Only one triple-digit score in his last 26 Test innings. 69 runs in five knocks at 13.80 in the ongoing Ashes. Has Alastair Cook, England’s highest run scorer in the five-day format and the youngest cricketer to play 150 Tests, reached the twilight of his career or is it just a poor phase?
At 32, age is certainly not the issue. It is his torrid form which has been a cause of concern for the entire England team management.
Apart from his 243 against West Indies in the day-night Test at Birmingham in the recently concluded home season, Cook’s bat hasn’t been productive enough of late. In the four-Test series against South Africa at home, he had just two 50 plus scores in eight knocks. In the next series against the Windies, barring the double hundred, Cook couldn’t reach 30 in his next four innings. In fact, prior to that 243, his previous hundred came in November 2016, against India at Rajkot.
Currently, there are two theories going around, that explain this sudden slump in form of Cook, who is regarded as England’s one of the most successful openers and has close to 12,000 Test runs.
Cricketer turned commentator, Kevin Pietersen believes the problem is more mental than technical.
‘It looks like Cook is not very interested,’ Pietersen told ESPNcricinfo. ‘Just the way that he’s got out, the manner of his dismissals and also the way he’s walked off the field once he’s got out.
‘That’s the sign of a bloke who goes, “You know what? Maybe my time is up.” But he’s also quite resilient so can he turn it around?’
In hindsight, someone like Geoffrey Boycott counters Pietersen’s interpretation. According to him, the opener’s difficulties in Australia have been technical rather than his desire to carry on.
“Only Alastair can tell you what’s on his mind but I think on the field he is having a problem with getting forward to the ball coming across him,” he said.
At Perth, in his last innings, Cook was trapped plumb LBW by a scorching Mitchell Starc delivery that was close to 150km/h. In fact, in this series, he has also been dismissed twice by the off-spinner Nathan Lyon, trapped right in front of the stumps, while Cook was trying to come onto his front-foot.
So yes, getting forward, seems like an issue, which is bothering him right now. Or maybe Cook’s reflexes are waning gradually with the increase of age.
As an opener, while facing the new ball, one cannot be half-hearted in his approach, especially in the feet movement. Otherwise, whenever the ball is in the corridor of uncertainty, the batsman will struggle.
And that’s what is exactly happening with Cook.
Furthermore, as a batsman, the southpaw from Essex has never evolved since making his debut as a 20-year old. Cook still plays those same shots – the cut, the flick through midwicket, the hook or pull and a cover-drive when on song. The lack of exposure in the limited-overs formats hasn’t allowed him to add more run-scoring shots in his armoury. Hence, the analysts have worked out how to bowl at him.
The Australians in this series have executed their bowling plans against Cook brilliantly. There are hardly any freebies and nothing on his legs. So, it has taken him longer to accumulate the same number of runs as before and Cook’s hesitancy in coming forward has eventually become the reason behind his downfall.
However, whether it is a poor phase or ageing reflexes, the question here is, how long England can sustain with an out of form opener, especially when they have lost the first two Tests for the series?
Since his debut against India at Nagpur back in 2006, Cook has never been dropped from the team. The ongoing Perth Test is his 148th in successive appearance for his country. However, if he fails in the second innings, then we are most likely to see an end to this long run.