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Different opposition. Same old Cook

Posted in England v Sri Lanka 2011

Alastair Cook

Keep on running: Sri Lanka suffer just as Australia did at the hands of Alastair Cook

Much has happened since the turn of the year: there has been an uprising in the Middle East, Britain is now at war with Libya, and a certain couple from the upper classes got married.

Yet little seems to have changed in the life of Alastair Cook.

Ashes hero in Australia over the winter and the man whose name will forever be linked with England's historic triumph Down Under, Cook marked his return to international cricket with a century today.

A damp day at Cardiff could not be much further removed from temperatures of 30-plus degrees in Sydney, the scene of England's Ashes-crowning victory in January and Cook's last outing for his country.

Ashes memories may be beginning to fade (although the rain over the last three days has provided Sky Sports with plenty of opportunity to delve into the not-too-distant archive), but Cook's hunger for runs has in no way diminished.

Fêted on his return to these shores after amassing a scarcely believable 766 runs in Australia (he had a book named after the feat, for goodness sake), any fears that Cook would in any way rest on his laurels were blown away indisputably over the course of this afternoon.

In truth, those who have spent any time in Cook's company know he is not one to believe the publicity, far less court it.

A man of deed rather than word, he prefers to let his cricket do the talking - and in that respect he was in loquacious mood against Sri Lanka today.

He spent 263 balls compiling an unbeaten 129 that was typical Cook: unhurried, unflashy and, in the kindest possible way, bordering on routine.

Alastair Cook

Cook accumulates off his legs as he progresses with almost inevitable ease to a typically composed century on the third day

If there were moments of concern after he lost his captain, Andrew Strauss, in the last over yesterday, or nightwatchman James Anderson without addition to the score this morning, we did not see them.

If he was worried by England's failure to score more than 11 runs in the first 11 overs of play today, he hid it well.

With Sri Lanka's seamers operating in a strict corridor outside off stump and Ajantha Mendis probing away at the other end with an unorthodox action unfamiliar to Cook, it would have been understandable had the frustration he and his team-mates experienced in the field extended into this morning.

Cook, though, has rarely been accused of lacking patience, and his response was to continue batting just as he did in making 24 yesterday evening. Just as he did when compiling two centuries and a double hundred in Australia. Just as he has done for much of a Test career that has now seen him score 5,259 runs at an average of 48.

We saw the stiff-armed forward defensive strokes which repelled the Australia bowlers more often than they would care to remember, we witnessed numerous unfussy leaves, and we took comfort from the occasional opening of the face as he steered behind point.

As the shine wore off the ball and Sri Lankan legs and minds grew wearier, so Cook - and Jonathan Trott, who shares many of the same traits and with whom he added an unbroken 240 for the third wicket - was afforded greater opportunity to score.

Jonathan Trott & Alastair Cook

Jonathan Trott and, to a lesser extent, Cook take the acclaim as they leave the field. Their partnership is currently worth 240

Anything in the same postcode as his pads was tucked unerringly through midwicket or square-leg, he punished any aberration in length by the seamers and spinners alike, and his running was never less than urgent.

All the while, Cook and Trott never paid anything less than due respect to those deliveries that demanded it - the run-rate remained below three an over for much of the day - and among the loudest cheers was reserved for the square drive from Cook that ended a 20-over spell without a boundary encompassing the tea interval.

On 99, Cook twice cut Suranga Lakmal straight to backward point. Did we sense a few nerves? A repeat stroke off the next ball, only slightly to the fielder's left, answered the question emphatically.

It is worth noting that Cook, Trott and those to come (poor old Kevin Pietersen spent the best part of the day sat with his pads on) will rarely face an attack as unthreatening as this, nor a pitch as docile.

Still, the efficient manner in which they went about their work is to be applauded rather than derided, and Strauss’ perma-smile as the milestones came and went masked the disappointment he must have felt at missing out in such benign conditions.

There was little discernible difference in Cook’s approach even after he reached three figures, save for a couple of relatively expansive drives through extra-cover late in a day that ended with him acknowledging the applause of the crowd, his team-mates and the opposition in typically reluctant fashion as he and Trott left the field.

It was further evidence that some things never change.

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