When Morne Morkel made a loud appeal against Alastair Cook and the on-field umpire Alim Dar raised his finger immediately, the approximate 20,000 spectators at the Oval went silent, praying for an edge or too much height. The replays, however, showed Cook was beaten in the knee and the ball was hitting the bails. Disappointed Cook, once again eluded of a Test century, walked off the field. But the fans, his teammates and everyone watching the match across the globe would have realised that with a resilient knock of 88 from 200 balls, Cook might have pulled England back into the series. After winning the opening Test against South Africa at the Lord’s the hosts lost the second match at Nottingham.
Just because a player is going through a tough patch at present does not declare that he is not the best in his country anymore; especially a player like Cook, who has numerous records backing him as England’s best batsman, by far.
Cook’s start in Test cricket, since his debut in 2006, were incredible and he had shown signs of becoming the best-ever batsman played for England. In the first six years, his average fell below 40 only in one season and otherwise it had always been 43 or more. In 2011, he scored at an average of 80+ in eight Tests before succeeding Andrew Strauss as England’s new Test captain. In the progressing years, he would go on to become the highest run-scorer for England in Tests with 11, 262 runs in 143 Tests with the 143rd Test still underway. Cook already has recorded 30 centuries in Test cricket and the next best in England has 20.
The pressure of captaincy tends to take a toll at any player’s form. And why not? After all, they are human beings too. Even legendary Ian Botham’s form was hit by the massive pressure of captaincy. He is still considered to be one of the greatest played for England. Cook’s captaincy kicked off with flying colours. He became the first English captain to score at least one hundred in his first five Tests. Although his average as a captain continues to be better than his overall so far in the Tests, he has faced consistency issues, following he was named England’s captain. His character as a batsman has always been similar to his character as a captain: persistent and firm but somehow Cook has missed on the sparkle that would give him the tag of the best-ever, be it as a captain or batsman.
His determination and self-belief have brought him a long way. He recently became the youngest man to record 10, 000 Test runs and he became the first-ever England cricketer to be a part of 50 Test victories. Even if there are doubts about his nature of captaincy, two back-to-back Ashes victories at home should shut up his critics. Under his captaincy, England drubbed India twice, New Zealand, and South Africa and of course the win Ashes wins at home. Out of 59 Tests, in which he captained, England won 24. In terms of No. of Test wins as a captain, he holds the joint-second position with Strauss behind Michael Vaughan’s 26 Test wins.
However, there comes a time when a massive downfall happens and for Cook, that begun post ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. He was axed as England’s limited-overs captain; he was dropped from the One-Day International (ODI) side and to make it worse he had started to struggle even in the format he had mastered in the last nine years – Test cricket. In 2016, from 17 Tests he played, he managed only two centuries. One thing led to another and suddenly England lost their No. 1 position to Pakistan after their drawn Test series on the English soils.
That was followed by the new Virat Kohli side lashed England in the four-Test series winning three matches and the aftermath was Cook’s resignation as England’s Test captain. An era had ended. Cook led England in the whites for five long years but it was important for him to play with no responsibility of captaincy on his shoulders in order to claw his form back. In the last two years, Cook has scored only two Test hundreds and that, certainly, has been an area of concern for him and Team England. The last time Cook entered the triple digits in the longest format was in the first Test against India last year in Rajkot. Six Tests have followed that and he has failed match after match to stand like a rock, on the top, in the team.
But, the England witnessed the glimpses of ‘the Old Cook’ on the opening day of the Oval Test on Wednesday. Just like old times, Cook targeted the backward square and backward point. His innings seemed no cake walk yet defined his class. He surely was immense pressure but he had gotten back the old powers of fighting the pressure and coming up. Cook came in with a mission. He knew he had to stick around in order to lay a foundation for the middle-order to carry it from there. He seemed in no hurry. Out of the 200 deliveries he had faced, he left 60; it took him 33 balls to move from 45 to 50 and at one point, Philander and Co looked to wreck the English line-up once again.
However, Cook stood their firm; he held England’s line-up tight with his fighting knock of 82 at stumps of Day One. The day could have turned out to be disastrous for England, had Cook not stepped up. When Cook entered the dressing room, his teammates welcomed him with loud applauds. Each and every member in the room comprehended the significance of Cook’s innings amidst an aggressive South African attack. It’s the same team that has always troubled Cook. Out of all the Test playing nations, Cook averages the least against South Africa. His last Test century against this team was two years old now.
When Cook returned to resume his innings on Day two he felt confident. As Jarrod Kimber described that Cook hardly smiles on the field, but, when Cook walked into the field he was caught smiling. It was indeed a great sign. Frustration was pushed back and joy of playing had taken over. Although Philander troubled Cook even more on Day Two, the Englishman was never seen giving up easily. He fought as long as he could. He fought until Morkel’s second delivery of the 65th over, that dismissed Cook. His smile was gone. The scoreboard displayed, just two digits beside his name, yet again. Nevertheless, this time Cook had not failed to convert a good start into something worthy. His score of 88 might have escaped England from going into the grave at the Oval against South Africa in the ongoing third Test.