England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval, 3rd day

Cook puts substance over style in ton

On a day in which Cook's 110 proved to be almost exactly 50% of a fragile team total of 221 for 9, the value of a player who puts substance ahead of all other attributes feels immeasurable

Andrew Miller at The Oval

August 20, 2010

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Alastair Cook pumps his first after reaching three figures with four overthrows, England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, The Oval, August 20, 2010
Alastair Cook lit up the third day as he rode his luck to register a 13th Test hundred © AFP
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Twenty years ago, almost to the week, another under-fire left-handed batsman booked himself a flight to Australia by serving up a century in the second innings of a critical contest at The Oval. Against India in 1990, David Gower knew he had one last chance to prove his worth, and duly did so with an iron-willed 157 not out, a performance that confirmed his matchless style was underpinned by some serious and often-overlooked substance.

The two men may line up at the crease in the same direction, and they may have made equally precocious arrivals on the international stage, but unlike Gower, Alastair Cook has never enjoyed the benefits of a technique that makes men of a certain age go weak at the knees. Ugly runs are the only runs he deals in - shovels, prods and savage slaps through point - a method that has had him bracketed as a purely functional performer, even from the moment, as a 21-year-old in Nagpur, he shrugged off his jetlag to score a century on debut against India.

When functional performers fail to function, as Cook had done with 106 runs in his previous eight innings of the summer, the pressure on their place seems all that more intolerable. Jonathan Trott felt it early in the year - even after beasting Bangladesh for a double-hundred at Lord's - to a degree that Kevin Pietersen still avoids even after extending his centuryless stint to 15 Tests and counting. But on a day in which Cook's 110 proved to be almost exactly 50% of a fragile team total of 221 for 9, the value of a player who puts substance ahead of all other attributes feels immeasurable.

It is why, in spite of a summer's top score of 29 and an average of 13.25, Andrew Strauss was so eager to ensure his opening partner was preserved for this game that he all but named the side in his post-match press conference at Edgbaston last week. It is why the selectors lumped Cook with the England captaincy for the tour of Bangladesh back in March, a challenge he carried off with distinction when most people queried such an over-promotion at the age of 25. And it is why he was able, finally, to come good today, with his place in the side at the point of no return.

"Yeah, I've been feeling under pressure," Cook admitted at the close. "When you are playing for England, there's always pressure and when you don't perform that multiplies a lot. But to respond like I did today was very satisfying and showed some character. You don't know what it's like until you get into that situation, but it doesn't mean I'm out of the woods either. Even if you are in the best form ever, you've still got to work hard, and I'm going to keep doing that over the next couple of days."

For all that it felt like a last chance at redemption - and another failure today could well have forced his omission at Lord's next week - it is hard to believe that England could possibly have taken the field at Brisbane without Cook up against the new ball. In many ways, his value is best expressed by the chaos it would cause to replace him. Would Michael Carberry really inspire greater confidence were he to take guard for his second Test in the Gabbatoir? And if Trott was bumped up from his niche at No. 3, what sort of a chain reaction of rejigging would ensue? Ian Bell - so content in the middle-order - would doubtless be forced to face up to his demons at first-drop.

The fact that Cook is second only to Sachin Tendulkar as the youngest batsman to 4000 Test runs tells only a fraction of the story. On the last Ashes tour, for instance, he grappled with his demons - and a serious weakness to the rising delivery outside off - to chisel an immensely courageous century at Perth, and then there was his captaincy experience in Bangladesh back in March, when he kept his cool in a tour in which anything less than a clean sweep would have been a failure, and led from the front with centuries in each Test, and a starring role in three one-day victories as well.

Therein lies the value of a man with no technical niceties to hide behind. When he was bowled neck and crop on the final day at Edgbaston last week, trapped on the crease as Mohammad Amir destroyed his stumps, every pundit in the land had an opinion about his footwork, and like a clique of quacks diagnosing the madness of King George, the conflicting prescriptions merely added to the sense of a game shot to pieces. But Cook took stock, belted a brisk 38 from 22 balls in Twenty20 finals day at the Rose Bowl to remind himself how it felt to find the middle of the bat, and fronted up to the fact that he had no place to hide.

