England v SA, 1st Investec Test, The Oval July 19, 2012

England - beauty in the eye of the beholder

England have endured some dark days at The Oval but Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott shared a partnership that demonstrates how far they have progressed
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Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. But, on the ground where England first lost to Australia, on the ground where England were booed by their own supporters having lost to New Zealand and slipped to the foot of the Test rankings, where Michael Holding exposed their batsmen against pace and Muttiah Muralitharan exposed them against spin, the batting of Jonathan Trott and, in particular, Alastair Cook, was, to English eyes, nothing less than beautiful.

England supporters have known suffering. They have seen their teams humiliated. They have been to the bottom of the rankings. But, after years of talented individuals and awful results, England at last have a team that have delivered sustained success. And they have not done it through pleasing cameos. They have done it through hard work, discipline and denial. And, if any demonstration of their methods was required, it was provided on day one at the Oval.

This was the big stage. This was the important moment. And yet, brought together in the first over of the day against an attack containing record-breaking bowlers, Cook and Trott resisted everything that was thrown at them and, without too much fuss or flourish, laid the foundations of what could prove a match-defining total in a stand of 170 in 57 overs. There is a long way to go in this game and anything less than 400 in the first innings will surely prove inadequate but, having lost just three wickets on the first day and with plenty of batting to come, England will be much the happier of the teams.

Cook may lack the gorgeous timing of Gower or the awesome power of Botham, but his records will put them all in the shade. He has now, aged 27, scored 20 Test centuries. Only Hammond, Cowdrey, Boycott (all of whom scored 22 Test centuries) and Strauss (with 21) have scored more centuries for England. All of them had played more Tests than Cook and Strauss, by comparison, was 27 when he made his Test debut. Cook will, given some fortune with health and fitness, break every England Test batting record in existence.

Most pertinently, Cook now has the same amount of Test centuries as his mentor as England and Essex opener, Graham Gooch, who is now with the team as batting coach. "He was a great player and to have the same number of hundreds as him is a very special moment," Cook said.

There is something of the cockroach about Cook. He is not a pretty batsman and he is not armed with obvious weapons or blessed with great speed. But, like a cockroach, he has adapted to survive. He has flourished in the most hostile environments and seems able to withstand pace, spin, flood and famine. There are times, when he is out of form, when it seems any delivery probing around off stump should be enough to account for him. But, on days like this, it seems he could survive nuclear war. It will be no surprise to wake up the day after the apocalypse and find Cook taking guard and nudging a single off his hips.

"When Trott, not for the first time this year, squandered his hard work with a loose shot outside off stump, it was as surprising as discovering that your postman actually used to be Elvis."

Perhaps it is unfair to talk so disparagingly of him. He produced some delightful strokes here - a couple of cuts and a forward prod that sped back past the bowler spring to mind - but he would not care. He is all about substance. Others can worry about style.

They can worry about their preparation, too. Cook certainly feels happy to prepare in his own unique way and spent the days before this series working back on his in-laws' Bedfordshire farm. If success breeds imitators, future England batsman may spend less time in the nets and more time chasing sheep. "I started 10am in the morning the day after the Australia ODI series and I didn't stop until Monday morning the day we met up here," Cook said. "It seemed to work alright. We had a couple of sessions with Goochie and his dog stick but the rest of the time I was moving sheep."

This was, on the surface, a deflating day for South Africa. Certainly any hubristic talk that England would be blown away by pace - Steyn is reported to have said he wanted to "scare the s***" out of England - was rendered foolish. So was the talk of a new, refined Morne Morkel as a fast bowling machine. If he resembled any sort of machine, it was the type built in the 19th century that occasionally takes off a child's arm. Jacques Kallis, despite being given the second new ball for the first time in a decade, looked pedestrian and Imran Tahir ran around in the field like a woman of a certain age rushing back to the restaurant when she feared she had left her pearls. He bowled a little like that, too.

But it would not be true to conclude that South Africa bowled poorly. On a painfully slow wicket - the days when the Oval offered pace and bounce to bowlers are long gone; the pitch is now much more like the cabbage patch it used to be before they started to play cricket here - they were forced to adopt an attritional approach. And taking on Cook and Trott in a game of attrition is like taking on a dolphin at swimming. As Cook put it, "The ball nibbled around in the first session but it did it very slowly so we could grind our way through it."

