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Jimmy Cook's short spell

He faced South Africa's first ball in international cricket on readmission and their first ball in a home Test soon after. Unfortunately, it didn't go much further

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Jimmy Cook (left) and Andrew Hudson walk out to open the innings, as Ali Bacher looks on, India v South Africa, 1st ODI, Calcutta, November 10, 1991

Cook and Hudson walk out in Kolkata, in South Africa's first game back: "I looked at him, and he was shaking like a leaf"  •  PA Photos

Perhaps nobody has faced two more historic balls in international cricket than Jimmy Cook. This naturalised opening batsman broke almost every domestic record when playing for Transvaal, and also scored 28 first-class centuries in three summers for Somerset. He played against rebel sides in the 1980s, but Cook's career was almost over by the time South Africa gave up apartheid, which allowed its sporting teams back on the international stage.
Cook was 38 when this happened. Just in time to play the first ball of South Africa's international cricket since readmission and also the first international delivery bowled in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Thirty years of isolation for the nation, close to 20 years of waiting for a premier batsman, and international cricket was coming back to South Africa. What heady times they must have been.
A day after this Mohali Test it will be exactly 24 years since South Africa played their first international match in their rebirth. The relations between the two cricket boards have soured a little now, but it was India who welcomed South Africa back at the time. Their first international was in India, and the first Test they played was against India. Cook remembers the 1991 visit vividly.
"We basically were told, 'Look, you guys are going to India', the team got picked, and boom, within a week we were gone. It was amazing," says Cook. "It happened so fast. It was like, 'Okay, here's the team that is going.' We left on Wednesday and the game was, like, Sunday. I actually don't recall us practising before we left. We hastily went to get the South African kit, and we had to do this and that.
"We basically were told, 'Look, you guys are going to India', the team got picked, and boom, within a week we were gone. It was amazing"
"The flight over, we were all excited getting there. The bus ride from the airport to the hotel will stay in my mind forever. The throngs of people, the screaming and the cheers. And Kepler Wessels sleeping in the corner. And all of us like [eyebrows raised], 'Check this guy out. He's seen all of this before.' Fast asleep in the bus. Amazing. Special memories."
Time slowed down once they lost the toss and were asked to bat first at Eden Gardens. "I walked out with Andrew Hudson," Cook says. "That time I will never forget. My first international match. Andrew and I sat in the change room and I said to him, 'If you don't mind, I want to face the first ball.' I always took the first ball. I liked to get in there and get started. He said to me, 'Yeah, yeah. That's fine. I haven't got a problem with that.'
"And as we walked out - we must have been halfway out to the middle - I looked at him, and he was shaking like a leaf. And I said to him, 'Are you okay?' And he said, 'Yeah, yeah.' I said, 'Do you want to face and get it done with?' He said, 'No, no, no. You face.' And I thought, 'Shit, this guy has got no chance.'
What became of Hudson then? "He got nought."
Just as well that Cook didn't expose Hudson to Kapil Dev first ball. This is how he recollects it: "Kapil Dev ran in to bowl, and I thought this was fine, and the crowd's going to settle down. But as he got closer, they kept getting louder and louder. And I was used to a bit of buzz in the crowd, but as the bowler charged in, everybody sat quiet. This was a 'Wooooooooooaahhhhhh...' And the time he let the ball go, I was like, 'Jeeeez... I have played the first ball.'
"I think I managed to get a single off the third or fourth ball. Andrew was out in that first over. Third ball he faced, he was out lbw or caught behind. He was a nervous wreck. I will never forget to this day, walking out with him. He was shaking."
Hudson is still often reminded of the game by Cook. "[When I met him recently] I said to him, 'Do you remember?' He said, 'Shit, I never felt like that [before or since].'
"I was lucky. At least I had played the rebel tour, and I got into playing for South Africa. He was… phew."
After that short trip to India, during which they were amazed at how good a 16-year-old - Sachin Tendulkar - could be, Cook had reason to give up hope that he would play any more international cricket. He was not taken to the World Cup because he was not all that fit and fielding was important. When he wasn't picked for the one-off Test in the West Indies the following year, Cook feared that could be it. That his dream of playing Test cricket, which he had nurtured for close to 20 years, might not come to fruition.
