Silly to think that there were qualms about Alastair Cook. Perfectly absurd. But at the start of this tour the doubters were lining up more quickly than depositors during a bank run.
By the third afternoon of the second Test he had seen each and every one of them off. Rarely can more repenting have been required. From now on Cook will be mentioned forever in the company of Sachin Tendulkar and Wally Hammond, copper-bottomed legends of the game.
He made 189 as England, the Ashes already in their back pocket, took the match and the series away from Australia. The innings was a masterpiece of studied accumulation, played at every turn to his strengths and within his limitations; as the day wore on the strengths seemed to grow as the limitations diminished.
There was a maiden Ashes hundred too for Ian Bell, in his 31st innings against Australia. And about time too, it might be said, for one so gifted. Although Bell batted sublimely at times, his landmark was contentious because he was reprieved on 67 after asking for a review of a caught behind decision by umpire Aleem Dar which the available technology could not confirm.
Everybody on the field was convinced he had inside-edged Shane Watson and because Bell took his time in asking for the review opinions were expressed about his motives. The hotspot camera indicated he had not touched it, but a few minutes later the snickometer, which is not being used in the process, suggested there was a touch. Under the regulations, Bell was entitled to ask for a second opinion and did not deserve the booing that accompanied his walk back after making 115.
England led by 104 at the time of the review and by the end of the third day had extended that to 208. Both Cook and Bell were out but their sixth-wicket partnership of 154 had caused severe, probably terminal damage to Australia's aspirations to level the series. It was largely clinical stuff, reflecting precisely what England have brought to these proceedings.
Cook took his aggregate of runs in this Ashes series to 766. It was his third century, his 16th in all Tests. Only Hammond, during the timeless Tests of 1928-29 has scored more runs as an Englishman in Australia, indeed as an Englishman anywhere. Only Tendulkar has reached 5,000 Test runs at a younger age.
The comparison can go only so far. Cook is not either Hammond or Tendulkar, handsomely appointed middle order buccaneers both. But as an opening batsman in this, the most significant series of his career so far, he has done exactly as required from its first session. He has seen off the new ball and then gone on and on with a quiet, determined remorselessness that has hurt bowlers to the bottom of their hearts.
This applied as much here yesterday as at any time on this tour. Little went right for Australia but then when England were losing eight Ashes rubbers in a row between 1989 and 2003 nothing seemed to go right for them either. With the urn already gone, Australia's chance of winning the match and levelling the series at 2-2 depended on restricting England to a small lead, at worst.
That was possible in the morning when they removed the nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson and the hopelessly out of form Paul Collingwood. Anderson had done his duties by surviving the night before, Collingwood has not done his in a batting sense for the entire winter. He struggled to control himself yesterday but it was clear that he was at odds with himself.
When he launched himself into a sashay down the wicket against Michael Beer, it seemed reckless and so it proved. His lofted drive was hopelessly miscued and Beer, having had two false dawns – both concerning Cook who he had caught off a no-ball on the second afternoon and then almost held at short leg when he was on 99 yesterday – had his first Test wicket.
It was easy to conclude as Collingwood trudged off and Beer was mobbed by his team-mates, that the bowler was at the start of his Test career and the batsman at the end of his.
There were to be no further successes for Australia, who did not bowl well enough to merit them. There were too many spells by all the bowlers which did not sustain pressure, too many overs in which a leg-side ball was followed by one too far outside off. They had learned nothing from England's tightly regimented seamers.
Cook's latest epic, which followed his 235 not out in Brisbane and 148 in Adelaide, was brought to an end by Watson in the 116th over. He pushed into a drive and instead of finding the middle of the bat as he had done so often, discovered a thick edge which flew low to gully where Mike Hussey hung on. Cook had faced 342 balls in 488 minutes and struck 16 fours.
Two overs later, Bell might have followed but saved by the cameras, he seemed to be freed from doubt and went on pretty serenely to his hundred. He arrived there with a squeezed two on the offside and had taken 209 balls. It was his 12th in Test matches but its meaning because it was his first against Australia was clear.
Accompanied in a dashing partnership by Matt Prior, who blazed away, Bell was out just before the close when he steered Mitchell Johnson to second slip. By then England had showed themselves once more to be the superior side. They could see the sunlit uplands. They must have felt they were trampling all over them.
Sydney (Third day of five): England are leading Australia by 208 runs with 3 first-innings wickets in hand; Australia won toss
Australia: First Innings 280 (Johnson 53, Anderson 4-66)
England: First Innings Overnight 167-3 (Strauss 60)
A N Cook c Hussey b Watson 189, 342 balls 16 fours
J M Anderson b Siddle 7, 35 balls 1 four
P D Collingwood c Hilfenhaus b Beer 13, 41 balls
I R Bell c Clarke b Johnson 115, 232 balls 13 fours
†M J Prior not out 54, 59 balls 5 fours 1 six
T T Bresnan not out 0, 7 balls
Extras (b3 lb2 w5 nb4) 14
Total (7 wkts, 141 overs) 488
Fall 1-98, 2-99, 3-165, 4-181, 5-226, 6-380, 7-487.
To bat G P Swann, C T Tremlett.
Bowling B W Hilfenhaus 29-5-104-1 (5-1-27-0; 7-2-17-1; 2-0-8-0; 6-1-14-0; 1-0-8-0; 2-0-9-0; 6-1-21-0), M G Johnson 26-3-97-3 (3-0-13-0; 6-0-28-1; 3-2-1-1; 4-0-21-0; 1-0-3-0; 3-0-16-0; 2-0-4-0; 2-0-4-0; 2-1-7-1), P M Siddle 26-5-98-1 (5-1-19-0; 5-1-14-0; 4-0-10-1; 6-3-24-0; 2-0-6-0; 4-0-25-0), S R Watson 20-7-49-1 (3-0-9-0; 2-0-5-0; 5-4-5-0; 2-2-0-0; 2-0-7-0; 6-1-23-1), M A Beer 29-2-85-1 (9-0-26-0; 8-0-29-1; 8-1-25-0; 4-1-5-0), S P D Smith 10-0-48-0 (5-0-18-0; 5-0-30-0), M E K Hussey 1-0-2-0 (one spell).
Progress Third Day: 200 in 59.4 overs, 250 in 76.4 overs, Lunch: 277-5 in 83 overs (Cook 130, Bell 20), 300 in 89.3 overs, 350 in 103.3 overs, Tea: 378-5 in 113 overs (Cook 188, Bell 62), 400 in 120.2 overs, 450 in 131.3 overs, Close: 488-7 in 141.0 overs (Prior 54, Bresnan 0), Cook: 100 off 202 balls (9 fours), 150 off 277 balls (14 fours), Bell: 50 off 101 balls (6 fours), 100 off 209 balls (11 fours), Prior: 50 off 54 balls (5 fours, 1 six).
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).
TV umpire A L Hill (NZ)
Match referee R S Madugalle (Sri Lanka)Reuse content