In the first innings at the WACA, Cook was caught in the crease to a straight full-length delivery and was adjudged LBW. He looked a defeated man. The fear of the short ball had once again allowed Mitchell Starc to breakthrough the southpaw’s defence. An in-form Cook would have middled the ball and scored four through midwicket. But he was far from being in-form.
After Perth, questions were raised about the opener – his form, his place in the side and whether the end was near for England’s leading run-scorer.
However, former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting voiced his defence for the opener to cricket.com.au after the third Test.
“You wind the clock back a couple of years and when I’ve seen him playing at his absolute best, that ball he got today (Starc’s) he would’ve just worked wide of mid-on, probably for four off the front foot, not with both feet behind the crease line like he was today.
“There’s obviously some demons going around in his head but I’ve always said it in this game you never write off champion players and he’s certainly been a champion player.”
Facing his second delivery on Day 2, Cook planted his front foot forward to Josh Hazlewood’s full length delivery. The ball took the leading edge as he tried to push the ball towards mid-on. A false shot would be the routine conclusion. Playing across the line on a slow and dry wicket had cost Australia in the morning. It was an error of judgement from the veteran, but the approach raised eyebrows.
Unlike Perth, Cook stepped forward in Melbourne.
A single later, the 33-year-old flicked the ball off his hips to the square-leg boundary. It was different yet familiar. A familiarity that we had been accustomed to for 12 years.
Even before the visitors crossed double figures, Michael Vaughan on commentary said that this was the best the former captain had batted the entire tour. “It has been the best we have seen from Cook so far in this series. He is moving more towards the ball with his head position.”
His next two boundaries were a pull shot in front of square-leg and a cracking cover drive. A couple of overs later, Cook produced a punch off the back foot down the ground; a swift trigger movement took him back, the bat came down straight with a high elbow and the ball struck the sweet spot. A valiant chase from David Warner ended in vain, as the confidence meter grew. The crowning moment was a cut shot through gully to get him into the 30s.
Every shot that had helped Cook become the accumulator he is was displayed within the first hour. By then you knew, the Alastair Cook was back.
Regular proceedings followed – short on the body was pulled, short outside off-stump was cut but more importantly, the full length balls was driven with ease. The gaps in the field were rediscovered, the single and twos came effortlessly.
He had his successor Joe Root for support. The third wicket partnership produced 138 runs which guided England to the end of Day 2 with 192 runs on the board for the fall of two wickets, with Root on 49 and Cook on 104 – an Ashes century after 2550 days.
The 33-year-old may invite Steve Smith for a beer after the Test. The skipper provided a later Christmas present in the final over – six balls of leg-spin for Cook to enjoy. A delicious full toss which was flicked off the pads for a boundary and short delivery was pulled away to square-leg to bring up his 32nd century. He hugged Root, then took off his helmet and waved his bat to the dressing room and the MCG. He looked at the sky. More than a celebration, it was relief. The dry spell had ended.
The foundation on Wednesday made Cook’s work relatively easy on Day 3. Root was dismissed soon after bringing up his 35th half-century. Cameos in the middle-order helped England get past Australia’s score of 327 and take the lead.
The regular breakthroughs were put to an end from an unlikely source – Stuart Broad. The seamer had to endure some chin music in the initial stages of his innings but battled through to give his seasoned batsman support.
With a drive past Hazlewood post the final drinks break, Alastair Cook brought up his fifth double century. Broad punched the air in excitement, the Barmy Army danced in joy but Cook restricted himself to a bat wave followed by a glance into the sky.
At the end of the innings, England led by 164 runs and the opener stood unbeaten on 244. He had gone past Sir Viv Richards’ record of the highest score at the MCG – 208. He was the only other batsman to score two double centuries in 2017 (Virat Kohli is the other) and is now the sixth highest run-getter in Test history.
Prior to Melbourne, debate raged on whether there was anything to play for in the reaming two Tests. Are England playing for pride? How does one win pride after losing the Ashes in under 15 days? Or are the players playing for their places?
Maybe it’s both, maybe it is neither. But Alastair Cook did something on Day 2 and Day 3 that no other player managed – perform. Fingers pointed at the English great were put back in their place. Yes, the Ashes are done, but cricket moves and so should England. And the fourth Test has established one thing – Alastair Cook is still capable of being at the helm and lead the England batting line-up.
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