Before this Ashes series began, it seems odd to reflect, Alastair Cook was a man of straw. He had made a career-saving century at The Oval which was defiant rather than stately and he came into this series with an average in 10 Test matches against Australia of 26.21.
He was not a walking wicket, exactly, but the idea of Cook as an Ashes hero was difficult to contemplate. The day before the series began, he confessed that he had never been more nervous, as if perhaps he was doubting himself. What nincompoops he has made of us all. He batted throughout the second day of the second Test and scored his second consecutive hundred. By the end of the day his innings had lasted six and a half hours and it was more than 16 hours since he had been dismissed. Step forward the man of steel.
In this series he has spent a mere 70 minutes off the field of play, after he was fifth out in England's first innings at Brisbane. No England player has scored so many runs between dismissals, no one apart from Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar has scored as many centuries by Cook's age (he will not be 26 until Christmas Day). It was his 15th Test hundred, his third against Australia. The last England player to score hundreds in successive innings against Australia was David Gower. It is that rare.
England dominated on another glorious day. The thermometer did not fall below 37C. Cook enjoyed partnerships of 173, with Jonathan Trott, and 141, unbeaten, with Kevin Pietersen. By the close the tourists had reached 317 for 2, a lead of 72, which meant that since the start of their second innings in Brisbane England had scored 834 for 3. Australia changed two of their fast bowlers for this match, so far to no discernible effect.
Cook, 136 not out, said: "I don't think I'm doing anything different really. This is the reward for all the hard yards you put in. I scored about 70 runs in seven innings last summer so it was no wonder I was under pressure. But that hundred I got at The Oval against Pakistan was very important. They were great batting conditions out there and if you get in, you've got to cash in."
Maybe that century told Cook that he could play again but it was a scratchy piece of business compared with the innings he has compiled in this series. They have developed from the accumulative affairs associated with him. There are now plenty of drives down the ground as well as the usual lethal cuts and leg-side clips.
How different it might have been, however. How small are the margins and how Australia, who spent 20 years making the most of small margins to ensure they became big ones, must rue their lapses. England had a dreadful start and it might quickly have become worse. Cook might have been sawn off in his prime had it not been for the much debated Umpire Decision Review System. No review would have meant no hundred yesterday.
To the third ball of the day and the third of his innings the tourists' captain, Andrew Strauss, offered no shot. It was an error easily to be compared to the shot he did offer to his third ball in Brisbane, a slash to point. That might have been marginally preferable to the shouldering of arms. Presumably Strauss played it on length but it was too straight to be sure and the ball clipped the top of his off and middle stumps.
Australia were in the game and they might have been into it further. Beforehe had reached double figures, Trott escaped being run out when he set off on a harebrained single. He had given up all hope of regaining his ground but Xavier Doherty's throw missed by a foot. When Trott had 10 he was dropped by Mike Hussey at backward point, a drive against Bollinger sliding off the outside of the bat. There were other lapses but that was the moment when the door closed on the home side for the day.
Trott top-edged a pull off Bollinger, whose day gradually went from the sublime to the hapless, and he was dropped by Brad Haddin when he top-edged a similar stroke on 74. Cook was given out by the umpire Marais Erasmus on 64, adjudged to have touched a leg-side ball from Ryan Harris, the best of Australia's bowlers. The immediacy with which Cook called for the review suggested he knew that neither bat nor glove had made contact. So it was quickly shown and the celebrating Australians wilted some more in the heat.
Cook and Trott had taken their unbroken stay at the wicket to 502, including their 329 for the second wicket in Brisbane, and it seemed like they might bat all week if they wanted.But Trott clipped the toiling and deserving Harris to midwicket, where Michael Clarke took a good catch. Trott is strong and assured on the leg side but the feeling is that he can expect to be bounced for the rest of the series, assuming Australia can muster the necessary forces, which is most uncertain.
If theirs was already tough work, it became clear that they were up the creek without a paddle when Xavier Doherty failed to fulfil a holding role. A left-arm spinner from Tasmania, he was called up for his debut in Brisbane and given another chance here. Since Shane Warne's retirement Australia have picked nine spinners and they may be looking for a 10th. True, Doherty nearly embarrassed Pietersen early in the piece but the leading edge went safe and there was nothing of encouragement thereafter.
As England went on and on the stands emptied, as people abandoned spectating to have a drink with their pals on the lawns at the back of the Adelaide Oval. For Australians the social event was outdoing the sporting occasion. Cook did not notice a thing.
Australia won toss
Australia: First innings 245 (M E K Hussey 93, B J Haddin 56, S R Watson 51; J M Anderson 4-51).
England: First innings (Overnight 1-0)
*A J Strauss b Bollinger 1/3/0/0
A N Cook not out 136/246/17/0
I J L Trott c Clarke b Harris 78/144/11/0
K P Pietersen not out 85/141/13/0
Extras (b4 lb7 w6) 17
Total (2 wkts, 89 overs) 317
Fall 1-3, 2-176.
To bat P D Collingwood, I R Bell, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling R J Harris 19-4-51-1; D E Bollinger 15-0-76-1; P M Siddle 16-3-50-0; S R Watson 14-5-31-0; X J Doherty 15-3-70-0; M J North 10-0-28-0.
Umpires M Erasmus (SA) and A L Hill (NZ).
TV Umpire B R Doctrove (WI).
Match referee J J Crowe (NZ).
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