He remembers being bitter about not being picked for the tours of Australia and the West Indies. "I should have gone to Barbados," he says. "I don't say it in a big-headed way. They were starting to bring in younger guys, and I appreciate that. I never minded if a guy said, 'Look, we are not taking you on the tour because we have a younger guy. We want to blood him.' I would have had no problem with that.
"They went to Sri Lanka, and I went on the tour. Then, about two or three weeks later, the guys were going to Australia. I didn't get many chances in Sri Lanka, but I helped a lot of young guys with their games, in terms of coaching. I was 40 at the time. So I had a lot of coaching inside me. They all said, 'Thank you very much.'
"The day after we got back, Dr [Ali] Bacher called me and said, 'I have got lots of reports from the guys. Thank you for everything you did. The guys said you were absolutely fantastic on the tour, and I know you didn't play that much. Go out and get some runs between now and the tour to Australia, and you will go to Australia as well.' I said, 'No problem, doc.' First game here at the Wanderers, 105. Missed the tour to Australia."
Cook was more miffed at the reasons given to him. "They said the Australian wickets wouldn't suit me," he says. "That they were fast and bouncy. I have played on fast and bouncy wickets all my life. Don't give me that excuse. Say I am too old or you want to try a young guy, but don't tell me the pitches won't suit me. They would have been right down my alley.
"They said the Australian wickets wouldn't suit me, that they were fast and bouncy. I have played on fast and bouncy wickets all my life. Don't give me that excuse"
"World Cup, I was surprised, from an experience point of view. That [West Indies] tour, I never understand. Even though I was 40 at the time, and I understand if it was a young player going. They should have said that."
Cook continued playing first-class cricket, and he tried coaching Transvaal at the same time but gave up because it proved too much to handle.
"Missing the World Cup was probably my most disappointing thing in cricket," he says. "I was so determined, and I went out and broke the record in one or two of the competitions and got picked for the home series. I wanted to tell them, 'This is not age, boy. This is about you wanting to go and try some youngsters.' To be fair, Jonty Rhodes and Hansie Cronje and the guys came through and played [well]. Maybe they were justified, but I was disappointed."
It was Kapil again when South Africa lost the toss in Durban on November 13, 1992 and were asked to go face the first ball of international cricket in the country in 30 years. So Cook walked out again with Hudson for another historic event, and decided to face the first ball once again. Tendulkar had by now become an even bigger phenomenon, having made centuries in Sydney and Perth. He fielded at second slip as Kapil ran in, this time in front of a lukewarm crowd - fewer than 30,000 came in to watch over the course of the Test, according to Wisden.
This time the memories weren't pleasant for Cook. "I don't think that was ever out, but I got out first ball of the Test match. It was caught second slip. Caught Tendulkar. He didn't know, to be fair. I am not saying he cheated me. That would be unfair. But he went forward, and I was convinced that it had bounced this far in front of him. So I stood there.
"Steve Bucknor was at the bowler's end, and he didn't know. He walked forward and said, 'Gentlemen, I don't know.' So he looked at the guy at square leg, who was a South African umpire [Cyril Mitchley]. And he said it's out. And I thought, 'How can you say from there that it carried?' Anyway, I walked off. In the change room, everyone to the man was like, 'Jeez, we cannot believe that. That ball clearly bounced.'"
The cruelty of that is heightened when you consider that this was the first match with a third umpire. Until recently that meant that the call on any doubtful catch would always go in favour of the batsman. "That was the first match with the third umpire. Otherwise I would have had to ask them, 'Did you catch it?'" says Cook. "But because you had replays, I stood there and said, 'Let the replay show me, because I was convinced that I was not out.' On a normal day if there was no TV I would have turned to Tendulkar and asked, 'Did you catch it?' And he might have said, 'I'm not sure' or 'I definitely did.' The other guys might have said it was 100% out, and I would have walked off. That's the way I played the game."
You wait 20 years, you put every sinew of the body into trying to play Test cricket, and then first ball you are gone. Only now Cook can shrug and say, "Ah. That's life."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo