Look in the Book

After a period of well-deserved success in the one-day arena - and it's not as if that's never been known before, only for it crumble to dust at the next time of asking - England will currently be feeling a bit better about themselves. While Ian Bell has had no opportunity to redeem himself, Kevin Pietersen went some way yesterday towards bolstering his faltering reputation and Eoin Morgan has done what is customary for him while wearing a blue shirt (not that anyone ever doubted that he would).

Alastair Cook, of course, didn't really need to rejuvenate his reputation. As becomes more and more evident as he plays, Cook doesn't really do self-doubt, or failure, or long periods of scorelessness. He just - and this is especially true if his merits are questioned - scores runs.

England have had plenty enough players over the years who have flattered to deceive, or that everyone thought would dominate the world, without ever producing the scores to justify the hype. Cook, too, had the scores from a young age, and this precocity of achievement was sustained throughout his early years in the Test arena, but nobody ever seemed convinced that he wasn't riding for a fall. In Test cricket this came with his prolonged slump in form in 2009 and 2010, in the limited-overs arena with a persistent inability to score runs quickly and consistently enough.

Of course, all players fail, but the real test of a player's quality is how he deals with that failure. Not for Cook the retreat into obscurity or the meek acceptance that anything was beyond him. No, just do the work and come back to score 766 runs in an Ashes series before starting to churn out one-day hundreds at a strike-rate beyond reproach while shouldering the additional burdens of captaincy.

Cook always appears a man without artifice or self-regard. He is happy to let his runs do the talking, secure in the knowledge that his record - in terms of runs and centuries scored in Test cricket at a young age - stands comparison with the greats. And, as has been said here before, he always looks as though he is one of those fortunate people who has found something that he can do really, really well, and is determined to make the most of his luck and timing. This is a man who was put on earth to bat. And bat he does.

But this gift, and the ability to make the most of it, is not coincidental. Cook rarely shows much emotion but look at him in the moments after he is dismissed. This is someone who, no matter how many runs he has made, really hates getting out.

Regardless of his runs, most of us have probably been guilty of underestimating Cook. I, for one, always felt that the next truly great English batsman would be Ian Bell, or by adoption, Kevin Pietersen.

I was wrong. The next truly great English batsman is Alastair Cook.


chris said...

It's a long time since England last had a 'great'. The other major Test nations have had one or more since Botham (Gooch?) retired. I've often wondered why England hasn't had someone we can count on, if not match after match, then series after series. I don't think we need to define 'great' - we'd know it when he shows up.

I need Cook to show up against S Africa next summer, India in the winter and twice in quick succession against Australia. I watched Hilfenhaus bowl 144kph outswingers yesterday morning (10kph faster than Jimmy A). The Aus attack hit India with bowling like that in all 4 tests. Cook and co only had a couple sessions at Perth last winter to contend with.

I had greater doubts about Cook as skipper than batter. This last week has allayed some of those fears, which is good as I suspect he'll be leading the team in at least one of those Ashes series. By then, I hope, I'll look back at your article and appreciate it not just for its interest, but also its prescience.

Brian Carpenter said...

Chris, belated thanks for your comment.

I definitely got carried away last week in describing Cook as a 'great'. This was partly because I really admire him - and especially what he's done since becoming one-day skipper - and partly for effect.

I don't think he'll ever quite be one, no matter how many runs he makes, although I could be wrong.

FWIW I think England's last two greats were Botham and Gower. Botham is unarguable, Gower for his style (almost unique and completely unmatched today) if not quite weight of runs, or the element of dependency you mention. Gooch was unquestionably great for a short period, relatively late in his career
(1990-91), but, overall, not really.

I suspect England's last truly great batsman was Peter May, although I'm only going on what I've read.

Last Tuesday brought the focus right back on to KP, though. He could certainly have the elements of greatness that Cook lacks. I always knew this, but his form in one-day cricket had been so poor for so long that the doubts inevitably started to creep in.

This is giving me an idea for a post...

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