It is an oddity of cricket that something as seemingly passive as a leave can provoke such rapt attention. But here Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morkel all maintained a nagging off-stump line that could, on another day, another pitch and against another opponent, have drawn a series of edges. Yet Cook and Trott left with remarkable judgement and refused to be drawn into the prods that could have brought their downfall. As is so often the case with the pair of them, it was the shots they did not play as much as those they did that brought them success.

They represent infuriating opponents. Trott invariably clips, drives and nudges through the leg side when the bowler pitches on the off stump. Cook simply leaves anything that requires him to reach for the ball, forces the bowler into bowling straighter or shorter and then feasts. When Trott, not for the first time this year, squandered his hard work with a loose shot outside off stump, it was as surprising as discovering that your postman actually used to be Elvis.

This was a day of high-quality, absorbing cricket from both sides. And, while England enjoyed the best of it, their joy will be tempered in the knowledge that they will face similar problems dislodging the South African batsmen. But, while there seems little reason to believe that England's seamers will find any more assistance in this surface, it is possible that Graeme Swann will coax more out of it than Tahir managed.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Marcio on July 20, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    England is a good team, but has obvious limitations, as their very uneven performances home/abroad indicate. I don't think anyone needs to spell those out. They are obvious.

  • ooper_cut on July 20, 2012, 17:01 GMT

    People make such a fuss when a sub continental player amasses runs in the sub continent, but when an englishman/aussie makes runs in his own backyard, they are compared to the best in the world. Gooch may have scored only 22 100s but his presence was felt whenever he played outside England too, same is with a Gilchrist.

  • 12thUmpire on July 20, 2012, 14:33 GMT

    Not long ago Daryl Cullinen saw the worst fielding side since readmission. Is SA fielding any better than their opposition? As for Eng, Finn or Monty @ №6 will easily produce as many runs as Bopara in this series, at least they'll then be playing 11!

  • maddy20 on July 20, 2012, 13:50 GMT

    Well the beauty was done in by the beast now. A very Inspired fightback. Go Saffas :)

  • JG2704 on July 20, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    @sidnam on (July 20 2012, 02:26 AM GMT) I'm glad we have Indian fans like you , satish619chandar/DavidGravitas and CandidIndian (not seen for a while) posting on here . I'm not sure if you guys go against the grain or whether similar posters from your neck of the woods don't come on this site.

  • Narkovian on July 20, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    OK I am quite old, and go back along way. I can admire Cook, altho not pleasing to the eye. BUT he is SLOW. Pretty turgid stuff yesterday. In 1967 G. Boycott scored 246 at 44 runs/100 balls and was dropped as a punishment for the next Test for slow scoring ! In those days scoring rates were much slower than today generally. Cook scores 115 at 38/100 balls and its a great innings.. no logic.

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 20, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    @landl47 hahaha hilarious

  • Selassie-I on July 20, 2012, 10:38 GMT

    @RockcityGuy both are different players but when it comes to averages, you would expect a sub-continental cricketer to have a higher average... the pitches are much more conducive to batting out there... cricketers who easily average 50+ come to England/Aus/SA and can bearly score a run.

  • Bytheway on July 20, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    Cook is good. Comparisons are soooo tedious.

  • landl47 on July 20, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    Dear old RandyOZ- in one post you have advantage South Africa and in the next you have slight edge to England. 'Fess up, you didn't see the game live, did you? It wouldn't have been over till what- 3.45am your time? So you watched a few highlights and gave us your unbiased opinion that both sides were on top. Thanks, that was very insightful.

  • Marcio on July 20, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    England is a good team, but has obvious limitations, as their very uneven performances home/abroad indicate. I don't think anyone needs to spell those out. They are obvious.

  • ooper_cut on July 20, 2012, 17:01 GMT

    People make such a fuss when a sub continental player amasses runs in the sub continent, but when an englishman/aussie makes runs in his own backyard, they are compared to the best in the world. Gooch may have scored only 22 100s but his presence was felt whenever he played outside England too, same is with a Gilchrist.

  • 12thUmpire on July 20, 2012, 14:33 GMT

    Not long ago Daryl Cullinen saw the worst fielding side since readmission. Is SA fielding any better than their opposition? As for Eng, Finn or Monty @ №6 will easily produce as many runs as Bopara in this series, at least they'll then be playing 11!

