Andrew Strauss praised Alastair Cook's double-century as one of the greatest innings in Ashes history, as England closed out the first Test with a monumental batting performance on the final day at the Gabba. In front of a paltry crowd of 7088 that reflected the dispirited nature of Australia's cricketers, Cook trumped his opening stand of 188 with Strauss by adding an unbeaten 329 for the second wicket with Jonathan Trott, to finish unbeaten on 235 out of a massive team total of 517 for 1 declared.
All told, Cook batted for almost 15-and-a-half hours in the course of the match, including a 10-and-a-half hour epic in the second innings. In so doing he became only the sixth English double-centurion in Tests in Australia, and the first since Paul Collingwood made 206 at Adelaide in 2006. Wally Hammond, on three occasions, and RE Foster, who made 287 in 1903, are the only other individuals to have achieved such a feat, but Strauss believed his team-mate deserved to be bracketed alongside them.
"I'm not great on cricketing history, but you'd be hard-pressed to think of a better innings in Australia," said Strauss. "It must be a long time ago that a player batted as well as Cooky did, with the concentration to see it through for such a long time. It's one of the really special innings from an England player."
A host of records tumbled in the course of the day, including Donald Bradman's highest score of 226 at the Gabba, and the highest partnership for any England wicket in Australia. But all that mattered to England at the close was that they had rescued the Test from a precarious situation at the close of the third day, having conceded a first-innings deficit of 221 following a 307-run stand between Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin.
"It's just great we came back into the game, managed to get a draw and finished so strongly," said Strauss. "There's not a long turnaround before Adelaide and both sets of players will be keen to come out strong on the first morning. Everyone talks about how important the first Test is against Australia in Brisbane, so to get through that unscathed from the position we were in is a great effort, although clearly we would've wanted to win the game."
Cook, for his part, was simply focussed on extending his stay for as long as possible. "We didn't know about the records, so Trotty and I might have to start digging to see what we have achieved," he said. "It's been a fantastic couple of days. The pitch was amazing to bat on and got better and better, but you still have to go and get them."
With a quick turnaround ahead of Adelaide, and Australia already telegraphing changes to their starting line-up by drafting in two extra pacemen in Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris, England have plenty reason to believe they've got their opponents on the ropes. "It's all this momentum chat again," said Strauss. "I don't know who takes the momentum, [but] we take a huge amount.
"We did some very good things with the ball - some of our bowlers weren't rewarded for quite how well they bowled - but also the resilience to come back into the game. We were in a pretty dire position after day three, so it speaks volumes for the characters of Cooky and Trotty. We've proved over a while we're a hard side to beat and it gives us more confidence."
Cook's confidence could hardly be higher following his indomitable efforts, and yet it wasn't so long ago that he was scratching around at the top of England's order, and restricted to 100 runs in home Tests last summer before saving his immediate place in the side with a gutsy century against Pakistan at The Oval.
"It's cricket," he said, by way of explanation. "It's amazing how quickly it turns round. If you keep working at the right things and keep believing you're a good player, you get your results. The dark days against Pakistan make these extra special. The hundred at The Oval was a great confidence [boost] and to back it up here is very pleasing."
Had Cook been permitted to bat through to the close, there would have been the prospect of an even bigger innings, but Strauss believed that it was only right to get Australia back into the field to face an awkward final session against a well-rested bowling attack. "Even though there was a very small chance of forcing a win, it was worth trying," he said. "To get a few wickets on the way would've been a bit of a psychological blow. If there was even an outside chance of forcing a win, we should try and do it.
Although the early wicket of Simon Katich gave them the prospect of further breakthroughs, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson took Australia through to 107 for 1 at the close. "It was very flat on the fifth day and we weren't a force much with the ball but we're happy with where we are and we look forward to Adelaide. Hopefully we can win the toss in Adelaide and we'll see how things progress from there."
However, just as England insisted that their impressive start to the tour would count for nothing come the Test series, so Cook was quick to point out that his success at the Gabba was similarly in the past. "We start quickly on Friday so hopefully I can start again in Adelaide," he said. "I've not changed a huge amount technically. A bit between the second and third Tests against Pakistan, I changed a bit to what I'd been doing before, but not a huge amount and it just shows what a mental game opening is."