Alastair Cook: A quiet accumulator

Alastair Cook was always destined for greatness. On his debut in Nagpur (2006), the then 21-year-old showcased his precocious abilities with a sublime maiden performance (60 and 104), demonstrating he could succeed on the harshest terrain. The upcoming series in India could propel Cook’s standing to another level.

England's captain Alastair Cook holds nearly every England Test batting record worth holding and is set to surpass Sachin Tendulkar’s seemingly unbreakable records.   -  AP

For visiting cricketers, the harsh terrain of India can be unforgiving. The spinning dust bowls often strangle and tangle those not used to the subcontinent’s arduous elements. The sweltering conditions and swirling, rabid fanfare compound the difficulty.

READ: >Cook says nearing end as England captain

Australian cricketers know this all too well. Despite a rich cricket history and almost always being highly competitive, Australia have won just one Test series in India during the past 40 years. Legends such as Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting (who missed the bulk of Australia’s breakthrough 2004 tour due to injury) never achieved the ultimate success in India. The legacies of those who were part of the infamous 2013 tour are still being muddied to this day.

In years gone by, those who conquered Australia were lauded and reserved a special place in cricket annals. These days, it feels like India has taken over that mantle.

Thus, the upcoming tour of India could be a defining stretch in the legacy of England captain Alastair Cook. Unlike so many overseas cricketers — there are many more names to add to the list headed by Waugh and Ponting — Cook has enjoyed some of his finest moments of a storied career in India.

Seemingly, Cook was always destined for greatness. When he debuted for England in 2006, Cook’s boyish good looks appeared out of kilter amid the battle-hardened Test cricket cauldron. His polished exterior was more reminiscent of a teenage choir boy. However, under the youthfulness lay a ruthless soul who was born to be a cricket assassin. Cook is a cricketer possessed with the innate ability to consume deliveries at will, while stockpiling run after run after run.

 

On a Nagpur turner, the then 21-year-old showcased his precocious abilities with a sublime maiden performance (60 and 104), demonstrating he could succeed amid the harshest terrain. In a strange quirk, Cook has only played eight of his record-setting 135 Tests in India. Astoundingly, he averages over 60 with four centuries and three 50s.

Perhaps most impressively, Cook was at the helm of England’s 2-1 series victory in India. It was England’s first victory in India since 1984-85 and remains India’s last Test series loss at home. With India impregnable at home ever since, befuddling opponents with intoxicating spin and masterful batting, undoubtedly, that performance by England four years ago is gaining in lore and is arguably the finest effort by a Test team in this decade.

It remains the high point of Cook’s captaincy, which has been often derided over the years. Playing the second Test match against Bangladesh, Cook equalled Michael Atherton’s Test captaincy mark for England. It was Cook’s 54th Test in charge, and he has a credible 24 victories, including back-to-back Ashes triumphs at home and landmark series victories in South Africa and India. But amid the highs, there have been some startling lowlights. He’s gone through several turbulent stretches, which hit a nadir when England were embarrassingly whitewashed in Australia to surrender the Ashes in 2013-14, followed by a humiliatingly home loss to Sri Lanka.

Cook has long been a punching bag for his conservative captaincy, where he was completely outfoxed by a wily Michael Clarke during that Ashes whitewash. However, much like his methodical and clinical batting, Cook’s captaincy has managed to endure at the Test level.

Significantly, his staid captaincy has been given a gentle nudge by crafty coach Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who was inserted into the England hot seat 18 months ago. Cook will never be able to unshackle his innate conservatism, but has added tricks to an almost empty bag and become more flexible in his approach.

In many ways, Cook’s longevity as skipper and surviving through several tumultuous periods in English cricket speaks volumes of his character. He was able to survive a damaging rift with superstar Kevin Pietersen and has been at the helm of a largely successful rebuilding phase since Bayliss was appointed.

Despite his standing, it would not be a controversial sentiment to believe Cook has been largely underappreciated. Perhaps, this perception is due to his stereotype as a plodding batsman with an unassuming persona. Cook is a throwback to when teams scoring 200 a day was the norm. He cares for productivity over style; substance over flaunt. As mentioned, his captaincy has largely been made a mockery.

Right now, Cook holds nearly every England Test batting record worth holding and is set to surpass Sachin Tendulkar’s seemingly unbreakable records. Aged 31, after a decade at the Test level, Cook’s career may realistically only be at its midway point. He has had few injury problems and aided by the benefits of modern medicine, it would not be a surprise to see Cook replicating Misbah-ul-Haq and playing into his 40s.

For all his historical deeds, you feel that the upcoming series in India could propel Cook’s standing to another level. He’s a great cricketer, no doubt. But if he can conjure consecutive series victories in India and once again star with the bat, even his most ardent critics would have to grant Cook immortal status.

There is considerable weight of expectation on his lean shoulders. You sense Alastair Cook will relish the responsibility.