  • maddy20 on July 20, 2012, 13:50 GMT

    Well the beauty was done in by the beast now. A very Inspired fightback. Go Saffas :)

  • JG2704 on July 20, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    @sidnam on (July 20 2012, 02:26 AM GMT) I'm glad we have Indian fans like you , satish619chandar/DavidGravitas and CandidIndian (not seen for a while) posting on here . I'm not sure if you guys go against the grain or whether similar posters from your neck of the woods don't come on this site.

  • Narkovian on July 20, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    OK I am quite old, and go back along way. I can admire Cook, altho not pleasing to the eye. BUT he is SLOW. Pretty turgid stuff yesterday. In 1967 G. Boycott scored 246 at 44 runs/100 balls and was dropped as a punishment for the next Test for slow scoring ! In those days scoring rates were much slower than today generally. Cook scores 115 at 38/100 balls and its a great innings.. no logic.

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 20, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    @landl47 hahaha hilarious

  • Selassie-I on July 20, 2012, 10:38 GMT

    @RockcityGuy both are different players but when it comes to averages, you would expect a sub-continental cricketer to have a higher average... the pitches are much more conducive to batting out there... cricketers who easily average 50+ come to England/Aus/SA and can bearly score a run.

  • Bytheway on July 20, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    Cook is good. Comparisons are soooo tedious.

  • landl47 on July 20, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    Dear old RandyOZ- in one post you have advantage South Africa and in the next you have slight edge to England. 'Fess up, you didn't see the game live, did you? It wouldn't have been over till what- 3.45am your time? So you watched a few highlights and gave us your unbiased opinion that both sides were on top. Thanks, that was very insightful.

  • 9ST9 on July 20, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    Let me get this straight - the highes no. of centuries by an Englishman is ONLY 22, and that too after they have been playing cricket for centuries??? Jeez ... no wonder they're over the moon now that they are team are improving.

  • on July 20, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    Cook can score runs against world class attacks except in the subcontinent. He still has time to rectify this. Ricky Ponting was never great in India. Cook in fact scored a century on début in India. And in fact he has a better record away than he does at home.

  • jmcilhinney on July 20, 2012, 9:21 GMT

    Quite frankly, I couldn't care less how many people find Cook and Trott boring because they continue to help England win Test matches. Believe it or not, entertaining the crowd is much lower on a Test cricketer's list of priorities than entertaining. If Cook and Trott felt that their team had the best chance of winning if they hit out then they would hit out, but they play to their strengths and England win as a result. Long may it continue.

  • JG2704 on July 20, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    Re Cook/Sachin. Well Sachin has done it from a very early age to present so Cook can't be compared to him until his career finishes. However I was pleased to see his reaction when told that Sachin was the only player to reach the 20 centuries at an earlier age. The reaction was that he felt unworthy of being put in that bracket , so whatever folk say about Cook , it isn't the man himself who his making such comparisons

  • imrankhan76uk on July 20, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    @YORHSHIRE PUDDING & @RockcityGuy...guys Sewag and Cook/Trott...they are great players... they provide different style of entertainment...I would enjoy Sewag's blast or Cook's Cooking equally.... I dont think we should try to make one bigger then the other... I say at the end of both careers we can compare averages etc for that.... but bottom line is both are entertainers in their own rights.

  • JG2704 on July 20, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    @RandyOZ on (July 19 2012, 23:25 PM GMT) Re "If you read the scorecard and then the comment on this article only, the poms would have you thinking they played out of their skin and that South Africa was rubbish. Forunately I am here to give an unbiased and balanced account of events" - You're right that is very fortunate

  • JG2704 on July 20, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    @Abhijeth_Manohar on (July 19 2012, 20:33 PM GMT) Loads of reasons re managing players. You are criticising English management (test number 1 , ODI number 3 , T20 number 1) for lack of man management and yet (bar Watson) all the others are playing for mid to bottom of the rankings teams. And yes I know India won the ODI WC but have slid down the rankings in other forms inc OD. Watson is the only guy who plays for a top 3 side and if he asked Aus if he could take time off from a test series to play an IPL , do you think ACB's reaction would be any different? Our chances may be diminished by KP not playing but if his demands are excessive then so be it?

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 20, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    @Abhijeth_Manohar (Post on July 19 2012, 20:33 PM GMT): Why are you comparing the test team to the ODI/T20 team? Since when was test cricket about scoring fast with 4's and 6's? The Sehwags and Gayles out there I must admit are fantastic to watch if they stay in, and can take their respective teams to competitive totals in quick time. But the key words here are 'if they stay in!' In test cricket, players that consistently score are often more valuable than players that score 0, 0, 10, 100, 0, 4, 6, 150, 0...

  • Jimmers on July 20, 2012, 9:04 GMT

    @riverlime - the ECB don't control the weather dude.. might be a bit of a leap to claim the rain we've had as some kind of sinister conspiracy theory. If the pitch had been a dry raging turner, England have got this new lad called Swann who might have done quite well too..

  • Paul.Power on July 20, 2012, 8:56 GMT

    @Guernica - fair point, also Vaughan would have been in with a shout had he not suffered from an alarming dip in form after taking the captaincy. Same can be argued for Atherton, and Stewart too if he hadn't been asked to take up the gloves (and Thorpe if he hadn't been senselessly dropped a few times, and...)

  • RockcityGuy on July 20, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    @YORHSHIRE PUDDING...honestly dude...really...you're shocking...i'd (and 99% of the ppl in the world) would rather watch sehwag making 200 odd in one day of a test match than trott making 50 odd...and btw its a max of 90 overs in a day...120-150 overs is a little too much unless your captain planet...

  • RockcityGuy on July 20, 2012, 8:43 GMT

    coming from an indian...STEYN is the best fast bowler i've ever seen...while COOK is the only guy in the world who has a realistic chance of overtaking sachin's records in tests...lets not say they're mediocre and ordinbary etc etc just cuz they're opposition...anyone with a bowling strike rate of 40 in tests and 20 hundreds by the time he's 27 must be really really good...not to forget the staggering odi achievements of ab and amla...and as an indian Kohi....:-)

  • Aristotle01 on July 20, 2012, 8:23 GMT

    @maximum 6: You are talking rubbish. Sachin had only played 60 odd tests when he made his 20th century . Cook has played 81 tests. Cook would have to travel light years before been spoken in the same breath as Sachin. Noone brought about Sachin here, you are the one who started your outlandish comparison of Cook(Stodgy opener) to Sachin( Prodigy-turned great turned cricketing genius). Peace.

  • Guernica on July 20, 2012, 8:22 GMT

    @Hasan Cheema, @Paul Power - Trescothick would surely have reached the mark too and could well have gone on to get 10k runs, had it not been for his illness and early retirement.

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 20, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    Cook is the best batsmen on the face of the earth.....He would open for The World XI & you all wish he played for your country.

  • Always-positive on July 20, 2012, 7:37 GMT

    @ RandyOz.. and yet George Dobell is a Kiwi i believe ( you know them they beat Australia at pretty much all relevant sports ), so strange you say its the Poms saying how well they played !!!, pretty much what i would expect from you.

  • Always-positive on July 20, 2012, 7:31 GMT

    @ Jimmy2, you really are sour !!, what swagger ? What arrogance ?, when you actually know something about cricket then make a comment, as it is your views are so bitter and twisted that no one takes you seriously ( much like RandyOz)

  • kingcobra85 on July 20, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    They are without a doubt the most boring No.1 team but gotta give credit to them they use their Home advantage to the max. Their away series are easily forgotten

  • riverlime on July 20, 2012, 7:12 GMT

    Where was this pitch when Narine was bowling for WI? Abrasive and with low bounce, it would have had Cook and co. in knots. The English pitch preparation REALLY can influence the outcome of a game, can't it.

  • YorkshirePudding on July 20, 2012, 6:53 GMT

    @Abhijeth_Manohar, boring it may be but its dam effective, personally I'd rather watch cook and trott all day than 30 minutes of Sehwag. In test cricket its not about how fast you score, but how many you score. This is the first test and grinding an oppositions bowlers into the ground by making them bowl 120-150 overs on the first day is what is required especially when they havent bowled more than 100 overs in an innings for a long time. Philander is a perfect example I dont think he bowled more than 20 overs in any test innings since he started, and yesterday he was starting to seriously flag in his last spell, having started in the morning at 80-82 mph he was down at 76-78 mph.

