“Alastair Cook 244* “

These words on the scoreboard of Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) not only flashed Cook’s runs at stumps of the second day, but also testified what England were eluded of so far. Their best batsman has found form late, the Urn was lost in the third Test at Perth, but now, England have a new ray of hope: they might escape a second consecutive whitewash Down Under in the Ashes.

In the last three Tests, Cook scored a total of 83 runs and 37 was his highest score in his previous 10 Test innings. Someone, like Cook, who has played 150 Tests and scored 11,000-plus runs, had become a laughing stock by the end of the Perth Test. There were several cricket enthusiasts, including English journalists and pundits, who had counted him in the players who were expected to retire at the end of this Ashes. There was another senior English player who had an equally miserable Ashes until the third Test – Stuart Broad. Prior to Broad’s first wicket on the opening day of the MCG Test, he was without a wicket for 69 overs.

With Ashes already snatched away from England, the final two Tests are a dead rubber. While Australia will aim to make it 5-0, England will play for pride. In other words, the final two Tests come as a second chance for a few England players to revive their image that got tarnished in the first three Tests. Even though they say cricket is a team game, there will always be personal aspects to prove. In doing so, many a time, that goes on to help the team at the end. Speaking of the WACA Test, we can’t decide which of the two – Cook and Broad – performed more poorly. The pitch seemed way too fast for Cook, while it appeared to be slow for Broad and the opponents proved to be too tough for both. Regardless, Ashes slipped away.

Broad, finally, had something to cheer for when he dismissed centurion David Warner on the first day. By the end of Australia’s innings, Broad (4) and James Anderson(3) had seven wickets between them. England went ahead quite soon in the ongoing Test when they restricted Australia to 327 runs and their spearheads had taken the majority of the wickets. In the first three Tests, Broad and Anderson played an almost negligible role with the ball.

When England came out to bat on the second day, there was no Mitchell Starc to open the bowling for Australia. That meant, there was no one who could trouble with the perfect lengths and turns. With a series of pathetic performances with the bat back of his mind, Cook came out to open England’s innings, once again. The man, who faced a maximum of 90 balls in an innings in the last three games, had lasted only for a couple of hours at once.

Failing to reach a fifty in 10 consecutive Test innings has been his worst phase in his 11-year-old international career.
The out of form man, the near-depressed with his average (less than 14) man, the man who has been haunted with the questions about his place in the team, faced the first delivery in a hope to turn tables around. By the end of the second day, he still remained at the crease. The two best players of England – Cook and Joe Root – remained unbeaten on 104 and 49. As Cook walked out, the Australian players, one after the other, came and shook hands with the Cook for his 32nd Test hundred.

When England resumed play on the third day, the captain once again failed to convert a start into a big knock, while the former skipper continued to bat on. He came into the game with his place in the XI in danger and perhaps his future under scrutiny but with the Test still in progress, Cook has ensured that there is still a lot of cricket left in him. With only 89 runs added since Root’s dismissal, England saw themselves well on their way to another collapse. While England built a rock-solid platform on Cook, the other players did not play their role. When Chris Woakes, joined Cook, England desperately wanted Woakes to prove his worth as an all-rounder.

Not disappointing his side, Woakes exactly did that as Cook and Woakes piled up 59 runs for the seventh wickets before the latter fell to Pat Cummins’ bowling. Their stand eventually was overshadowed by the 100-stand partnership between Cook and Broad that happened after Woakes’ dismissal. Broad joined Cook at the crease when England were 373 for 8 and the two took England’s lead well over 150.

There was another factor that kept Australia ahead of England in this series and that is the tail’s contribution with the bat for Australia, whenever needed. Meanwhile, the likes of Woakes, Broad and Anderson hardly lasted at the crease to help England down the order. And since that changed in Melbourne, England automatically elevated into the dominant position in the Boxing Day Test.

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Broad’s batting woes, after his Test career is now a decade old, are not hidden. Even in the previous three Tests in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, the Australian bowlers used their weapon of short balls at Broad who would soon after that throw away his wicket. When Broad was instantly targeted with short stuff, Cook suddenly would have seen his double ton in danger. The two have played together in 113 matches before this Test but surprisingly, this was just for the second time Cook and Broad batted together in a Test innings.

Broad was even hit on the shoulder once but eventfully MCG’s slow pitch helped Broad to finally deal with his weakness. Fortunately for England, that paid off and it was Broad, who did the real damage at the end. While Cook was well set having batted over seven or eight hours, Australians were always in the game as they regularly sent back the batsman on the other end. But, it was Broad who stuck around for the longest with Cook and stitched a reviving 100-run stand for England, which certainly would have hurt the hosts.


England needed to build a strong lead and Broad soon got to the job. Off his bat flew eight fours and a six somewhere in between them. What was beautiful is that he struck a boundary off yet another bouncer to bring his half-century. When he was dismissed by Cummins, he had scored an excellent 56 and shared an exact 100-run stand with Cook. By the time the day’s play ended at MCG, for the very first time, England thought they had earned an edge against the Australians. Cook, once again was at the crease at stumps; he once again was congratulated by the opponents as he walked off but what truly satisfied the touring party was these words on the big screen – England leads by 164 runs.

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