Published on December 3rd, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
Alastair Cook’s performance matters a great deal to the England side
There are pitfalls into which visiting teams can fall very easily during long, arduous tours.
Away from the comforts of a familiar sight, sounds, climate, conditions, food, friends, people and pitch; early setbacks can fast-track the side into despondency. It is this very trait that we see in so many foreign tours by every team. It is rare for them to come back after being pummelled on to the rope early on.
It is the same for the young England side under their youthful skipper. They held out for three days at Brisbane, fighting every inch, tooth and claw, till they hit against a formidable wall called Steve Smith. And then, as they went out to bat in the second innings facing not that daunting a deficit, everything went awry. What made it worse was that the beginning of the end was hastened by an uncharacteristic hook shot by the immensely experienced Alastair Cook, the only man in the side with a decent track record Down Under.
At Adelaide, at the end of the second day’s play, they are already staring at humiliation. Moreso because the ploy of putting Australia into bat did not quite work out the way Joe Root would have hoped.
The side could have been rather optimistic at the end of Day One, with the hosts struggling at 209 for 4. When Stuart Broad trapped Peter Handscomb leg before wicket early on Day Two things seemed to be going their way. But then Shaun Marsh played the spoilsport, aided excellently by Tim Paine and Pat Cummins. 442 for 8 declared is not what a skipper bargains for after inserting the opposition.
Yes, England have lost just one wicket before the close of Day Two. The match is far from a foregone conclusion. But, it seems rather unlikely that the hosts can be made to buckle and submit in this Test match from this strong position. The best that England can do is perhaps salvage a draw. And that too is a rather demanding task.
After this, the entire stretch of the southern continent seems to loom ahead of them austerely, with the third Test scheduled to be played at distant Perth, a venue which has been heartlessly unkind to them over the years.
If England lose here, despondency will be the natural reaction and the series can soon peter out into a one-sided rigmarole with the tourists growing increasingly homesick and eager to board the return flight.
None of the cricket-lovers around the world would like such a highly-billed series to shape up that unfortunate way.
It is thus very important for the English batsmen to make a match of it from now on, and at least save the game, make it competitive, perhaps with a faint possibility of forcing the issue over the next three days.
And for a young side to find that sort of impetus, perhaps the most important role will be that of Alastair Cook.
He is the one man in the line-up, as already mentioned, who has performed well here in the past. No one else has a proven track record in Australia, including Root.
For many of the cricketers in the current England side, Cook is the symbol of permanence. He has been there for almost as long as they can remember an England side out in the middle. He is the lodestar of the batting unit, an emblem of durability. If he fails again, it can be interpreted as the indication of ensuing disaster. And if he scores big, it will almost inevitably be accompanied by the reassurance that everything is well with the world once again.
When established senior cricketers, legends in their own rights, perform well, young side benefits immensely. Up until now, Cook has failed miserably in the series. Anderson has bowled 71 overs to capture 3 wickets for 151. The established greats have not been able to show the way. Cook firing here will remedy the damage to a great extent, especially with the unhurried security that accompanies his game.
Of course, few outcomes can be more positive than Root getting a huge score. If youngsters like James Vince continue their impressive show and take on the responsibility of guiding the side, it will perhaps be the best possible result the England side can hope for. One has to remember a youthful duo going by the names Peter May and Colin Cowdrey and what they did in the 1954-55 series to get an estimate of what such an eventuality can mean for the future of English cricket.
However, even as one hopes for such momentous results, the most realistic and comforting conclusion one can aspire to witness is that of Alastair Cook anchoring the innings in his usual steadfast manner.
It will do a world of good to the England side.