  • on July 20, 2012, 6:52 GMT

    for gods sake it is only the first day.....dont run into any conclusions yet...last ashes the australians were brilliant on the first day and they ended up being humilliated..but this england team is tough and will probably graft their way to success.tough job ahead for the proteas

  • Tova on July 20, 2012, 6:48 GMT

    As an Australian, I'd love to have an Alistair Cook opening for our Test and one day side...

  • Paul.Power on July 20, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    @Hasan Cheema: If it helps, Boycott excluded himself from selection for several years due to a hissy fit over not being given the captaincy: he'd have had a lot more than 22 centuries otherwise. Similarly, Wally Hammond had his career interrupted by WW2 (rather a better reason than Boycott!)

    The fact that it's taken until now to produce players capable of overhauling the admittedly modest 22 centuries mark speaks volumes about how poor England were in the late 80s and 90s.

  • YorkshirePudding on July 20, 2012, 6:35 GMT

    @Hasan Cheema, the main reason that people havent scored more than 22 centuries is becuase of the way selection policies have worked in the past. Originally you had the MCC All england team, which selected the best players over a season, up until the 60's, often prefering Gentlemen over professionals, especially as captain. Then after the 60's when the game became entirely professional the same selection policy was in place, where by if you had a bad test and someone scored a ton in county cricket you were almost certain to be replaced by that player, this remained in place until the central contracts came in, thats when players started moving up the leader boards,

  • Cool_Jeeves on July 20, 2012, 6:23 GMT

    Have said it every time - expect England to decimate South Africa.

    I expect 2-0 in favour of England. I think the SAF attack is actually a mediocre attack. Steyn is a great bowler, and it stops there. Morkel is a very consistent bowler - he has consistently averaged 30 in every two year slice of his career - 2006 to 2008, next two years, last two years. He will never average less.

    Batting is down to 4 batsmen - Smith, Amla, AB, Kallis. Rudholph, Pietersen, Duminy etc. are unproven. Tail is a complete batting hole except for Steyn.

    By contrast, England is a settled team with only one guy incapable of batting - Anderson, and 4 top class bowlers (stretching this a bit in the case of Bresnan, but he is delivering the numbers). In batting order only problem area is Bopara.

    All England bowlers have a better average than Morkel and Harris/Imran.

  • mukesh_LOVE.cricket on July 20, 2012, 6:17 GMT

    Well played by cook , he has been my favorite English batsman for some time , and the way he has recently improved his odi batting shows how good he can be , also i dont think SA bowled poorly there was enough in the pitch but yes not much bounce , but they allowed england to leave too many deliveries early on..

  • jackthelad on July 20, 2012, 5:33 GMT

    It has become clear over the past couple of years that a 'great divide' has opened up between devotees of 'short-order' T20 and appreciators of Test cricket, and the rift valley is getting wider (I leave ODI out of account, as it has elements that can appeal to both sides). For me, T20 is a form of rounders played with a hard ball while Test cricket is the most subtle, intricate and absorbing field sport ever invented. Others, of course, disagree; my point really is, however, that I accept that they are in reality not even the same game, though use of the same equipment obscures this fact. I dislike the attenuated, simplified twenty-over form intensely: so I don't watch it. Maybe we should agree that 'never the twain shall meet' and follow our own preferred versions of the game rather than chiding the other for not being the same?

  • on July 20, 2012, 4:34 GMT

    I just wonder why England had not produced Legends Like Australia , WI and India did... They have maximum 22 centuries, Wish cook all the best to score at least 20 more.... And just for records if you people remember Styen and co against Pakistan in UAE, they all failed terribly , its not first time

  • Percy_Fender on July 20, 2012, 4:17 GMT

    It never pays to talk too early. There is a lot of time left in this game and the series. So it is best to stay quiet and enjoy the game. The wicket was easy and one can expect to see South Africa bat just as well.I am also not very sure if this wicket will aid spin.So for the moment I just hope the comment makers hold their pens.But Alistair Cook is going to be in the same league as the greats from England.