"You can get carried away with technique," Cook said. "I've had a lot of advice over the last couple of weeks, so I tried to go out and hit the ball and score some runs, and not worry so much about my feet and my backlift. I just tried to be more positive. Obviously the conditions allowed me to do that, they were quite tough at the top of the order, but I wasn't going to die wondering and that helped my defence."

He needed some good fortune, as all the best batsmen do, and he got it early in the day when three edges through the slips - including two in two balls - turned into 12 runs through third man, rather than a long walk back up the pavilion steps. "When you're in a bad run of form, you find ways to get out, so you need a bit of luck," said Cook. "That's one of the tough things about batting, to keep believing it will change. Today it did change for me, and luckily I cashed in to make the most of it."

Cook's week began so badly that James Anderson even sacked him as his "batting buddy", in a bid to rid himself of his recent spate of ducks. "That was a hammer blow," Cook joked. "When you're down you're down." But today he picked himself back up, and saved his broadest grin of the summer for the moment of slapstick from Mohammad Asif that brought him to his hundred. A textbook forward defensive was winged away for four overthrows, to bring the house down and leave his team-mate Eoin Morgan baffled as he listened to the roar but watched a singularly runless block on a delayed TV feed in the dressing-room.

"It was the nicest way ever," said Cook. "I've had some strange ways of scrambling singles to get to hundreds, but a throw over the keeper's head for four did make me smile."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Gupta.Ankur on (August 21, 2010, 10:10 GMT)

Persistence of players like him and bell show us that Eng have no talent left...

Posted by Marcio on (August 21, 2010, 9:56 GMT)

Good on him, but I have to say what i saw wasn't very impressive. He should have been given out LBW, and snicked about 4 or 5 shots to or through slips before he was 50. But he rode his good fortune. As for the England team, they are a handy mob, but have been way overrated. They are certainly no better than Australia, and down under they will need even more luck than they had in winning the last ashes series when, quite frankly, they played poorly most of the series and were, in my opinion, the second best team throughout most of the series (not that Australia was much better, but two sessions in the series cost them - and English time wasting in the last session of the 1st test when AUS was thrashing them, enabling and Eng miracle escape/draw; and a dodgy 5th test strip kindly manufactured for a result).

Posted by Manoj_Achan on (August 21, 2010, 8:34 GMT)

Salaam.. Cook's statistics are better than Strauss in last 1 year and overall, but he is not as senior like Strauss {also the captain}. Cook was in the limelight of getting sacked for the Ashes because: 1. He is only a BATSMAN, not an all-rounder and he does not have any forefathers in ECB ; 2. Everyone's EXPECTATIONS were more of him, since the time he scored his first 7 centuries at age of 23 and since his 100s/50s ratio is 12/23. 3. He OPENS with the Captain and so was already under a scanner {pressure} to perform each ball as his captain is watching from the other end and thus, he failed 5 out of 6 innings in 3 tests and got out before Strauss 4. He is not mentally tough as Pietersen/Collingwood 5. He changed his technique recently, I think {might be his coach's idea}, but don't forget what G.Chappell did to Irfan Pathan. Cook was splendid in the 2nd innings but his weakness was his leg-side. He got a 100 which he was asked to do "Get a century and book your place for ASHES"

Posted by HabeebRaja786 on (August 21, 2010, 8:13 GMT)

Great knock by Cook.I was impressed by front foot drives.He is really talent,

Posted by JB77 on (August 21, 2010, 5:07 GMT)

Agree with dsig3. With Cook, like Bell, putting in a token good performance amid much mediocrity he'll likely tour Aus this summer. Add in a stuggling KP, an obsessive-compulsive Trott and James 'leader of the attack' Anderson without helpful conditions and suddenly Aus chances aren't looking so bad.

Posted by S.M.Kamran on (August 21, 2010, 5:00 GMT)

An overdue century booked his berth for the Ashes.Really a majestic knock.

Posted by dsig3 on (August 21, 2010, 0:02 GMT)

Ha, this is awesome. Hopefully this will secure his place for the ashes so we can find him out again. This guy should have been sacked long ago but eventually even a hack will score runs. Good on ya England.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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