Cook finds rhythm as a 21st-century man

England 290-8dec Warwickshire 31-1
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The Independent Online

Some artisans are the victims of their own efficiency. They turn up on time, perform their allotted tasks impeccably, invariably without any fuss and sometimes without much finesse, and go home ready to resume the following day.

This thought occurred about Alastair Cook yesterday as he accumulated the 21st first-class hundred of his career. He was there at the crease at 11am, which apparently is itself an achievement given the recent standards of punctuality set by England players, according to their captain, Andrew Strauss earlier this week.

It is entirely probable that given form and a following wind Cook will become England's record scorer of Test runs, with something well in excess of 10,000. Not many of them will be etched imperishably on the mind but all of them will have been made with grit and determination.

The innings yesterday in England's warm-up match before the Ashes begin next week was characteristic in nature. There were few flourishes, little pizzazz but it was as proficient as it was pragmatic. He pulled adeptly as he always does and in one over early in the day cut and pulled for boundaries.

From a long way out a century looked assured. He was forced to go too many months without reaching three figures last year and has now become a man on a mission again, reckoning that 50s and 60s are signs of failure in an opening batsman.

One edge fell short of the slips early in the morning but from then there was not a semblance of a chance. Cook, England's vice captain in the West Indies, is in good form because last week he scored his maiden Twenty20 hundred for Essex from 57 balls. This was different. His 124 contained 21 fours in its 192 balls and when he was fourth out the innings did not have any direction until Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann put on 35 before England declared.

This fixture was typical preparation for a Test series. Nothing too taxing, but important middle practice against genuine first-class cricketers. It was a good idea for England to choose to play it, putting the World Twenty20 firmly behind them and reassessing the rhythms of the longer game and the dressing room.

The pitch, oddly-positioned it may have been, was benign for the most part. The best Warwickshire bowler was Chris Woakes who went wicketless but bowled straight and kept the batsmen honest and is, as they say, being closely watched. Keith Barker, the left-arm seamer, was slightly less impressive but he snared Paul Collingwood, sneaking one through the gate for his first first-class wicket.

Barker is trying his hand at cricket having narrowly failed to make it as a professional footballer though he was good enough to have been signed by Blackburn Rovers and played 12 matches in the Football League for Rochdale. He shows that the sporting all-rounder is still fighting against extinction.

All eyes, as they have been for the past 10 years, were on Andrew Flintoff, after his latest misdeed when he missed a bus last Saturday morning as the team were visiting First World War trenches. The management have tried to draw a veil over it and they might succeed.

It seems pretty clear that Flintoff had a few more drinks than might have been wise the evening before and his colleagues were probably miffed. Cook, asked about it after he had talked about his innings, said: "It's been fine. He made a mistake, he said he's sorry, we look to move on as a team. It's nice that he is honest and you could see the regret in his face for what he's caused." Woe betide Fred if he steps out of line again.

Cook clearly benefited from having an innings in the middle after playing Twenty20 for Essex. "It's nice to get the rhythm back of four-day cricket where you don't feel guilty for leaving a ball or blocking an over," he said. "It's such a change of mindset, to relax and getting into a rhythm. You can only do that by playing." The playing has not quite resumed in earnest.