  • Ashish_514 on July 20, 2012, 3:50 GMT

    @ Lmaotsetung- " This is not the fragile batting lineup of other test nations" how ridiculous this sentence sounds when you think about recent Pakistan and Sri Lanka Series'. Batting first on the flat pitch, this score is not extraordinary. When India toured last year, it had more juice in it. but looking at SA bowlers, Eng know their best bet is to prepare wickets conducive to batting.

  • simon_w on July 20, 2012, 3:12 GMT

    I've just listened to pre-match interviews with Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn, and they both used exactly the same words (like they were quoting a team talk): "it doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be beautiful, it's about getting the job done." I suppose we see now what they mean - within half an hour of taking a wicket in the first over, SA were very much on the defensive: defensive fields, and a much vaunted pace attack bowling negative lines, with far too much for the England batsmen to leave (which, not being impatient fools, they happily did). We'll see how "flat" a pitch this is when England have a bowl, I suppose. Shortly after the toss, many commentators were saying Saturday may be the best day to bat, and I have a nagging feeling that if England had bowled today, people might not be talking about the pitch being "flat". Anyone who's watched the Test cricket of the last few English summers will know what I mean.

  • sidnam on July 20, 2012, 2:26 GMT

    what on earth are my Indian mates on about? @Abhijeth_Manohar this is test cricket in it's truest form, what you say is boring is 'patience' and 'watchfulness'; everyone needn't be a Sehwag or a Pieterson, the aim is for the team to win and not the individual to succeed, and "West Indies have learnt to manage their best player => Gayle"..for reall??????@Joseph Sukant Reddy: why do you think Cook does not have class? I think what is important is that his rise coincides directly with England's rise to the top of the rankings..and @everyone else: IPL is great for cricket so quit whining, what's your worry? the money, the cricket? the glam? cricket is ALSO a business, if you didn't know.. for the game to stay alive, the business part of it most definitely must succeed!

  • satish619chandar on July 20, 2012, 1:54 GMT

    Cook is just awesome with loads of concentration.. Having a good bowling attack always helps any team.. It allows the batsmen to take extra time to get good score.. Though pitch was flat as anywhere in the world, we need to give credit where it deserves.. Well played Cook, Trott and KP too.. England are on track for score above 550 in first innings.. Going on what we saw on first day, my prediction is : SA play spin well with Amla and Kallis and if they can negate Swann, it should be a dull draw..

  • jmcilhinney on July 20, 2012, 1:33 GMT

    @RandyOZ on (July 19 2012, 23:15 PM GMT), given that plenty of people like to point that England have not excelled in India, why would anyone think that England are advantaging themselves by preparing an Indian-style pitch? Those who know something about cricket will know that this is a fairly typical Oval pitch, which is quite an achievement for a rookie groundsman in what is very definitely not a typical English summer. Why does it not surprise me that you are the only one claiming that you're here to give an unbiased and balanced account of events? There are few less balanced and certainly none more biased against England. SA bowled poorly. Not great lengths and poor lines. England weren't magnificent. They simply played sensibly, leaving a large number of either ordinary or deliberately negative deliveries and punishing the genuinely bad ones. The fact that the conditions didn't assist the bowlers is no excuse for not putting the ball in the right places.

  • RandyOZ on July 19, 2012, 23:25 GMT

    If you read the scorecard and then the comment on this article only, the poms would have you thinking they played out of their skin and that South Africa was rubbish. Forunately I am here to give an unbiased and balanced account of events. On a pretty flat track South Africa were rusty early but started showing signs of improvement late in the day. Cook stood out, and is without a doubt the best English batsman on the team, Trott being the best South African. I wouldn't say either team played brilliantly, with the slight edge given to England. However, no real conclusion can be drawn until England bowl. Anderson will no doubt bowl well but based on today's events expect Broad to struggle.

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 19, 2012, 23:17 GMT

    In terms of time from debut to making his 20th Test century, Cook has won hands down. Sachin was 18? when he debuted, Cookie 21. Why do we have to have Sachin mentioned in the same breath as Cookie?

  • RandyOZ on July 19, 2012, 23:15 GMT

    England have produced an India type pitch here, to try and restrict the far better South African pace attack. Based on that you'd have to say advantage South Africa.

