Cook mounts bid for Ashes naming rights
Posted in England in Australia 2010-11
A colleague posed the question today: will this series be remembered as ‘Cook’s Ashes’?
Ian Botham’s name is inextricably linked with the summer of 1981, Andrew Flintoff is remembered by many as the man of 2005 and Don Bradman dominated Ashes contests in the 1930s and 40s to such an extent that grounds would empty as soon as he was dismissed.
Regardless of how the final Test pans out - thus far the pattern established in the second innings in Brisbane and bucked only once in Perth (ie. England in control) has continued at the SCG - Cook is no less deserving of such an honour.
Leading scorer. Batting lynchpin. Hero. God. Take your pick from a growing list of descriptions for a player who has done more than any other to shape the outcome of this series.
His contribution had already reached mammoth proportions long before he embarked on a magnificent 189 in this game, his third century of the series and one which took his run tally to a staggering 766 at an average of 127.66. Throw in the tour matches and that figure climbs to 1,022.
Only Wally Hammond has scored more runs in a Test series for England - he managed 905 in the 1928-29 Ashes - but no player of any nationality has batted longer than Cook, who has spent more than 36 hours (yes, 36) at the crease in seven innings across five Tests.
To think that he began the tour as the England batsman whose place was under the greatest threat.
It is nigh on impossible to fault anything Cook has done, and his astonishing figures are testament not only to an improved technique, but also to his hunger, concentration, temperament, patience and fitness. I could go on.
He has batted with utter ruthlessness, punishing an Australia attack that has looked more threadbare as the series has developed.
This innings was not without its moments of fortune - indeterminate strokes fell just short of second slip, short-leg and midwicket, and a direct hit from Mitchell Johnson would have seen Cook run out, all before lunch. He was also caught off a Michael Beer no-ball yesterday.
Yet they were exceptions to the rule. For the vast majority of his 342-ball innings, Cook was in near total control, collecting runs with the delightful ease of a child gathering conkers.
He may not possess the bar-emptying capabilities of a Botham or Flintoff - his efficiency puts him closer to Bradman - and Cook himself would admit that, with bat in hand, pragmatism comfortably outweighs flair.
He knows his scoring areas - predominantly square of the wicket on the off side and in the arc between midwicket and square-leg - and Australia know them too. That they still can’t stop him says everything about Cook’s mastery of them and conditions.
Phil Hughes even resorted to what the Aussies will call gamesmanship (a blunter assessment was downright cheating) when he claimed a catch that never was at bat-pad.
To describe Cook as workmanlike is a gross injustice - two exquisite cover drives off Michael Beer, completed with a flourish and on one knee, have not been bettered all winter.
Yet in batting in such stoical fashion for such lengthy periods, he is capable more than any other England batsman of grinding Australia down. A cricketing Cliff Thorburn, if you will.
Having spent the equivalent of six days watching Cook at close quarters, Australia could be forgiven for wondering if he is some sort of batting robot. He doesn’t even sweat, for goodness sake.
His demeanour matches his batting: cool and calm.
He greeted his hundred with a contented skip and a punch of the air (he's got nothing on Kevin Pietersen's breakdancing) and even Hughes’ flagrant disregard for any notion of fair play was met with only a look of mild surprise.
In statistical terms, the illustrious figures of Sutcliffe, Compton, Gooch and Hobbs never achieved what Cook has in this series.
Aged just 26 and with 5,130 Test runs at 47.50 to his name less than five years into his international career, there seems little doubt that he is destined to become one of England’s all-time leading batsmen.
Few who have watched him over the last six weeks could claim any great surprise if he ended it at the very top.