How an open stance got Cook back on track

Specialist batting coach Gary Palmer reveals how he worked on England opener Alastair Cook's stance and how the move got the opener back on track after a lull between 2012-2014.

In between 2015 and 2017, Cook scored 3,533 runs in 42 Tests at an average of 47.74, including seven hundreds and 17 half-centuries. This was in stark contrast to the 2,555 runs he had managed from 37 Tests at 39.30 in between 2012 and 2014.   -  Getty Images

Alastair Cook may have been dismissed for 0 and 13 in the first Test against India at Edgbaston but the left-hander's record against the subcontinent giant has been nothing short of staggering.

In the 13 Tests against India, Cook has amassed 1235 runs at 51.45, including five hundreds and four fifties. His first-Test failure, therefore, could well be an aberration.

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Cook's batting - unyielding and determined - has been the cornerstone of England's dominance in the five-day format. However a lull between 2012-2014 saw him struggle for his place in the side until he met a man named Gary Palmer.

"I flew home to the news that he had hit a double century in Melbourne. I wasn’t surprised." This was November of 2017. Palmer, a specialist batting coach, had just flown back from Australia where he was working with the Three Lions ahead of the five-Test Ashes series.

Cook had occupied the crease for six and a half hours on day three of the fourth Test to amass the highest score against Australia in Melbourne, a feisty unbeaten 244 which eventually helped England draw the Test. Although the visitor ceded the urn, with Australia winning the series 4-0, Cook was back on track.

"Cook's record is unquestionable," Palmer, who first started working with the England opener in the early months of 2015, tells Sportstar.

Alastair Cook batting stance from 2011 (L) and 2018. - SCREENGRAB FROM ECB.CO.UK

 

That was a rough year for the former England captain. Not only had he been dropped from the ODI side, he had gone two long years without a single Test century. For England's highest run-scorer in Tests (12,158 runs), the poor run of form belied the talent of a player, who for long, had been touted as the most likely candidate to break all of Sachin Tendulkar's Test records.

Cook's alliance with Palmer, a former Somerset all-rounder, and the time he spent in the latter's academy in Oxfordshire provided a second lease of life for the Essex batsman.

In between 2015 and 2017, Cook scored 3,533 runs in 42 Tests at an average of 47.74, including seven hundreds and 17 half-centuries. This was in contrast to the 2,555 runs he had managed from 37 Tests at 39.30 in between 2012 and 2014, including six hundreds and 12 half-centuries.

So, what changed?

An open stance

"We worked on a more open stance and turning his back foot in when he triggered," Palmer points out. "It was also important to keep his leading shoulder out of the way prior to driving the ball when hitting straight. Doing this gave him good alignment and balance so he could hit down the ground more effectively.

Alastair Cook's alliance with Gary Palmer, a former Somerset all-rounder, and the time he spent in the latter's academy in Oxfordshire provided a second lease of life for the Essex batsman.   -  Special Arrangement

 

"It also gave him good access to the ball and, importantly, allowed him to leave the ball more effectively. We worked for many months honing his technique and hitting lots of balls so to get the muscle memory in place and ensure we didn’t leave a stone unturned," he adds.

Palmer argues that a slightly more open batting stance "helps a left-handed batter facing a right arm pace bowler hit the ball effectively in the V."

"It's all about angles and keeping the bat on the line of the ball for as long as possible when playing straight. If you stand very side on, you limit the access to the ball and can’t hit it down the ground. This is when players get blocked off and play around their front pad.

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"Standing too side on also leads to your head tipping to the offside where the batter can be lured into playing good balls outside the off stump. If you are more open it's easier to adjust to the swinging and turning deliveries," Palmer reasons.

Palmer believes Cook's struggles to hit the ground running from the word go could also be due to the fact that he doesn't play limited-overs cricket any more.

"Personally, I thought playing ODIs was good for him because he would go out to bat with an attacking mindset and defending if the ball was not there to be hit.

Alastair Cook ODI

Cook's last ODI appearance came in 2014 in Sri Lanka. - Getty Images   -  Getty Images

 

"When you look to attack, the body moves more effectively and shots flow more, including the defensive ones. Cook did really well for Essex last year in one-day cricket," Palmer says.

While Palmer "can’t tell you what he (Cook) is troubled by because we are not working together at the moment," he expects the "mentally tough competitor" to come good with the bat in the remainder of the series.