  • jackiethepen on July 19, 2012, 23:01 GMT

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder indeed! Surely all would agree with you that Cook is not a pretty batsman while admiring his substance rather than his style. All except the compiler of his profile on Cricinfo who claims:" Cook still made his share of runs, with a languid ease reminiscent of David Gower" !! Now Gower is not someone who Cook reminds me of. And according to your article this comparison is far from your thoughts. The batsman who might be compared to Gower, Ian Bell, is described in his profile as merely technically proficient. There are different types of beauty and shades of beauty. But Gower is Gower and style is style. Let's make sure we know what they are.

  • wrenx on July 19, 2012, 22:44 GMT

    When it came to the Windies, for Australia, opponents always gave them at least a grudging respect, ranking #1. Isn't it funny how no-one gives this English side any respect, despite being #1? Maybe it's the undeserved swagger, the sense of arrogance that sits behind cricket that lacks imagination, flair, intensity, or anything else respectable. Isn't it funny how the English keep throwing their toys out of the pram when nobody gives this side any respect? Harping on about it constantly doesn't help - this article proves that the English press is as bad as (worse, actually) than the Indian media. About time they kept their focus on the field of play, avoided whitewashes and maybe people would start respecting them. As they are, no-one will ever give them the respect that they did for other great sides.

  • jango_moh on July 19, 2012, 22:39 GMT

    well played cook... but the comment "But, on days like this, it seems he could survive nuclear war." is a bit much, considering the slow pitch.. eng batted really well, but i didnt see any FLAT PITCH comments anywhere here!!! wonder why!!!!

  • on July 19, 2012, 21:12 GMT

    "But, on days like this, it seems he could survive nuclear war. It will be no surprise to wake up the day after the apocalypse and find Cook taking guard and nudging a single off his hips." Genius !

  • mumbaiguy79 on July 19, 2012, 21:00 GMT

    Well played England @Partyman- :P:P

  • CricFan78 on July 19, 2012, 20:56 GMT

    Surprise Surprise .... I dont see "flat pitch" mentioned anywhere. If this was played in India "partyman" would have crying foul.

  • Lmaotsetung on July 19, 2012, 20:50 GMT

    They way Cook left the ball early in his innings, I knew he was in good nick. This is not the fragile batting lineup of other test nations and both Cook and Trott played to their strengths. Bell also look in good nick middling the ball very well. The flat pitch help but how many times have England bowlers bowl the opposition out for less than 300 on flat pitches in recent years? You only have to look at the Sri Lanka tour where England bowlers were getting players caught behind on flat pitches.

  • Beertjie on July 19, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    Well done Alastair Cook! For a man playing his 100th test, almost all as captain, I thought Smith was singularly lacking in imagination. Afraid to attack and vary the tactics, he let Cook and Trott rotate the strike far too easily with his field settings. As for those two, George Dobell is correct in writing that it was "the shots they did not play as much as those they did that brought them success." However, if your bowlers allow them to leave as much as they did today, what else can you expect. The pitch may not have been great to bowl on, but the bowlers (and fielders) need to step up to-morrow or England will exert ever-increasing pressure and come out on top.

  • Abhijeth_Manohar on July 19, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK: Yes, they did bat well. But there's no denying that with the exception of Pieterson, England has the most boring batting line-up in the world. I would rather watch Bangladesh bat.

    And with Pieterson out of the one dayers & the World T-20 cup -> pretty sure England's chances of doing well in big tournaments is next to nil. If Australia knows how to manage their best player => Watson, If New Zealand knows how to manage their best player => Taylor, If India knows how to manage their best player => Dhoni, If Srilanka knows how to manage their best player => Malinga, and finally, If West Indies have learnt to manage their best player => Gayle, Why in the blazes is England finding it so hard to take care of their best player => Pieterson. And no to all the English fans cause Cook/Bell/Trott can't hit reverse shot sixes or for that matter rain sixes whenever they want. Occasional sixes don't count.

  • landl47 on July 19, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    Cook isn't elegant, but he's extremely difficult to dislodge once he's in. He's also developed more shots, so now he can hit straight and through the covers off front or back foot. Steyn's comment was a bit ridiculous- if there's one thing this England batting line-up doesn't fear, it's pace. Good spin on turning pitches, yes, and everyone has problems with late swing and seam movement, but the faster it comes down, the faster it goes for 4 with this England batting side. LOL @ Partyman- and we've already seen comments saying how boring test cricket is compared with IPL.

