It can be termed a common norm or it can be seen as an unfortunate truth. It can either be a moment of great pathos or simultaneously be accepted as an inevitable spiral. Periods of jubilation follow phases of utter distress, leading to the epiphany that lives will remain interspersed with both joyful highs and awful lows. Careers will witness match-winning knocks that will stand as a testimony to one’s flaring skills. Careers will witness shocking lows where the same shot against the same bowler that had fetched runs in dozens will now plot one’s downfall. A cricketer of great potential will work on his lacks; toiling sweat and blood for amends. He will get back up. Rise. Conquer again. Until a day arrives when he will try hard to rectify his errors but will fail to completely override them.
Alastair Nathan Cook’s story is a journey that has been scripted by many cricketers before. His penchant for musical notes slowly overflowed into cricket shots and just like any other cricketer, he too established himself as a wonder school-boy, scoring seventeen centuries and two double centuries in four years. A hundred in his maiden Test match in India was just the initiation the then-twenty one year old needed to layer himself up with consistency; proving his mettle in every given opportunity. From an average of 46.04 in 2006, Cook’s average leapfrogged to 84.27 in 2011 and even when he was appointed the captain in 2012, the string of scores remained impressive- far removed from the pressures of the tough task that had been bestowed on him.
A ton followed another. 23 in just seven years. In 2010, he had inculcated a deep-rooted fear Down Under by scoring 766 runs at an average of 127.66, helping England win the Ashes 3-1. He crossed Graham Gooch’s tally to become the highest run scorer in England cricket. He surpassed the 10,000 run landmark as well; one that has been reserved only for the skilled elite. Being touted as a player who could break Sachin Tendulkar’s Test record was a feat in itself. Having a realistic chance to actually overhaul that was sensational, to say the least.
But just like any other cricketer would face, the plot-twist was not far away. Runs dried away with the constant comparisons soaking up not only the hundreds but the half-centuries as well. Six hundreds in the last four years hardly did justice to one of the most talented batsmen from the country and as Cook’s form continues into the Ashes, doubts have swivelled over his retirement and his lack of motivation to improve upon his technique and skills.
In 6 innings on the tour currently, he has just one half century in six innings. In the first innings at the Gabba, he was unable to coil under the barrage of bouncers being bowled by Mitchell Starc. As the ball remained close to the off stump, Cook’s indecision which finally led him to draw forward and edge one to first slip showed glaring glimpses at his technique.
In the second innings he fell prey to the hook shot, once considered his primary weapon. Josh Hazlewood’s short ball to his right ear was met with a swaying bat, when it indeed should have been silently ducked away. A top edge to Starc was met with concerned eyebrows from the Barmy Army and the English commentators alike. Had he not learnt to pounce on the conditions like his Aussie counterpart Steven Smith had done?
As Cook walked back to the pavilion, with just three hundreds to show against his name in the last two years, he would have been aware that the annoying phase is meted out to every batsman that plays the game. However, a fine line exists between being able to rise back up and fading into the oblivion. With Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan- who have a combined Test experience of 15 Tests- all scoring fighting fifties in the first innings, the weak link in England’s top order remains Cook and the onus is on him to replicate his heroics from 2010, to not only save England the blushes in the series but also reignite his flickering career.