Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 5th day January 7, 2011

Cook's shining example

Alastair Cook walked away with the Compton-Miller medal following his recording-breaking Ashes series, but along with the 766 runs he also took a shine to Australia in another crucial fashion which helped England's bowlers dominate the opposition batsmen.

He and James Anderson were in charge of keeping the ball in ideal condition for reverse swing, which was a key factor in Australia's batting struggles. It was especially evident in Melbourne and Sydney where the ball started to reverse as early as the 15th over and meant another attacking weapon once the shine had worn off.

A perfect example came on the fourth afternoon at the SCG when Anderson produced a masterful six-over spell with the older ball to remove Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke. It was reminiscent of how England's 2005 attack operated when Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones terrorised the Australians with reverse.

Before the tour one of the main issues continually mentioned about the England attack was their ability to take wickets when the Kookaburra ball went soft. But David Saker, the Australian-born bowling coach, used his local knowledge while his plans were expertly implemented by Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan. It was just one of many examples were England's meticulous eye for detail kept them ahead of Australia.

"Jimmy and I look after the ball. We banned [Paul] Collingwood from doing it a couple of years ago and have got it to swing a bit better," Cook said. "It's those little bits of attention to detail that have served us well over the last two years. If you can get the ball to do just a little bit, even on flat pitches, you can control the scoring a lot better."

And although he hadn't taken a lot notice of Australia's tactics involved in keeping the ball in good condition, Cook said England's hard work had paid off. "I wasn't paying too much attention to them, but we obviously got the ball moving better and for longer periods which helped us."

Clarke admitted England's performance with the ball had been a key difference. "They've shown us discipline and execution with the ball to be able to bowl in one area for a long period of time and make our batters play a false shot," he said. "Their bowlers have executed their plans outstandingly to all of our batters."

There were times during the final two Tests where Australia struggled to score at two-an-over after England replaced the wicket-taking, but expensive, Steven Finn with the steady Bresnan who proved a revelation on surfaces that helped develop reverse swing. Apart from when Mitchell Johnson flayed a half-century on the first day at Sydney there was never a time during the Christmas and New Year Tests where Andrew Strauss didn't have control in the field.

"After the last Ashes out here I thought the best way was to strangle the opposition and fortunately we had very accurate bowlers turn up," Strauss said. "For the bowlers to be able to bowl day-in day-out was an exceptional effort. We have good depth and we'll need it because the schedule is very tough."

However, despite his polished role in the field it was Cook's mountain of runs that did so much to help England to their 3-1 triumph. From saving the Brisbane Test with an unbeaten 235, to setting up Adelaide with 148, and ensuring there was no way back for Australia at Sydney with 189 it was a phenomenal performance from someone whose place was on the line last summer.

Cook is one of the few England players who will now get a decent break from international cricket as he isn't involved in either the Twenty20 or one-day internationals, but after soaking up this success knows he'll be asked to push himself again to reach such heights.

"It's one of our team ethoses," he said. "We've had an amazing two months but we've already said that we still want to improve. Andy Flower won't ever let us have an easy time. He'll demand that we get better. That will only hold us in good stead. If I can achieve what I just have again it would be amazing, but I honestly can't believe what I, and the team, have just done. We'll enjoy it and worry about tomorrow then."

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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