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 20:16 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 19 2012, 19:59 PM GMT) thought Smith's captaincy was negative as well. When Cook needed a single for his 100 he made no effort to plug the gaps and make it extra hard for Cook to get that single.

  • on July 19, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    Cook may not have class but in terms of 100s he will surely get closer to sachin in test cricket

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 19, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    I thought England batted very well. Anyone who says any different clearly just doesn't know/appreciate test cricket. If anything, the bowling was very negative (wide) at times, and therefore the England batsmen did exactly the right thing: be patient and leave 'em!

  • Partyman on July 19, 2012, 19:58 GMT

    I can see predict some of the comments here - "Wait till they come to India and let us see what they can do against our spinners in well doctored pitches" / "India are a better team when it comes to play South Africa" etc.

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  • Partyman on July 19, 2012, 19:58 GMT

    I can see predict some of the comments here - "Wait till they come to India and let us see what they can do against our spinners in well doctored pitches" / "India are a better team when it comes to play South Africa" etc.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 19, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    I thought England batted very well. Anyone who says any different clearly just doesn't know/appreciate test cricket. If anything, the bowling was very negative (wide) at times, and therefore the England batsmen did exactly the right thing: be patient and leave 'em!

  • on July 19, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    Cook may not have class but in terms of 100s he will surely get closer to sachin in test cricket

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 20:16 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 19 2012, 19:59 PM GMT) thought Smith's captaincy was negative as well. When Cook needed a single for his 100 he made no effort to plug the gaps and make it extra hard for Cook to get that single.

  • landl47 on July 19, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    Cook isn't elegant, but he's extremely difficult to dislodge once he's in. He's also developed more shots, so now he can hit straight and through the covers off front or back foot. Steyn's comment was a bit ridiculous- if there's one thing this England batting line-up doesn't fear, it's pace. Good spin on turning pitches, yes, and everyone has problems with late swing and seam movement, but the faster it comes down, the faster it goes for 4 with this England batting side. LOL @ Partyman- and we've already seen comments saying how boring test cricket is compared with IPL.

  • Abhijeth_Manohar on July 19, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK: Yes, they did bat well. But there's no denying that with the exception of Pieterson, England has the most boring batting line-up in the world. I would rather watch Bangladesh bat.

    And with Pieterson out of the one dayers & the World T-20 cup -> pretty sure England's chances of doing well in big tournaments is next to nil. If Australia knows how to manage their best player => Watson, If New Zealand knows how to manage their best player => Taylor, If India knows how to manage their best player => Dhoni, If Srilanka knows how to manage their best player => Malinga, and finally, If West Indies have learnt to manage their best player => Gayle, Why in the blazes is England finding it so hard to take care of their best player => Pieterson. And no to all the English fans cause Cook/Bell/Trott can't hit reverse shot sixes or for that matter rain sixes whenever they want. Occasional sixes don't count.

  • Beertjie on July 19, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    Well done Alastair Cook! For a man playing his 100th test, almost all as captain, I thought Smith was singularly lacking in imagination. Afraid to attack and vary the tactics, he let Cook and Trott rotate the strike far too easily with his field settings. As for those two, George Dobell is correct in writing that it was "the shots they did not play as much as those they did that brought them success." However, if your bowlers allow them to leave as much as they did today, what else can you expect. The pitch may not have been great to bowl on, but the bowlers (and fielders) need to step up to-morrow or England will exert ever-increasing pressure and come out on top.

  • Lmaotsetung on July 19, 2012, 20:50 GMT

    They way Cook left the ball early in his innings, I knew he was in good nick. This is not the fragile batting lineup of other test nations and both Cook and Trott played to their strengths. Bell also look in good nick middling the ball very well. The flat pitch help but how many times have England bowlers bowl the opposition out for less than 300 on flat pitches in recent years? You only have to look at the Sri Lanka tour where England bowlers were getting players caught behind on flat pitches.

  • CricFan78 on July 19, 2012, 20:56 GMT

    Surprise Surprise .... I dont see "flat pitch" mentioned anywhere. If this was played in India "partyman" would have crying foul.

  • mumbaiguy79 on July 19, 2012, 21:00 GMT

    Well played England @Partyman- :P:P