'It was very satisfying' - Cook
If Andrew Strauss's century was an innings that Australia had anticipated on the strength of his performances in England in 2009, then Alastair Cook's personal epic crept up on them via the blind-side. By the close of the fourth day's play, however, a man who had begun the series being singled out as England's weak link was just one run shy of a double-century match tally, having batted all told for almost 12 hours.
Despite being the only one of England's two openers to have previously made a century in Australia, Cook's 116 at Perth back in December 2006 had come in the midst of a series in which his next highest score was 43. Back in England last summer, his 95 at Lord's owed a considerable amount to Mitchell Johnson's first-day largesse, and he did not pass 32 in eight further innings in that series, leaving his overall average in Ashes cricket - 498 runs at 26.21 - looking like that of an under-achiever.
But with one day remaining of an absorbing Brisbane Test, Cook has the platform from which to produce something truly memorable - the chance to live up to the exhortations of his mentor Graham Gooch, by batting Australia out of the match with a "daddy", and himself into a position from which no-one will dare to question his resolve at the highest level.
If Australia under-estimated Cook's resilience, then they weren't the only ones. With his awkward, pokey technique, with his bat and gloves often dangling several feet from his front pad, it doesn't require much for errors to creep into his game, and on the last Ashes tour in particular, he was tormented outside off stump by Glenn McGrath and Stuart Clark. But with Gooch as his sidekick, and through hours of deconstruction in the nets, he's stripped his game down to its basics and equipped himself with the necessary tools for survival.
"It was very satisfying," said Cook at the close. "I said at the start of the tour I had a point to prove, because in my last two series against Australia I hadn't done that well. But over the last 12 months I've had a bit of a tinker with my technique and tried to improve it. The results today, I'm very happy with."
That's not to say that Cook will ever please the purists, or keep his detractors at arm's length at all times. In the 2010 English summer, for instance, he scraped 106 runs in his first eight Test innings against Bangladesh and Pakistan, and was said to be playing for his place when he lived up to his dogged reputation with a defiant 110 at The Oval. For Cook, however, the traumas of that series have had a flip-side, for they have allowed him to accept the Gabba wicket for what it's been all week - a relative batsman's paradise on which application is sure to be rewarded.
"Conditions at home were the toughest I've ever experienced as an opening batter," he said. "It swung and was very tough for the top order. It reminds you, when you do get conditions that don't swing as much, to cash in. In the first innings I worked really hard and got out for 60 - which was very frustrating. It took me another two-and-a-half hours to get my hundred, after Straussy. But when I got it, that noise made the hair at the back of my neck stand up."
The likelihood of England going into the Gabba Test without him was always next-to-nil, even when he began the Ashes tour with an ugly double-failure against Western Australia at Perth. The team simply values his mental fortitude above all else, and that trait was especially in evidence in Bangladesh back in the spring, when he was named as England captain while Strauss took a break.
The decision to promote him was not universally welcomed, but Cook was mightily impressive in the role, as he willed himself to score a century in each of the two Tests at Chittagong and Dhaka, while also leading from the front in a rare foray into the one-day side. Of course, the pressures of those contests were not in the same league as the Ashes, and yet for Cook, as an untested captain in an environment where defeat was not an option, the lessons he learned were invaluable all the same.
"Resilience is certainly one of Cookie's greatest strengths," said Strauss. "He is a very resilient character and he is able to do the hard yards as he demonstrated in this game. One of the things you have to do in Test cricket generally is not think too much about what has happened or what's going to happen, you just stay in the present as much as possible. That is what Alastair and I managed to do today."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.