Whatever the future holds for Test cricket two men will unquestionably be part of it. They are both from Essex, they are separated by only three months in age, they first began playing cricket with each other when they were 12 and yesterday Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara shared a partnership of 213 for England.
The pair both scored centuries on the first day of the second Test and if their styles are contrasting, the desire for runs and the ability to accrue them is similar. This was Cook's ninth Test hundred at the age of 24, it was Bopara's third in succession.
By the close of the first day in the decisive match of this npower series, England predictably were well in control of matters. The second-wicket pair were separated four overs before the close but that hardly granted the tourists, some of whom looked petrified by the wind, a share of the spoils.
No England player has scored as many hundreds at a younger age than Cook, only four others of any age have scored three consecutively like Bopara and since they were Herbert Sutcliffe, Denis Compton, Geoff Boycott and Graham Gooch he might be said to have a chance of doing something in the game.
"I wouldn't put my name in the same sentence as Graham," said Bopara, who was reminded by Gooch in the nets yesterday morning to keep playing straight. "He's done a lot for me and a lot for England. It's hard for me to talk about cricket when it comes to Graham Gooch because I've got a lot of respect for him and what he did for England."
It was Gooch, too, who reassured Bopara that he still had a bright international future after the Essex youngster made three consecutive Test ducks in Sri Lanka 18 months ago. "That was possibly the toughest part of my career but I never thought I wouldn't play Test cricket again and Graham got on the phone and told me that he got a pair in his first Test," said Bopara. "He told me it would make me a better player and that I'd come back stronger and better because I have a gift and should make the most of it."
There will be harder tasks ahead than seeing off a disinterested West Indies attack on a cold North-east day in May and they may well be imminent. But Cook and Bopara played diligently and considering the horribly slow state of the pitch with no little élan. The measure of things likely to come was clear as early as the first ball which reached the wicketkeeper on it second bounce. Low, slow, hopeless for Test cricket.
It would be wrong to imply that Bopara and Cook managed double-handedly to revive the oldest international form of the game – Australia's visit here in a couple months will go a long way towards ensuring that all really is well – but it was a handy contribution.
The match, as feared, began in front of a sparse crowd and if the sun occasionally peeped through it was of the watery kind and did nothing to raise either temperatures or spirits. This mitigated against the West Indies, who can hardly have started proceedings in a grand state of mind in view of the observations made by their captain, Chris Gayle, about his feelings of apparent indifference to Test cricket. They bowled with little venom, which was the pitch's pitch, and little gusto, which was not.
It was a rank surprise when Andrew Strauss gloved one on the leg side from Gayle and was held at the second attempt by Denesh Ramdin moving across. Gayle, perhaps to show that he meant business after all, had introduced his containing off spin as early as the 19th over.
Thereafter, Cook and Bopara did pretty much as they liked, albeit without much spectacular. Cook played a couple of uncharacteristic cover drives but mostly accumulated via the cut and clips off his legs. Bopara was probably not delighted at the lack of pace in the surface but he is incapable of playing an ugly innings. The difference in their natures was perhaps captured by the way they advanced to their hundreds. Cook did so by stealth, perhaps aware that he had not made a home Test century for two years. His anxiety was clear, when on 99, he called Bopara for a single that was not there and forced his partner to scramble back.
Bopara went from 84 with three straight drives from Sulieman Benn which yielded four, six, four. Two singles gave him his hat-trick of hundreds. He also became the only man to have scored three consecutive hundreds – and being dropped after the first incidentally – following three consecutive ducks.
With the day almost done and West Indies hardly looking like making another breakthrough, Bopara was bowled by one which broke back sharply from Lionel Baker. England, though well on top, chose not to risk Kevin Pietersen and sent in Jimmy Anderson as nightwatchman, who managed who avoided making a duck for the 48th Test innings.
Cook and Bopara first impinged on the national cricketing conscience in 2005 when they were both only 20 and the Saturday before the concluding Test in that summer's Ashes series put Australia to the sword.
Their second-wicket stand that burning hot Sunday in Chelmsford was worth 270. In their way they contributed towards regaining the Ashes by helping to soften up the Aussies. They will have the opportunity to do far more directly this summer and their performances yesterday should ensure that the whole of England, never mind Essex, can hardly wait.
Shot of the day
Ravi Bopara's on-driven six against the spinner Sulieman Benn. He practised it during a break in play, then had the confidence to do it for real just a couple of minutes later.
Ball of the day
It needed a beauty to get rid of Bopara – and Lionel Baker finally produced one with the second new ball. Nipping back off the seam, it found an unguarded path to the stumps.
Moment of the day
Chris Gayle's dismissal of Andrew Strauss. Had to happen, really, after their little difference of opinion this week – and Gayle's toothy grin showed that Test cricket can be fun.
England win toss
England – First innings
*A J Strauss c Ramdin b Gayle 26, 95min, 66 balls, 4 fours
A N Cook not out 126, 371min, 262 balls, 14 fours
R S Bopara b Baker 108, 251min, 208 balls, 13 fours, 1 six
J M Anderson not out 4, 23min, 16 balls, 1 four
Extras (b 9, lb 3, w 6, nb 20, pens 0) 38
Total (2 wkts, 371 mins, 90 overs) 302
Fall: 1-69 (Strauss), 2-282 (Bopara).
To bat: K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, T T Bresnan, G J Swann, G Onions.
Bowling: Taylor 14-1-42-0 (nb3,w1) (9-1-22-0 5-0-20-0), Edwards 14-0-58-0 (nb16) (5-0-13-0 4-0-16-0 5-0-29-0), Baker 19-3-60-1 (w3) (5-0-25-0 10-2-28-0 4-1-7-1), Gayle 12-2-28-1 (8-2-18-1 4-0-10-0), Benn 22-6-78-0 (nb1,w2) (17-6-42-0 5-0-36-0), Simmons 9-0-24-0 (4-0-15-0 5-0-9-0).
Progress: First day: 50 in 82 mins, 17.2 overs. Lunch 85-1 (Cook 39, Bopara 9) 30 overs. 100 in 135 mins, 34.4 overs. 150 in 195 mins, 49.4 overs. Tea 184-1 (Cook 82, Bopara 59) 62 overs. 200 in 259min, 66.4 overs. 250 in 304min, 76.3 overs. New ball taken after 82 overs at 272-1. 300 in 369min, 89.3 overs.
Cook 50: 146min, 108 balls, 6 fours. 100 286min, 209 balls, 11 fours. Bopara 50: 107min, 106 balls, 7 fours. 100 in 212min, 183 balls, 12 fours, 1 six.
West Indies: *C H Gayle, D S Smith, R R Sarwan, L M P Simmons, S Chanderpaul, B P Nash, †D Ramdin, J E Taylor, S J Benn, F H Edwards, L S Baker.
Umpires: S J Davis and E A R de Silva
TV replay umpire: P J Hartley
Match referee: A J Pycroft