South Africa v England, 4th Test, Centurion, 1st day January 22, 2016

Cook defends domestic scene after dream day

Stephen Cook and Hashim Amla added 202 to blunt England's attack © Gallo Images

As South Africa's domestic structures come under scrutiny for their standard of cricket, Stephen Cook has proved that spending sufficient time in the set-up can still be prime players up for success at the top level.

Cook became the sixth South Africa batsman to score a century on Test debut with his 115 on the opening day against England in Centurion after making 415 runs in three Sunfoil Series matches this season to continue a strong domestic output.

"It's a good sounding ground," Cook said. "I think we need to be more patient and not think that after one or two good franchise performances, a guy will step up. A lot of the guys who have done well have come through that system and are hardened cricketers."

Cook is certainly one of them. Since playing Under-19 cricket with Hashim Amla, he waited 15 years to make an international appearance. In that time, he was picked for a South African A side in 2010, a sign that a promotion was imminent but it didn't come.

"As time wore on, I knew it was getting more difficult and less likely," he said. "But I never gave up hope. If I had given up on that hope, it would be have been difficult to carry on playing domestically. It would have just been retirement."

Instead he carried on believing he could become South Africa's own Chris Rogers. "There are a couple of guys who have inspired me, even someone like Neil McKenzie whose second coming was at a later age," Cook said. "I knew that it did happen to other people and it could happen to me."

Perhaps that's why now that the debut has finally come, everyone else seems a little more surprised than Cook himself. He has handled the call-up with maturity, so much so that he could assess the pitch and the opposition on a day that should have been all about him.

"The surface did play a little bit slowly but having played first-class cricket here, it should quicken up a little bit. It's not a coastal slow, it's a Highveld slow," he said. "I think early on, England searched for wickets a little bit more but later they went back into their normal patterns and they were quite patient."

Not nearly as patient as Cook has been has had to be though. With a century already under his belt it would understandable if he let himself ponder the future, but he was not getting carried away,

"I always thought to myself that it's about making your debut and playing for South Africa but it's about performing and scoring hundreds. I want to contribute to Proteas successes and victories. But I am very much a guy who looks after today. I've learnt that getting ahead of myself is the worst thing I can do."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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