Friday, July 20, 2012

Another landmark for England’s run machine

There were many 'head-to-heads' that dominated the build up to the eagerly-anticipated series between England and South Africa, but most centred around Kevin Pietersen and Dale Steyn.
South Africa's much vaunted bowling attack flagged at The Oval as England's run machine Alastair Cook plundered another chanceless Test century - his 20th, to be exact.
In an unerring innings in which he never really looked like getting out, Cook ended an 11-month gap between Test centuries, with his previous three-figure score coming against India at Edgbaston last summer.
This was far from a drought, however, with big tons coming in one-day cricket instead; but make no mistake, this was a crucial knock, both for the team and for the opener himself.
Cook's 100, which came off 222 deliveries, saw him reach the 20 mark in Test centuries, joining an illustrious list of greats.

It always seemed inevitable that the Essex left-hander would reach the landmark, but to do so at the age of just 27 makes it all the more remarkable.
Sachin Tendulkar remains the youngest cricketer to reach 20 tons, at the age of 26 and 173 days - a feat he achieved back in October 1999. But Cook has been hot on his heels and becomes the second youngest to reach the mark.
Four England batsmen, including his captain Andrew Strauss, are ahead of Cook on the list of England batsmen with the most Test centuries - Geoffrey Boycott (22), Colin Cowdrey (22), Wally Hammond (22) and Strauss (21).
Cook joins Ken Barrington, Kevin Pietersen and his batting mentor a prolific throw-down buddy Graham Gooch, now the England batting coach, on the 20 mark. It should not be a statistic that is easily scanned over.
He made no mistake when the time came, pushing an undemonstrative single to cover off leg-spinner Imran Tahir to complete his five-hour century in 222 balls - having hit 11 fours and one six.
Cook's strike rate of 40.28 might have been his third-lowest for a three-figure knock, but it was a masterful innings which, in the context of the match, was absolutely essential after the early loss of Strauss for a four-ball duck.
The immediate and obvious question was how many centuries will Cook end up with at the end of his already illustrious international career?
Cowers can see no reason why the 27-year-old cannot double his existing efforts in a career which looks set to go the distance, with 40 Test centuries surely not an impossibility.
Cook's seemingly limitless capacity for scoring runs and building innings after innings should not diminish over the next five to 10 years, and even the pressure of captaincy has not adversely affected his form in ODI cricket. On the contrary, his form has improved markedly since being handed the proverbial armband in that form of the game.
This series was billed as a battle of the bowling attacks, with South Africa's five-pronged unit expected to not only challenge, but terrorise, the England batsmen.
When Strauss departed in the opening over it seemed as though there could be something behind that hype, but Cook's typically mature, indomitable effort ensured that England were far from intimidated by the tourists' pacemen.
England are in command already in the opening Test at The Oval, courtesy of Cook's magnificent century, and there appears to be no stopping the opener as he strode off the pitch at the end of the day.
As the batsman told Sky reporter Ian Ward at the close of play when asked how he prepared for this series, "I've been working 12 hour shifts on the farm, don't even joke!". The funny thing is, no one was remotely surprised to hear it.
There is surely no doubt that Cook will eclipse all existing England records with the bat, but the only question is to what extent.
Can Cook go on to break the international Test match records? Can he maintain the hunger and desire required to thrive at the highest level in what will likely turn out to be a mammoth career in two forms of the game?
Only time will tell, of course, but the great thing about Cook is that nothing he does surprises anyone. He is a remarkable cricketer with a remarkable character.
STAT OF THE DAY: The 170-run stand between Cook and Jonathan Trott is the seventh-highest second-wicket partnership for England against South Africa overall and the second-highest since South Africa's readmission.
TWEET OF THE DAY: "Very lonely 1st session in the middle at Lord's for sole Englishman Cook with great team man Kevin Pietersen to come." Australian journalist Malcolm Conn takes a swipe at the England side, but gets rather confused about where the match is taking place.
TALKING POINT OF THE DAY: Despite Cook's heroics, inevitably, it was Pietersen's exclusion from England's provisional 30-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in September that had everyone talking. The batsman himself is unlikely to let the matter lie, but ECB policies are pretty tough to budge, as he is realising having retired from ODIs and, by extension, Twenty20s.

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