England’s most unexpected ace, Alastair Cook.

06 Dec 2010 by Vinay Anand in Ashes Series 2010-11

He was the captain of the Under-19 England team in 2004. He scored a double century against the Australians in 2005, playing for Essex. And he was the saviour of the England national team in his very first Test when he scored a fighting 104 not out against India in Nagpur in 2006. Yes, he is England’s vice-captain and opening batsman, Alastair Cook.

The summer of 2006 proved that Cook was meant for big things in international cricket, in particular Test matches. He scored two centuries against Pakistan, and that was enough for the selectors to pick him in the Ashes squad touring Australia later that year. Marcus Trescothick’s sudden departure back home at the start of Ashes due to a stress-related illness was a turning point in his career. It is because he was promoted to open the batting with Andrew Strauss, from the otherwise No.3 he was occupying in the place of Michael Vaughan. It was still early days for him as he struggled in Australia, despite a pain-staking hundred at Perth.

However, Australia seemed to teach Cook a huge lesson because it was from there that he matured into a reliable opener, which England had been searching for over the years after the retirements of Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart. Since his debut, Cook hasn’t missed out on a single Test that England has played since his debut in March 2006. As a result, Cook and Strauss have been the permanent opening pair for England in Tests and they have been critical in helping them win Test matches in New Zealand, South Africa and Bangladesh apart from winning all their Test series at home since August 2008.

Cook’s stature as one of the world’s best Test batsmen was proven when he scored 118 not out in a drawn match against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2007. However, since then his career graph has been topsy-turvy. Since the Galle innings, he had no hundred to his name till the tour of West Indies in February 2009. He got starts but could not capitalize on them. He then scored a majestic 160 not out against West Indies in the home series in 2009, to set himself and his team up for the Ashes later that summer. He disappointed all though, with just one half-century in nine innings despite England winning the Ashes again at home like 2005. Yet, he seemed impressive in tough conditions in South Africa with a hundred and two fifties as England unexpectedly drew the Test series 1-1 against a strong South African team at home.

This made the English selectors choose him as captain for the tour of Bangladesh in March 2010, when Andrew Strauss was given rest citing a tough international calendar. And he showed that he is the team’s future captain, when he scored two match-winning hundreds in two Tests. However, once again he struck a bad patch throughout the entire home season of 2010. He scored a patchy hundred in the third Test at The Oval against Pakistan, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy his critics who questioned his place in the team for the ongoing Ashes series. Yet, the confidence shown in him by coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss paid wonders to the team’s fortunes as he scored his first double-century of his career to save England at Brisbane in the second innings, apart from his half-century in the first innings. And his ongoing century at Adelaide goes to show that this could be the stage of his rebirth, and expect more from England’s batsmen in this series.

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