To mention Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook in the same breath as the venerated Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe is to risk being accused of having a larf. One pair is the most productive in the history of English cricket – the other is Hobbs and Sutcliffe.
Strauss and Cook sit atop the pile after their partnership of 188 yesterday for the first wicket of England's second innings in the first Test against Australia. Their runs aggregate now stands at 3,415 (and, presumably, counting) compared to the 3,249 compiled by their illustrious predecessors.
True, it took the contemporary pair 44 more innings to reach their current total but the context of the match in which they broke one of the most cherished of all England records was at least appropriate. It would have seemed a travesty had they done it on some flat deck in Dhaka in a frankly who cares match against Bangladesh, which might have had Sir Jack and Herbert turning in their graves, but instead they chose an Ashes match against Australia which needed saving.
When they began yesterday, England were still in deep trouble at 201 behind. Strauss, the captain, and Cook, the vice-captain, played with much-needed bloody-mindedness. The four that took them past Hobbs and Sutcliffe was a thick edge past gully by Cook but in the first crucial hour that was a solitary flaw.
"People have been talking about this record for months, and since then we have been averaging about 10 per innings," said Strauss. "I suppose those sort of records come because the two of you are able to stay in the side and you need a lot of resilience to do that, and one of Cookie's greatest strengths is that he is a very resilient character able to do the hard yards."
For Strauss the innings represented redemption. On the first morning of the most significant series of his life – after 18 months of planning and talking – he was out third ball, cutting intemperately to gully. He knew that he needed to atone almost as much as the first sinner.
And then came the first ball of England's innings on the third day when they set off on what looked as though it would be a forlorn attempt to save the match. Strauss chose to shoulder arms, but the ball from Ben Hilfenhaus swung back and rammed into his pads. It looked as out as out can be but the magnificent umpire Aleem Dar thought otherwise. Australia asked for a review and Strauss's world probably stopped turning until the slow motion showed the ball was going over the top.
"When I got out on the third ball of the first morning it was close to being as bad as I've ever felt on a cricket pitch," said Strauss. "It was not the start I was looking for but that's this wonderful game of cricket, sometimes it does remind you how much you need to respect it. The first ball in the second innings, I thought was a very good leave."
That last bit was a joke, as Strauss conceded when he elaborated. "My heart was definitely in my mouth," he said. "I did think it was a bit high, or I was clinging to that hope anyway and, thankfully, I had bit of luck which sometimes you need."
Neither Strauss nor Cook were impeccable but their dedication was evident. England's opening pair has each scored a hundred in the same Test innings on only 11 occasions. The last to do so against Australia was Len Hutton and Charlie Barnett 72 years ago.
To put matters in perspective Hobbs and Sutcliffe performed the feat three times, twice against Australia – most notably at The Oval in 1926, when the Ashes came home.
The contemporary duo made it clear yesterday that England intend they should come home again. Strauss was the more adventurous of the two, Cook the more stable. When he was on 69 Strauss should have been caught at mid-on by Mitchell Johnson who appeared to be having 40 winks.
Strauss fell when it was beginning to seem that he and Cook would bat all through the fourth day. It was a needless dismissal born of a batsman's refusal to be tied down by an occasional bowler. Marcus North of the latter ilk had bowled tidily into the rough and Strauss decided it was about time he imposed his authority.
Charging down the pitch, North saw him coming, put the ball slightly wider which then turned and bounced past the bat, allowing Brad Haddin to complete a regulation stumping. Nice bowling, daft batting.
Strauss had made 110 when as captain and batsman he should have been looking to make 210. But it will not do to be too critical for he had played a major innings and the thought of what it might have been is too dreadful to contemplate for what it would have meant for his side's mission in this country.
Strauss took three and a half hours to reach his hundred, Cook took five hours.
Cook was never particularly fluent but he was never in much trouble either. Joined by Jonathan Trott, they put on 121 for the second wicket before the close. They were both dropped as Australia flagged, Cook soon after passing 100 when he hooked to long leg, Trott cutting to the gully.
The pitch was as true as at any time in the match despite the cracks and patches of rough. Australia did not do much wrong but the days have gone when they can automatically summon up a legend or two to do something spectacularly right.
Cook, while justifiably indulging in the mutual back-slapping by praising his captain, rather underplayed the record. "It's a nice little feather in our cap," he said.
No matter how many innings it took (82 to 38), it was much more than that.
