As one opening batsman from Essex took a significant step towards international rehabilitation yesterday, he paid handsome tribute to one of his most illustrious predecessors. Alastair Cook made his 10th Test hundred for England and he made it clear that he might not have done so without the guidance of Graham Gooch, a player who scored twice as many.
Cook had gone eight innings for England without a fifty and his game, if not going backwards, was standing still. At the end of the last English season following a disappointing Ashes series he and Gooch decided to rebuild his batting method.
"We had three sessions of an hour and a half each week," said Cook. "He worked as hard as me at changing my technique and we worked on trigger movement, backlift and alignment. There was quite a chance to experiment at the end of the summer but it is not the finished article yet, there's a long way to go."
Nobody can have been more pleased than Cook when his mentor arrived in South Africa at the start of this series. It gave them an opportunity to supplement the groundwork they had already done.
For the first hour of self-denial yesterday, Cook must have wondered whether to ditch the new method and go back to the old style as South Africa continually deprived him of scoring opportunities.
He refused to co-operate and alternatively, it seemed, left and defended. If Cook was under pressure for his place – and the selectors must have been beginning to consider potential replacements – he did not admit to it.
"It's not so much that I've been feeling pressure, more that the side has been playing well and I haven't been contributing," he said. The combination goes hand in glove, of course.
Cook batted for nearly seven hours for his 118, a model of concentration and determination to play to his strengths. It was, he said, right up there with any of his previous nine hundreds, four of which have been against the West Indies.
Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said: "He batted really well and he deserve his hundred. Our bowlers did much better than they had at the top of England's innings. We always talk about investment sessions and we had that after tea. I'll be very happy if we can restrict England to a lead of between 120 and 150." Anything more and South Africa will be in bigger trouble.