Pringle: Cook rolls on as partners come and go
Pink ball, red ball, righthanded partners, left-handed partners, home and abroad, Alastair Cook has seen it all over an 11-year career that has provided England cricket fans with the comforting sight of the familiar.
Like the Rock of Gibraltar, Cook has been guarding the straits of team England, unwavering in his determination and sense of duty. Like that famous landmark he has proved steadfast during times of crisis and change, not least the rapid turnover of opening partners he has had since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
On Thursday at Edgbaston, in the first day-night Test seen in this country, he was handed Surrey’s Mark Stoneman as his 12th opening partner since Strauss’s departure. A fellow leftie, Cook probably had little advice for Stoneman other than to relax and try to enjoy the moment. That and to call clearly.
It was advice Stoneman appeared to take, striking his second and fifth balls for four off Windies’ opening bowler Kemar Roach. But just as he was probably thinking what a doddle Test cricket was, Roach produced a corker in the third over that shaped into the lefthander but then left him a touch off the seam, movement enough to defeat his shot and clip the top of off-stump.
It was a good nut but you wonder whether Cook would have been dismissed by it. Top order batsmen are rarely bowled, especially left-handers facing right-arm bowlers coming over the wicket. Stoneman likes to cut and as such rarely commits himself fully on the front foot if he can help it. This was certainly true when Roach bowled him. Cook, with over a decade of Test experience, would have played it later and been further forward, two things that may have kept the ball from bowling him.
It was another brief opening partnership, one of a litany in recent times, not that you’d have known it from Cook’s body language as he raced to 20 in better than a run-a-ball. So accustomed is he to his own rhythms and responses that little affects his approach whatever drama is being played out at the other end.
Many will feel such introspection smacks of selfishness but nothing could be further from the truth. Cook knows if he bats long he benefits the team and he can better do that if he is devolved from the emotions of others at the crease. Sure, he will encourage and biff gloves with them but as Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “In the final analysis, one experiences oneself.”
Even the fortunes of his old mucker from Essex, Tom Westley, whom he probably wants success for almost as much as himself, would not have distracted him for more than a moment. Westley fell lbw for eight after missing a straight one from Miguel Cummins.
What may have struck him, and something he may well have passed on to Westley during the first break at 4pm (Tea? Lunch?), was that it was a ball in the meat and drink area for Westley, who is strong on the leg-side. Except that Westley, less accomplished against balls eight inches outside off-stump, appears to have been working on that “weakness,” given the way he was slicing across the occasional shot. But by having all that work in the back of your mind you can be slow to take advantage of your strengths and Westley would have hit for four the ball that got him out 49 times out of 50 in county cricket.
No such problems for Cook who put away every four ball he received, and there were plenty of them, with ruthless efficiency. Having been forced to look harder for scoring opportunities against South Africa’s fine, probing attack, it is fair to say he found runs easier to come by against the Windies’ bowlers.
Perhaps seduced by the occasional lavish movement of the pink ball, Roach and Co got drawn into bowling magic balls rather than play the percentages, and leaked runs as a result. Cook does not miss out when bowlers drift into his favourite scoring areas – which is anything full on his pads and anything short either side of the wicket.
Suddenly, with the score 39-2, he was batting with Joe Root again, the most familiar face in his Test match career since Strauss. In 58 Tests together they have only once scored hundreds in the same innings, against Pakistan at Old Trafford last year. Generally, they are mutually exclusive when it comes to making big runs for England.
Coming together when England are in a bind is not novel for the pair, especially over the past two years when the fallibility of the top order has been apparent. They do complement each other well, Root’s busyness at the crease a nice contrast to Cook’s steadfastness. That eagerness to score by England’s new captain allows the one he succeeded in the job to go at his own pace, which varies depending on how challenging the bowling is and how dynamic the fielding. In the opening session and half of this day-night Test, neither was tip-top.
With almost the same certainty that sees the sun set in the west, Cook reached his 50, on this occasion off 75 balls. It was his 56th in his 145th Test and that discounts all those he made and then converted into Test hundreds, of which he had 30 before this match.
Such consistency is impressive though when Root joined him on reaching 50, it was his 11th half-century in a row – which really is steadiness personified. The 100 partnership followed. Not for the first time had England’s most experienced pair taken the sting out of the opposition’s early fervour and got their team into the game.
Calamity averted, the pair probably allowed themselves to look forward, not too far, but far enough to contemplate the possibility where, as the Edgbaston shadows grew, both might reach three figures in the same innings for only the second time in their careers.
Cook does not miss out when bowlers drift into his scoring areas – full on his pads or short either side of the wicket
Pulling power: Alastair Cook hits out against West Indies at Edgbaston yesterday
Early dismissal: Mark Stoneman is bowled by Kemar Roach