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By Partab Ramchand
As a facts and figures man it has never failed to amaze me how so many top class English batsmen over the years have ended their careers with their average in the 40s. Oh sure, there are the legends like Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Walter Hammond, Denis Compton and Ken Barrington who all have averages in the fifties while the famous opener Herbert Sutcliffe averages 60. But there is no other country which has so many players with a 40 plus average.
A cursory glance will reveal that the names include such famous batsmen as Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Graham Gooch, David Gower, Ted Dexter, Geoff Boycott, John Edrich, Robin Smith, Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan and Graham Thorpe. Among the current crop Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen belong in this category while Jonathan Trott has gone well ahead averaging 64 after 20 Tests. Before Trott out of some 35 batsmen who average over 50 (minimum qualification 30 innings) only six were Englishmen.
With all due credit to Trott the one man who gives the impression of being, in racing parlance, a stayer and not a sprinter is Cook. In fact he has already been around for five years but looks good enough to be around for more than just another five years. By that time he should have run up a record that may well have taken him past Graham Gooch, currently England’s highest run getter and past Hammond, Cowdrey and Boycott as the leading century maker. And he could also become the only England batsman to average 50 after figuring in over 100 Tests.
It could be mighty dangerous to be making such predictions but where Cook is concerned one is prepared to stick his neck out. After all the Essex left hander has been destined for great things from a very early age. Prodigies do not always live up to expectations but in Cook’s case he has so far performed up to potential and there is every reason to believe that he will not flounder and fall from his exalted status in the future. Indeed he could well go from strength to strength.
Record breaking has been Cook’s forte ever since he made his Test debut a memorable one. It was in Bangalore against India and one recalls that he not only got a hundred but he also received a marriage proposal – on a placard from a pretty girl in the stands. Not unexpectedly for the tall Cook cuts a handsome figure on the field with his chiseled features. Before 2006 had run out Cook had added two more hundreds making him the only English batsman to score three hundreds before attaining the age of 22 putting him ahead of a greats like Len Hutton, Denis Compton and David Gower who had each got two hundreds before that age.
There was just no looking back for Cook after this heady start. By 2007 he was in exalted company – only Don Bradman, Javed Miandad and Sachin Tendulkar had previously scored seven hundreds before their 23rd birthday. He achieved this with a steadfast innings of 118 at Galle, England’s sole century in the series against Sri Lanka. It was clear by now that he was going to be England’s opening batsman for long – and a future captain as well. The latter thought was not exactly a surprise for Cook had captained England in the Under-19 World Cup in 2004. Now of course things are moving as ordained for he has been appointed Andrew Strauss’ successor as captain of the ODI team. It is surely only a matter of time before he succeeds Strauss as the Test captain too. Even that will not be a new experience for he has already stood in for Strauss on the tour of Bangladesh last year. In storybook fashion England won both Tests and Cook got hundreds in both.
The runs will undoubtedly flow for Cook – and at a faster rate if his burgeoning average is something to go by. During his memorable tour of Australia last winter when he scored an incredible 766 runs in seven innings to star in England’s first series win in Australia in 24 years Cook went past 5000 runs having turned 26 on Christmas Day - the second youngest batsman to reach the landmark after Tendulkar. Only Hammond with 905 runs in 1928-29 has scored more runs for England in a series against Australia.
Handsome is as handsome does and Cook combines style and substance. There have been instances when he has looked vulnerable outside the off stump or while playing across. But Cook is a deep thinker of the game, keen on ironing out his weaknesses and emerging as a complete player. Mentally very strong, Cook is a difficult batsman to dismiss when settled for his concentration is already legendary, his technique water tight and his ability to get big scores makes him a feared opponent.
A tally of 18 hundreds in 67 Tests with a highest score of 235 not out says it all. And yes his average (49.23) is fast approaching fifty – further proof if any is needed that Cook is on his way to becoming an all time English great.