Bob Willis: Cook bent the knee for his miracle
England's impressive opener has recaptured his authentic form thanks to a simple technical change
Sunday 05 December 2010
What a journey Alastair Cook has made this year. The opening batsman who was down in the dumps and unable to score a run at home against Bangladesh just a few months ago must now be feeling on top of the world after making this Australian bowling outfit look like a pub attack for the second consecutive match.
Cook simply carried on where he left off in Brisbane and will say another big thank you to his guru, Graham Gooch, for helping him to locate a wonderfully rich vein of form. But while it is true that they have worked on his technique a little, he has basically gone back to what he started with.
Cook went through a period, during the past year or so, of faithfully mimicking the method that Gooch used to such good effect. He was actually glancing back when he lifted his bat, trying to make sure he was picking it up straight so it would come back down straight. And it may have helped, because that was the ploy he used at The Oval against Pakistan, when he scored that badly needed hundred in August.
But he has abandoned it in Australia and, as a result, looks a much more natural player – helped, admittedly, by two of the flattest pitches we've ever seen.
The biggest difference to me, though, is the way Cook is bending his front knee when he playsforward. That was a real problem for him when he had that thin trot of form – he was playing with a stiff front leg and either creating the opportunity of being bowled through the gateor getting his bat too far away from that front pad and giving the wicketkeeper and slips catching practice.
Now Cook looks in total command: he's not shaken up by anything that is short, he's hitting long hops in front of square on the leg side and also playing beautiful square drives on the off side, which is an important feature at Adelaide Oval because of the shorter square boundaries.
I think England were taking Cook to Australia come what may. They had their seven batsmen nailed on from the start of last summer. And with Andy Flower having been at Essex while the young Cook was developing, and given that Gooch was also on board, they were not going to jettison the future England captain no matter how lean a time he had.
Cook still needed a recuperation innings, though, and he had it at The Oval without ever being anything like as fluent as he has been in the first two Tests of this series. It should not be forgotten, either, that a proper itinerary at the start of the tour –with three good warm-up matches – also helped.
England's players got a lot out of those games, including a Cook century against South Australia in Adelaide, and the sense of that carefully thought-out programme was in sharp contrast with the complete madness at the start of the previous Ashes trip, when the visitors settled for ridiculous 13-a-side affairs with everyone having a bat and a bowl. You must play competitive cricket, in a meaningful environment, before the Test series, and that happened this time.
Even so Cook, like Jimmy Anderson, had a lot to prove when the series began in Brisbane. Both ofthem struggled in Australia fouryears ago but both have learned from their experiences.
As all sorts of milestones were reached in Adelaide, it was impossible not to wonder just what Cook might achieve in the years ahead if he can keep playing anything like this.
When you think how young he is (26 on Christmas Day), how many Test hundreds he has scored (15) and how many runs he is piling up (approaching 5,000)... If we lookahead another four or five years, double his hundreds and double the number of runs scored, he is going to be looking at Gooch's England record aggregate total (8,900).
While the opening days of the Second Test could not have gone much better for England, Australia's fortunes were perfectly summed up by Ricky Ponting's demeanour.
He has been in snarling mode, having a couple of tiffs with the umpires, engaging in a spat with Andrew Strauss after the first day's play and then moaning at the officials again yesterday because he thought there was time for another over before stumps. It all suggests a captain under pressure, and when Ponting looks in the shaving mirror of a morning he must ask himself where Australia can again find the likes of Lee, McGrath, Gillespie and Warne.
Times have changed, for sure. Australia have batsmen, such as Michael Clarke and Marcus North, out of form. The bowling unit, despite alterations from Brisbane, is struggling. And as for the fielding, well, Strauss's men are miles better in that department – something we've not been able to say for a very long time. All very satisfactory from an England point of view.
Bob Willis will be summarising for Sky Sports throughout the Ashes
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