hoc commentary - with replays to follow.
“I was pretty good for the majority of it,” he said, drawing breath after Prior and Panesar had kept England’s last wicket intact for 19 deliveries to close on 315 for nine and secure a 0-0 drawn series. “I watched 95% of it - the last 18 balls I didn’t watch, but I was having a running commentary.
“I sat in one place the whole day. Then we lost Broady, and I thought that position had run out of luck - so I thought I’d move.”
Cook is grateful for Trott and Bevan’s efforts, but does not see a future for either in ball-by-ball broadcast commentary.
The amateur pair were tested especially when Panesar contrived to dive several yards before he needed to and had to paddle his way over the line at the non-striker’s end to complete what should have been a routine single to get Prior back on strike against Williamson, who claimed 4-44.
He said: “There were a few ooh-arghs, and then a few expletives saying ‘what’s gone on there?’ Then we obviously had to sit and watch the replay and started laughing - probably the only thing you could do.”
Cook had already spent six hours willing his team on after they got themselves into a tough spot at 90 for four at start of play in theoretical pursuit of 481 to win.
“It was quite a nerve-racking day, when you can’t do anything about it,” he added. “We just kept losing wickets, at intervals. There were two last night, and then obviously two either side of lunch didn’t help.
“Then the two just at the end didn’t quite help the nerves, walking round the dressing-room in circles.”
Bell’s 75 spanned almost six hours, and Broad batted against type to use up 61 balls before he even made a run. Yet it was wicketkeeper-batsman Prior’s seventh Test century which was England’s saviour.
“Matt Prior’s knock was just outstanding,” said Cook. “Working together with Broady and Belly ... it was a great effort by the senior players, standing up and delivering.
“We’ve proven to be quite a tough side to beat, which we’re going to need over the coming months. Ideally, obviously, you don’t want to be in that situation.
“But when you find yourself behind the eight-ball, the character we’ve shown today and at other times in this series - and in India as well - can only be a good thing.”
Prior had several moments of fortune, to go with his skill - not least on 28 when he deflected a ball from Neil Wagner down on to his stumps off his bat handle only for the bails to stay in place.
“You do need a little bit of luck in those situations, and I suppose we did get a bit,” added Cook. “It was a great knock under a huge amount of pressure. He’s had a fantastic winter.”
The captain could only shake his head over England’s bizarre sequence of last-ditch draws since that Ashes epic in Cardiff, swiftly followed by two in one series away to South Africa.
“It’s amazing ... I hope we don’t have to do it again,” he said. “With all of them, the tension is pretty much unbearable at the end. Obviously, everyone remembers the Australia one - because of how important it was at the time.
“This one, because it’s just happened, seems to bring back all those memories. It’s exactly the same feeling, exactly the same tension - people walking round, finding little spots to sit. It’s amazing what cricketers do in those situations.”
Reflecting on the series as a whole, Cook added: “Certainly, we came here to win it. So we’re disappointed we haven’t done that. We haven’t played as well as we needed to win a Test series. That’s the bottom line.
“We fought hard ... but haven’t played as well as you need to beat anyone in international cricket. We’ve got to find out the reasons why that is and get back on that horse and get our standards higher.”