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It may be the internet age, but with Cook at the controls, England reverted to a tempo last seen in the steam-age as they subjected India to a resounding marmalisation
August 12, 2011
There is a very 21st century term to describe what happened to India on the third day at Edgbaston. To use the jargon of the internet age, they were "pwned" - statistically, athletically, temperamentally, and comprehensively, as England chose the occasion of their coronation as the world's No. 1 side to subject their predecessors to one of the most resounding marmalisations in Test batting history.
According to urban legend, the verb "to pwn" was spawned by fat-fingered online gamers, who, in their haste to gloat at the demise of their opponents in some virtual-reality shoot-em-up, would regularly slap the 'p' key instead of the 'o' while typing the word "own". It's ironic, therefore, that for the best part of 13 hours, England's progress was dictated by a player who didn't produce a single twitchy key-stroke until, with a slice of immortality at his fingertips, he pulled the trigger too soon to a long-hop from Ishant Sharma, and toe-ended a looping chance to deep backward point.
It may be the internet age, but with Cook at the controls, England reverted to a tempo last seen in the steam-age. When he's not rewriting English batting records, Cook the part-time farm-hand can often be found steering a tractor through country lanes in Wiltshire, and next time he's back there, the squelch of the mud beneath his tyres may well bring to mind the squelch of India's resolve beneath his every prod and nurdle.
Not since Len Hutton powered England to a legendary 903 for 7 in 1938, had the team posted so much as 700 in a single innings. Today Cook's modus operandi had little in common with the slash-and-burn nature of modern batsmanship, but rather brought to mind the sepia-tinged Englishmen whose Test-bests he ticked off along the way.
Geoffrey Boycott's 246 not out against India in 1967 fell by the wayside before tea, as did Dennis Amiss's 262 not out at Kingston seven years later - an effort that earned him the nickname "Sacker", because his knackered and sweaty carcass looked like a "sack of s**t" as he slumped back down in the dressing room. Cook, by stunning contrast, looked as fresh as a choirboy from first ball to last. As he memorably declared during his epic Ashes series, he does not sweat much, and though he admitted to feeling "heavy-legged" at the close of the second day, his disappointment at spurning a triple-ton outweighed any remote feelings of weariness at the end of the third.
"It's mad, isn't it, how you can still be disappointed when you score 290-odd?" Cook said. "I suppose only cricket can do that to you. There's a tinge of disappointment, but if I'm being realistic, I'm absolutely thrilled. It's taken almost 13 hours of hard work to get the opportunity [to make 300]. When you don't make it, you're going to have a little bit of disappointment. But you've got to look at it properly, and the fact that I actually scored 294 runs rather than the six I didn't get."
Up in the press box, opinions were divided. Shane Warne, ever the antagonist, declared on Twitter that the day was "officially the worst" he'd ever witnessed, and granted, a mid-afternoon fiasco involving bad light and a power cut did not help the image of the contest. But those who quibbled about the tempo of England's performance ignored the fact that India had dug their own grave. In little more than two sessions on the first day, they surrendered first use of what proved, very quickly, to be a totally blameless wicket, and therefore lost any right to dictate the terms of the action.
After all, it wasn't until the mid-afternoon drinks break, with England coasting towards a lead of 350, that the halfway point of the contest was reached. Bat once, bat deep, were the orders, and Cook and his cohorts obliged. "There were no time restraints. We just wanted to get as big a score as we could, and I think 700 is a pretty decent effort," Cook said. "When you bowl a side out in two sessions, you can bat as long as you want. We knew the wicket wasn't going to get any better, and we wanted to make the most of that by batting when it was at its best."
After a ding-dong pair of contests at Lord's and Trent Bridge, in which India clearly had their chances but were denied the right to capitalise, this Edgbaston bout is becoming the sort of mismatch not seen in England-India contests since England themselves were pummelled from pillar to post on their woeful tour of 1992-93. Back then, a single massive innings in each of the three Tests, from Mohammad Azharuddin, Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar, was sufficient to crush a team that arrived with airs of grandeur but departed with prawn curry on their faces.
That grandeur was in part set up by the events of the previous series between the two teams, in England in 1990, for which Cook's day-long pursuit of Graham Gooch's 333 established clear parallels. As seemed the case throughout that series, India's attack on this occasion looked popgun at best. After his brief burst of wickets at Lord's, for instance, Ishant Sharma looked about as threatening as his 1990 namesake Sanjeev, whose medium pacers were never again seen after Gooch had had his say.
Amit Mishra, meanwhile, may one day enjoy a day to rival that of Narendra Hirwani, who claimed 16 West Indian wickets on debut in 1988 but was plundered at nearly four an over in that same Gooch-dominated contest. The point is, this England team has the ability - like the Australians of recent vintage - to make sides look a lot worse than they probably are. The acid test for their credentials won't arrive until they are tested by a chastened opposition in the return series in two winters' time, but on a day when Virender Sehwag's contribution to the contest read like a sick joke, Cook and England's old-school virtues looked timeless in every respect.
A measure of their gargantuan appetite is England's current tally of double-centuries - six in the past 14 months alone, compared to eight in the previous 21 years, and 50 all told in their entire Test history. The influence of Gooch is tangible in that respect, as Cook reiterated, after his pursuit of a "grand-daddy" hundred had fallen six runs short.
"He was 'quite' happy," Cook said. "He's quite proud, but I'm sure he'll be throwing [balls] at me in the morning - put an innings to bed, and move on. That's why you do the fitness work, to allow you to do it, and then the mental concentration is something you pick up over time. With Gooch on board, we never have enough. That ethos has really rubbed off on everyone, and we've all bought into it." Pwned indeed. Even in this age of instant gratification, there's a place for a bit of old-fashioned grind.
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