Alastair Cook has gone through his fair share of tough times so far during his 151-Test career. It has been difficult to forget the numerous slumps in form, as well as a troubled start and end to his captaincy, yet his latest dry period with the bat had been arguably his toughest to date.
Before the Melbourne Test, Cook had gone 10 innings without reaching 40, never mind 100. In addition, he had scored just one Test ton in 14 matches since his second-innings 130 at Rajkot last winter. What’s more, the 33-year-old was going back to full balls, looking uncomfortable against the Australian quicks in the process. Cook was in real trouble and he knew it.
All of this will have hurt Cook. And the claims that he has looked disinterested on this tour so far will have surely been tough to take, especially given the fact that he is one of the hardest working and most mentally tough cricketers England have ever produced. Having to answer such questions about his commitment won’t have been taken kindly.
But if there is one thing that Test cricket has taught us over the years, it’s to never write off a champion. Cook may have looked awful at times on this tour but a man with over 150 Tests and 11,500 runs deserves respect. No player has such numbers without finding ways to score during the difficult times. Cook is one of those players and while his monumental unbeaten 244 at Melbourne may have been a surprise to some, to others it was yet another example of the skill and determination that he still possesses.
There was a clear change in mindset for Cook during his knock. He intended to be positive but in a controlled manner. The feature of his knock weren’t the cuts and clips we all know Cook for, it was the crisp straight drives he played with such ease. The left-hander, thanks to his work with his batting coach Gary Palmer, has now adopted a more open technique that gives him more balance. He looked complete all around the ground.
“It was one of those days when things were working well,” said Cook after his epic knock. “I have been a bit embarrassed a bit by my performances in this series but at least today I have gone on and got a big one. It’s never going to be pretty, my batting, but sometimes it’s effective.
“I did have nothing to lose. You have less to lose when your highest score has been 30. If you keep doing the same stuff. So yes, I played a bit more positively.
“You get a few times in your career where you get into a bit of rhythm at the crease where time flies by. On this tour, batting for half an hour has felt like two hours. For some reason, the last 10 hours have gone quickly.”
Perhaps the most significant result from this knock was that it proved how much Cook still has left to give. Sure, he returned to form when the Ashes were done and dusted and that will hurt for a long time. Yet this was still a Boxing Day Ashes Test and to play such a knock with his place on the line showed positive signs for the future.
Will Cook need to be managed? For sure. Despite only being 33, he has endured 12 years of high-pressure cricket with just as many lows as highs and that would mentally wear down even the strongest of characters. And who knows how much damage such slumps in form and damaging series defeats away from home will have done to his mental toughness.
Of course, this was an Aussie attack without Mitchell Starc, a man who had caused Cook problems this series, and one with an ill Pat Cummins. Furthermore, you would be applauded for finding a flatter wicket over the past year than this Melbourne track – there was barely any pace or bounce over the whole five days. It allowed Cook much more time to play his shots than at Perth, where he was hurried by the traditionally quick WACA pitch.
Yet this was still one of the most fluent and pleasing knocks Cook has played during his long career and showed that he has still plenty left in the tank. And while other batsmen, bar David Warner, struggled to find timing on such a slow pitch, Cook’s eye-catching stroke play stood out above all else. Not only did he go above Mahela Jayawardene to sixth in the all-time Test run-scorers list, he became the first Englishman to carry his bat in a Test innings since Mike Atherton in 1997.
And if the years of toil in the Test arena may be an excuse to hang up his boots soon enough, the chance to move even further up such a prestigious list as the highest Test run scorers, a chance very few Test players get, will surely be a motivation for Cook to carry on for a few years yet. After all, England need his stability and experience at the top of the order, especially given the number of openers that have come and gone since Andrew Strauss’s retirement in 2012.
While it may not gloss over the fact that the former England’s captain failed to perform while the Ashes were still on the line, what Cook’s supreme knock once again proved was that he still has an enormous appetite for runs. And in what is currently a difficult period for England in Tests, such a quality still remains invaluable for both Cook and the team.