First Ashes Test, The Gabba, Brisbane (Third & fourth days of five): England lead Australia by 88 runs with nine second-innings wickets remaining
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 260 (76.5 overs; I R Bell 76, A N Cook 67; P M Siddle 6-54).
AUSTRALIA First Innings
Friday Overnight: 220-5 (S M Katich 50)
M E K Hussey c Cook b Fin 195
330 balls 26 fours 1 six
†B J Haddin c Collingwood b Swann 136
287 balls 15 fours 1 six
M G Johnson b Finn 0
X J Doherty c Cook b Finn 16
30 balls 2 fours
P M Siddle c Swann b Finn 6
11 balls 1 four
B W Hilfenhaus not out 1
Extras (b 4, lb 12, w 4, nb 1) 21
Total (158.4 overs) 481
Fall: 1-78 (Watson), 2-96 (Ponting), 3-100 (Katich), 4-140 (Clarke), 5-143 (North), 6-450 (Haddin), 7-458 (Hussey), 8-462 (Johnson), 9-472 (Siddle), 10-481 (Doherty).
Bowling: J Anderson 37-13-99-2 (w1) (3-1-5-0, 4-1-13-0, 7-2-18-1, 4-4-0-1, 3-1-4-0, 8-2-14-0, 2-1-12-0, 3-1-18-0, 3-0-15-0), S Broad 33-7-72-0 (w1nb1) (3-0-9-0, 6-2-9-0, 3-0-4-0, 5-1-10-0, 3-0-9-0, 4-2-3-0, 4-1-14-0, 5-1-14-0), G Swann 43-5-128-2 (1-0-10-0, 19-4-49-1, 6-0-22-0, 7-0-27-0, 1-0-5-0, 9-1-15-1), S Finn 33.4-1-125-6 (5-0-20-0, 5-0-14-1, 3-0-16-1, 2-0-11-0, 5-0-23-0, 4-1-12-0, 9.4-0-29-4), P Collingwood 12-1-41-0 (w2) (2-1-7-0, 2-0-5-0, 5-0-13-0, 3-0-16-0).
Third day progress: 250 in 102.1 overs, 300 in 104.1 overs, Lunch 329-5 (Hussey 124, Haddin 79) 114.0 overs, 350 in 119.4 overs, 400 in 132.2 overs, 450 in 145.2 overs. Haddin 50: 134 balls, 7 fours. Hussey 100: 197 balls, 15 fours, 1 six. Haddin 100: 222 balls, 11 fours, 1 six. Hussey 150: 271 balls, 22 fours, 1 six.
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A J Strauss st Haddin b North 110
224 balls 15 fours
A N Cook not out 132
270 balls 12 fours
I J L Trott not out 54
118 balls 8 fours
Extras (b 1, lb 2, w 4, nb 6) 13
Total (1 wkt, 101 overs) 309
Fall: 1-188 (Strauss).
To bat: K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, I R Bell, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Bowling: B Hilfenhaus 26-4-75-0 (w1, nb3) (6-3-6-0, 5-0-14-0, 7-0-29-0, 8-1-26-0), P Siddle 19-3-67-0 (w2, nb3) (4-2-7-0, 3-0-16-0, 4-0-21-0, 4-0-11-0, 4-1-12-0), M North 12-2-22-1 (2-0-5-0, 2-0-2-0, 8-2-15-1), M Johnson 18-4-65-0 (2-2-0-0, 6-0-19-0, 5-1-22-0, 5-1-24-0), X Doherty 18-3-52-0 (1-1-0-0, 2-0-10-0, 10-1-25-0, 2-0-12-0, 3-1-5-0), S Watson 8-2-25-0 (w1) (5-0-22-0, 1-1-0-0, 2-1-3-0).
Third day progress: Close of play 19-0 (Strauss 11, Cook 6) 15.0 overs. Fourth day progress : 50 in 24.5 overs, 100 in 35.1 overs, Lunch 134-0 (Strauss 79, Cook 51) 46.0 overs, 150 in 51.2 overs, 200 in 70.3 overs, Tea 238-1 (Cook 98, Trott 23) 78.0 overs, 250 in 80.5 overs, 300 in 96.0 overs. Strauss 50: 110 balls, 8 fours. Cook 50: 122 balls, 4 fours. Strauss 100: 184 balls, 15 fours. Cook 100: 204 balls, 8 fours. Trott 50: 105 balls, 7 fours.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) & B R Doctrove (W Indies).
TV replay umpire : A L Hill (NZ).
Match referee: P R Reiffel (NZ).