Young opener proves a lot better than his elders
Thursday 02 March 2006
It could be said that Alastair Cook went out yesterday as a choirboy and came back as a Test batsman. Neither would be quite true as it is some years since he sang in St Paul's Cathedral, and 60 runs does not quite make you a hard-nosed international cricketer.
But it was a beginning of great promise. Cook provided England's most sensible, composed and cultivated batting on the first day of the opening Test. He is the youngest player to have opened the innings for England since Len Hutton in 1937 (Hutton was 63 days younger) and it can be fairly reported that he took to it more comfortably, as the young Yorkshireman who was to become Sir Leonard made 0 and 1.
Cook exhibited his batting attributes in his reflections at the close, during which he was neither overexcited nor understated. "It was a good day and I enjoyed the whole experience, playing against two world- class spinners," he said. "I didn't know what to expect and the pitch was a bit slow so I tried to hit the gaps to take singles and hit the bad balls for four. If you'd said a week ago that this would happen I'd have probably laughed."
A week ago, Cook had been in Antigua playing for England A. Last weekend, after the series of calamities threatening to derail this tour, he was summoned to the senior squad and went through several time zones via London to reach Nagpur, slap bang in the centre of India. The Caribbean it ain't. He admitted to waking up in the small hours because of jet lag but swiftly added: "But the adrenalin gets going when you're out there. You're batting for England, you can't really be tired."
The key element of Cook's innings was not the 60 runs he scored. It was the 160 balls that he faced to reach his total. This was smart batting. He recognised that on this sluggish surface there was no point, unless you had a death wish, in playing flashy shots.
Both sides of lunch, Harbhajan Singh gave him a fearful working over in a spell of formidable slow bowling which is loosely described as off-spin but is really a complex array of spin, drift, wobble and having the ball on a length of elastic.
Cook was hardly fluent but he did not waver. He received 67 balls from "the Turbanator" and did not score from 54 of them. Some of his colleagues who were watching should have been both envious and embarrassed. "You don't want to go too gung-ho too early," Cook said. "Patience is part of cricket."
He paid tribute to the advice of Graham Gooch at Essex and said he would not mind being half as good a player. These are some footsteps to follow in, but precedent is not all on his side. Of the six 21-year-olds previously to have opened the batting for England only one, Hutton, played more than four Tests.
This will not happen to Cook. It has been written before and bears repeating that Cook's near namesake Alistair Cooke, broadcast Letter from America for 50 years. Yesterday's innings was a "Letter from Nagpur" whose main message was that the author would be back, and often.
Shot of the Day
Alastair Cook looked as though he had played 20 Test matches when he batted. He struck seven fours in his 60 but the one he will always remember was the first. A well controlled pull for four gave him his first Test runs.
Ball of the Day
Irfan Pathan is a canny bowler and the inswinger that trapped Geraint Jones in front was a beauty. Jones was upset, believing he had hit the ball, but it struck his pad first and he was rightly given out.
Moment of the Day
You will struggle to see a better slip catch than that Rahul Dravid took yesterday. The ball bobbled out of his hand as he dived to his left but, somehow, he managed to hang on to the rebound. Quite brilliant.
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