A place in history at one of the world's great grounds
Sunday 05 December 2010
Anyone who saw the agony of Alastair Cook last summer would be astonished and delighted to learn that he has joined a small and distinguished group of English batsmen who will chatter happily about great days at the Adelaide Oval.
England have not won here since 1994-95, but it has been the scene of some great English innings. Cook's 136 not out is another of them, made even more memorable because it was scored in a lovely place.
Remember Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen, who put on 310 for the fourth wicket in 2006. Michael Vaughan was in his prime in 2002 and his 177 was a wonderfully fluent innings. There must be something in the air. Cook breathed deeply of it yesterday. He had had his best game for England in Brisbane, but his performance here has been even more assured, more versatile. His hundred was chanceless; he was unworried even when given out by Marais Erasmus, calling confidently for a review.
Vaughan's brilliant hundred in 2002 benefited from a third umpire who felt unable to uphold Justin Langer's conviction that he had caught Vaughan in the covers early in his innings, but Vaughan was good enough to take full advantage of his luck. Collingwood's 206 four years ago was a monument to his graft as well as craft. The most memorable thing was his whoop when he reached his double hundred. Pietersen, of course, was Pietersen.
Luck played no part in the apotheosis of Cook. The cramped, nervy batsman of last summer who scored so few runs that his place was doubtful belonged to another time and another place. He had been selected because he pulled off a risky hundred in the second innings of the Oval Tests against Pakistan. He was out cheaply early on this tour. There was no evidence to suggest he might score 302 for once out in the first Test.
In Brisbane it was possible to appreciate why his old master Keith Fletcher says that Cook is the finest young player he has ever coached. At Adelaide yesterday, the prophesy came true. Cook rarely hooked or pulled; he was neat off his legs and cut the ball to the boundary square, behind square and in front of square in a single over. But that is what we have come to expect. What was a revelation was the placement and timing of his cover drives. The bowlers' trade union would black the Adelaide Oval. The wicket is bland for three days; there is no unpredictable bounce and batsmen can concentrate on playing their shots rather than defending their stumps. It is a ground on which cricketers like to leave a mark.
It was often rated as the second-best cricket ground in the world. It was a ground of low stands and terracotta roofs with fine trees, an antique scoreboard and a view of the cathedral that set it apart. Cook has graced this Oval in a period of transition. The members' stand has been transformed into a substantial construction covered by five grey, shell-like roofs. They will be copied around the ground, though the view will be protected. The Oval will be fit to play football before crowds big enough to keep it in business.
When Cook reminisces about his Adelaide hundred on what was once called Test Match Special before most countries stopped bothering with Tests, he can properly boast that the innings was worthy of the surroundings.
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