Saturday, November 10, 2012

Alastair Cook — Mr. Versatile of cricket

November 10, 2012

Alastair Cook is Mr Reliable among the England batsmen who will take the field against India in Ahmedabad next Thursday but he still has the power to surprise even those who know him well.

He is polite by any standards but particularly when you compare him with other sportsmen, and he could stand in a crowded room and be unnoticed.

Unexpected retirement

Yet when England found it needed a new captain after Andrew Strauss's unexpected retirement there was no doubt he would get the job. No list of potential candidates, no interviews, no unwanted speculation — it was always going to be Cook, even though he was only 28, even though he had never been permanent captain of his county Essex, even though he had already carried the burden of opening the innings.

Low profile man

Cook may prefer the shadows to the limelight but there is enormous faith in him and on this tour of India — as he has shown with big innings already — he will probably prove that he has the spare capacity to lead the team, open the innings and shoulder all the responsibilities of sporting captaincy with some aplomb.

He will also, if there is a demand for his other great skill, play the clarinet or the saxophone and sing in the choir. Cook is, in short, Mr Versatile as a cricketer or a musician.

His first rewards were as a singer and clarinettist when he won a music scholarship but in the next 10 years he was clearly going to be a great cricketer too. He says his music helped his concentration at the wicket.

Whatever gave him that ability was worth the effort for his stamina and fortitude are outstanding. So far his left-handed batting has brought him 83 Test appearances, he has played 146 innings, scored 6,555 runs and averaged 47.84 with a top score of 294 and, with Strauss, formed a partnership that has allowed Kevin Pietersen and company to score with comparative ease once the opening pair has blunted the attack.

My memory of him will always be as the cool young man who turned up at the Cricket Writers dinner on Friday evening in early 2005, collected the Young Player-of-the-Year award, made a neat speech of thanks and then drove back to Chelmsford to score a double hundred off the Australian tourists. You won't find that score in his records because it was a two-day match, but Australia had a strong team out and the writers who gave him the award were not the only cricket people impressed by his feat.

It is said that the likely top three of Cook, Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott are too defensively similar, but just think how any attack might feel after hours of toil against those three when the next man down the pavilion steps is Pietersen.

Pietersen era

I suspect we are about to enter the era of Pietersen, a time in which he will produce even more runs and destroy more attacks than at any time since he became a Test batsman.

He may have realised that his future is now entirely in his own hands and that only he can determine what sort of a mark he leaves on the game.

So too with Cook. His 28th birthday occurs on Christmas Day soon after the team returns from the first half of its India tour and by that time he may be that rare sportsman, the captain who has beaten India on its own pitches and scored a mountain of runs in the four Tests he has guided his team to success.
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