On 22 August, 1939, Wally Hammond scored his 22nd and last hundred for England. Fourteen days later, the Second World War began with the declaration of hostilities against Germany and nothing was ever the same again.
On 6 December, 2012, with the planet not necessarily in much better order, Alastair Cook scored his 23rd Test century. After 73 years and 106 days, Hammond’s record was finally broken.
In the intervening period it had been equalled four times but never overhauled. There were moments when it seemed that it might endure forever but it was eventually worn down by the sheer number of international matches available and the longevity of careers.
Not that Cook’s seminal achievement is diminished in any way by those ancillary elements. He passed plenty of other milestones while also establishing an enviable position for his side in the Third Test against India. England finished the second day on 216 for one, precisely 100 runs behind India, whose first innings was done and dusted in the first hour.
Cook was imperturbable as ever, playing to his traditional strengths but reminding observers that these may be expanding. Amid the nurdles and nudges, sweeps and cuts, was one whopping six down the ground with a turn of foot that might have pleased Australians, such as Craig Revel Horwood.
Before he surpassed the great Hammond, he also overhauled the number of runs made for England by Len Hutton – if you are knocking one legend off you may as well knock off two – and soon after became the youngest player from any country to score 7000 Test runs.
Cook is 27 years and 247 days old today, Sachin Tendulkar was 28 years and 193 days when he reached the total in 2001. The man who took the fewest innings to get there was Hammond himself, a mere 131 compared to Cook’s 151, although he was 43 and a bit at the time, that war having interrupted him.
There is more about Cook. No player has done what he has by scoring hundreds in each of their first five matches as captain – two against Bangladesh in 2010, now three in this series against India. In that respect at least it can only go downhill.
It is to be hoped that history is kinder to Cook’s 23rd hundred than it was to Hammond’s 22. At the time, it was barely acknowledged for what it was, perhaps because of what awaited the country at large, perhaps because it was not realised what that would entail.
Although it formed part of the then highest third wicket partnership of 264 with Hutton in the third Test against West Indies at The Oval, the innings was dismissed by the Wisden Alamanack in these terms: “Towards the end of his innings Hammond hit at everything and, although it was not one of his best efforts, there were twenty-one 4's in his 138.”
Cricket being what it is, there was a certain disjointed symmetry to the proceedings in 1939 and 2012. When Hammond was out towards the end of the match on the final day he was replaced at the wicket by Denis Compton. Accompanying Cook yesterday for his moment of history was Nick Compton, Denis’s grandson.
In its less grand way, Compton’s innings of 57 in a first wicket partnership of 165 was every bit as significant as Cook’s contribution. It was his maiden Test half century in his fifth innings and he shared his fourth successive partnership above 50 for the first wicket.
Compton grandfils will be dogged by comparisons with Compo grandpere for as long as he plays. It is grossly unfair because he can never be as dashing, or as maverick, or as downright gifted. But he is a solid, determined professional batsman with a lot going for him, worldly, interested and interesting.
He has knuckled down to hard work on this tour, finding a method that works for him, sometimes ungainly and lacking fluency but his concentration and his will have never deserted him. Together, Cook and Compton wore down the opposing bowlers in the afternoon, eschewing risk but making sure the scoreboard did not expire from underuse.
The moment that may haunt India came when Cook was on 17. He had been beaten twice in the preceding over, bowled by Ishant Sharma, as he was lured into pushing at, and missing, balls outside off. But now Zaheer Khan found the edge, the ball darted low to first slip where Chetashwar Pujara could not grasp it by his bootlaces.
It was an overwhelming likelihood that Cook would offer nothing in this regard again and nor did he. Compton reached his maiden fifty with a pulled single to square leg off his 125 ball and five overs later Cook reached his hundred from 179 balls with a paddle sweep which brought a brisk three.
They looked to be booking in for bed and breakfast when Compton was given out in strange manner. He too attempted to fashion a paddle sweep but he got too far across his off stump and was hit on the pad. The umpire Rod Tucker shook his head but then a second or so later raised his finger. His initial instinct, if that is what it was, was correct because the ball had hit Compton’s glove on its way to his pad.
He had, however, served his team and his captain impeccably. Jonathan Trott batted out the last 70 minutes without alarm as England’s strategy remained unchanged, grinding down India, playing their spinners firmly whether from the crease or on the forward prop. They bided their time.
India did not keep England hanging about in the morning. MS Dhoni played a mature cameo to give him 50 but Monty Panesar took his innings wicket tally to four with some more deceptively clever slow spin and Steve Finn joined Jimmy Anderson as the second fast bowler to take a wicket in this series, a brute of a lifter to Dhoni. But the day belonged to Cook. He made history and he may make plenty more yet.
Timeline: How the second day unfolded in Kolkata
3.30am GMT: India resume
MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan walk out to the middle looking to help push India to a respectable total after England had the better of the opening day of the second Test.
3.46am: Wicket, Zaheer lbw Panesar 6
Minutes after being dropped by Graeme Swann, Zaheer is on his way. Monty Panesar traps him in front and India are 292 for 8.
3.53am: Wicket, Sharma b Panesar 0
Monty continues his magic, grabbing his fourth wicket as Ishant Sharma misses a straight one. The tailender lasted just three balls.
4.31am: Wicket, Dhoni c Swann b Finn 52
After five fours and two sixes, India's captain is finally sent packing shortly after reaching his half-century, Swann diving to take a fine catch after a sharp Steve Finn bouncer. India all out 316.
England openers Alastair Cook and Nick Compton make it safely to the break without loss, England are on 22 for 0.
6.25am: Dropped catch
Captain Cook is dropped on 17 and that could prove costly for India. Cheteshwar Pujara fails to hold on at first slip off Zaheer as the left hander prods forwards.
9.12am: Cook century
A very costly drop indeed. Cook marches on after his reprieve, hitting R Ashwin for three to bring up his 23rd Test century. England are 156 for 0 and well set.
9.17am: Wicket Compton lbw Ojha 57
England's joy is short-lived, Compton falling shortly after his first Test fifty. Umpire Rod Tucker eventually raises his finger after a delay.
10.33am: Stumps; England 216-1
Cook strides on to 136 by the close of play, with Jonathan Trott on 21. England's day, again, as they end 100 runs shy of India's total.
Record-breaker: Cook in numbers
23 Centuries scored by Cook - an England record.
86 Test matches taken by Cook to reach 7,000 runs.
27 At 27 years and 347 days, Cook is the youngest Test batsman to reach 7,000 runs, beating India's Sachin Tendulkar (28/193) and South African Graeme Smith (29/138).