Pringle: Cook rolls on as part­ners come and go

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Derek Pringle is left in ad­mi­ra­tion as the for­mer Eng­land skip­per buck­les down to his strength, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing runs

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

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Pulling power: Alas­tair Cook hits out against West Indies at Edg­bas­ton yes­ter­day

Early dis­missal: Mark Stone­man is bowled by Ke­mar Roach

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