England’s captain Alastair Cook has now scored five Test centuries on Indian soil. That’s an incredible achievement, a record for visiting batsmen, and a testament to his all-round quality and fighting ability as the greatest opening batsman of the modern era.

Opening the batting in Test cricket is not easy. In the game’s longest form, there is a reason why the majority of the game’s heaviest run scorers bat at No. 3 and No. 4, rather than opening the innings — they don’t have to fight for survival against the new ball.


It does not matter whether you are batting in Leeds or Kolkata or using a Dukes or SG ball, facing the new ball is a perilous exercise. Opening batsmen who average between 35 and 40 are the middle-order equivalent of those that average 45 to 50. And to have an average of 47 like Cook is exceptional.

Just 31, albeit nearing his 32nd birthday, Cook does have a truly exceptional record: nearly 11,000 runs, 30 hundreds, 52 fifties. No one knows how much petrol remains in the tank but should he continue into his mid-thirties he might threaten even Sachin Tendulkar’s all-time run scoring record.

So what is his secret? Well, first and foremost, Cook trusts his technique, works incredibly hard, and has a great temperament. These are all simple virtues but very important ones. I’ve worked closely with Cook in the UAE as an ECB consultant and I was impressed by his work ethic, honesty and intelligence.

Right now, we are watching him battle things out in India and we are seeing all his fighting qualities on display. Here is an old fashioned opening batsman, a grafter who has the ability to rise to the occasion and adjust to tough conditions. On Indian pitches against top-class spinners and the hard SG ball, he’s been forced to trust a very solid defence and use the sweep.

In addition, he has shown great physical and mental resilience, battling the pressure of combat and exhaustingly hot temperatures. That mental toughness is priceless and has driven him throughout his career. Indeed, weaker characters would surely have not survived the form-dip that bedevilled him a couple of years back.

During that difficult period, the English media were biting at his heels continuously. There was talk on the circuit of a weakness around his off-stump and there was a pattern of dismissal that caused concern. He had a rough time, but probably with hindsight there was just too much analysis.

The truth is that even the best batsmen have weaknesses and vulnerability on the off-stump is pretty high up there on the list of problem areas. But at the same time everyone also has a natural technique and it’s difficult to change too much and succeed.

The best thing that Cook did during that period was to eventually say: ‘Enough is enough, I am going to trust my strengths, believe in my ability, and go back to the technique that has got me thousands of runs.’ That was a turning point and it released him from his doubts.

Those difficult periods can be very lonely and in his case it was so much harder because he was the captain. The manner in which he endured it, eventually emerging from the darkness, is one of his greatest achievements and a testament to his bloody-mindedness and strong character.

Where it will all end we don’t know. Everything might well have derailed prematurely, but he has hung on and started scoring prolifically again. He is physically fit right now and also well-rested by virtue of not being part of the limited overs set-up.

He has already beaten all records for an English batsman and, should he wish to, he can start threatening the records of many of the game’s greatest players. I hope he does, because he has led from the front and shown all youngsters that hard work and mental strength can bring great success.