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Bob Willis Trophy

In case you were wondering, Alastair Cook’s still got it

Alastair Cook
Phil Walker by Phil Walker 5 minute read

Alastair Cook batted for almost the entirety of the third day of the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s as Essex continued their pursuit of a third first-class trophy in four years. Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker reports on another vintage Cook hundred.

I’ve seen Alastair Cook make Test hundreds of joke-brilliance in Mumbai and Kolkata. I’ve seen him bat for weeks at Melbourne. I’ve seen him chisel somethings out of nothings, flip his technique mid-match, and stifle Steyn and Morkel on a fresh one. I’ve seen him make his first home Test hundred – a scratchy thing at Lord’s – I’ve seen him dominate at Chelmsford, claim Edgbaston for himself, and walk off at The Oval two years ago picking up the laurels as he went. I’ve been lucky. We all have. Luckier than perhaps we realised at the time.

But in all that time, across all those hours and weeks and years of watching Cook out there doing his business, tapping away, settling in, shifting his weight from foot to foot to locate the optimum balance in his (never more secure) stance and sniffing it out under his nose, in all that time, through the struggles when he “had to hang tough” and the good days when he climbed so inexorably up to the summit of 10,000 to reach a place among the kings to where, as he put it to me once, “no one can argue with you”, through all of that, I’ve never seen him strum it like he strummed it today.

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We’ve all seen him make hundreds where every other shot sounds like the splice has gone, where the feet have betrayed the cavernous depths of his freakish cricket mind, and the head’s fallen over and the backlift’s got out of hand. But this… for all the obvious and unseasonal caveats that must be laid out here: the howling winds, the limits of a county attack – albeit one with two Test bowlers and an international all-rounder – and the relative flatness of the pitch, this was sublime unfettered batting.

It could be a trick of the eye from the summer we’ve had. Watching the accumulated tics and quirks of the Test openers we’ve been treated to these last few months makes Cook look like a complete natural. Perhaps he always has been, in his way – certainly more than we ever really cared to recognise. Instead we glorified the uprightness, the sense of duty, those unnatural concentration levels and the old-world courage. Somewhere in that narrative we forgot the detail that he could stand tall and hook the quickest bowlers off his nose and be re-marking his guard before the poor stooge has got through his action.

I can well remember that knock at Mumbai – the one in Pietersen’s slipstream. He made 122 then and played a couple of lofted straight drives off the spinners that dared reveal an inner world. We didn’t see it much after that. Style’s for bums anyway. But perhaps it was there nonetheless, merely subsumed to the cause; only now, in this, his leisurely procession through the final years of his reign, has he let it out again.

The drives today, of which there were many, stayed hit. His transference of weight onto the front foot was perfect and the finish to the shot, immaculately still. There was literally nothing uppish, and barely anything mistimed. A more open stance than at any other stage in his career has allowed him to hit down the ground more readily without any reduction through the off-side. When he was inconvenienced, only really in the morning session and only really from Craig Overton, who bowled a nippy spell round the wicket, he took the energy out of his hands and rode the bounce to safety. When it was straight, he punched to the mids on and off. Too straight? Runs, obviously. And when it was loose and wide, he hit it for four. All of this on a loop. When he was on 144, he leathered another drive through the covers and, upon completion, listen to this, flicked his back leg up. Just a touch, but enough.

Is this the secret then? To ascend to a kind of state of grace with it all? Has he indeed reached that stage in his batting life which his old mucker-mentor Gooch got to, where he’s done it all but he still wants more? Where it’s only good things from here on? Where failure no longer exists, only degrees of success? Will he ease through the next few years like this? It comes down to love, and all of that, and hunger; at some point today he passed 3,000 professional runs at Lord’s. Gooch played on until his mid-forties; Cook is 35.

So, is he doing much next winter? After all, you know, he’s made Test tons at each of Australia’s five… oh, let’s not bother, eh? Let it go. It doesn’t help anyone to labour the point that he’s the best opening batsman in England. Savour instead the things that remain. This funny old fixture – which nonetheless is a sign of things to come – needed a sprinkling of stardust. It needed a clinic from someone, a performance to elevate the occasion and make it memorable. It needed, let’s be honest, something to shout about. It came from Sir Alastair Cook, county batsman.

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