“I would like to continue simply because I like being the captain of England. Till I get a pat on my back, I would keep on being the captain”, Alastair Cook after losing the Lords test to an inexperienced Indian side.
Words of a confident man. Alastair Cook had been a fantastic batsman for England since his debut hundred in Nagpur in 2006.
Since taking over the captaincy, things had been up and down for him. The no-win streak had stretched to 10 test matches and this had to be the deepest hole in his illustrious 8 year career so far. The captaincy on the field had not impressed anyone. Many believed the poor form with the bat had a big impact on his captaincy. That meant he was desperate to get some runs.
Being 1-0 down in the series going into the 3rd test at Rose Bowl, now called as the Ageas Bowl, in Southampton, England and Cook were under immense pressure on and off the field.
This was a perfect scenario which brings the best out of champions. He made 3 changes to his side from Lords. Matt Prior’s consistent poor performances made way for the much awaited debut of the talismanic Jos Buttler. Ben Stokes had 3 blobs in 3 innings, which meant Chris Woakes took his place. The surprising change was Liam Plunkett. He looked threatening when he bowled outside the off stump in Lords but he was replaced by Chris Jordan. Winning the toss and batting first was a brave decision by Cook. The pitch had a bit of grass on it. It would eventually get burnt out in the sun and make batting comfortable after a couple of hours. But Cook had won the battle against his inner demons and decided to bat first for the team’s sake. He walked out to bat on a Sunday, needing a good innings for himself which could make things turn around for Cook, the captain. He started his innings the same way as the last few innings. Hung on his back foot and very tentative outside his off stump. Mitchell Johnson had created these devils in the minds of the English batsmen. He had pushed the English batsmen back in their crease by bowling fast bouncers which were accurately directed, and it was this hangover that the batsmen were in. They had struggled to put their foot forward all summer.
‘Fortune favours the brave’, they say. Cook needed his share of luck. He edged a beautiful delivery off Pankaj Singh to Ravindra Jadeja who made a mess of it. This was the catalyst of his innings. From thereon, he started getting his feet moving, he stood way outside the crease to negate the swing of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and got his favourite back foot shots out of his bag. Things just changed dramatically from there as he reached a cool, composed 95 before being cheaply dismissed on a leg side delivery from Jadeja.
As expected, the good knock changed his thinking completely. He attacked a lot as captain, his fielding changes were methodical, and his bowling changes turned out to be a masterstroke.
Broad and Anderson responded beautifully as they grabbed 3 wickets each in the 1st innings taking their combined tally to 500 wickets. But the trick in the bag was Moeen Ali. He used him to give his pace bowlers, the much-needed rest but he did not go on the defensive. He attacked with Moeen Ali and the long bearded youngster was rewarded with 2 crucial wickets on either side of the tea break, those being talented Mumbai batsmen Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
He did not enforce the follow-on starting another debate. He had to back his decision to bat again by batting for a short period around 35-40 overs which would take the game away from India and give his bowlers enough rest to have a crack at the Indian batsmen at the end of the
fourth day. He did exactly that. Batted confidently, started a little slow but picked up pace. The confidence was clear as he swept Jadeja even out of the rough. He declared with India needing an improbable 445 to win. He had played a good unbeaten 70 and had a spring in his
stride. His captaincy worked once again as he aptly threw the ball to Moeen Ali and Joe Root to exploit the rough outside the left-hander’s off stump. Shikhar Dhawan was troubled by Moeen Ali but ultimately succumbed to Joe Root. Moeen Ali picked up the prize wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. The visitors were in deep trouble at 112/4 at the end of the 4th day’s play.
Day 5 was always going to be a challenge for India with the spinners using the rough to their advantage and Anderson extracting the most out of the wicket in the seamers. Cook threw the ball to Stuart Broad on the 5th morning. He bowled a maiden and had Anderson, sharing the attack with him, straightaway got rid of Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni pretty cheaply. India were looking down the barrel. Cook immediately introduced Moeen Ali into the attack as he ran through the Indian lower order bagging 6 wickets in the innings.
Cook had finally turned things around for himself as well as England. The selectors had showed their faith in him as the captain and the man had delivered. Hopefully, this test match marked the end of his poor form and brings him back to his best as cricket does not want one of
the game’s best batsman of the era to be in poor form for too long.
About the Author: This article is written by Niraj N Ranade from Mumbai, a junior marine engineer at Teekay Shipping. He is an ardent follower of the game of cricket.
Edited by: Omkar Shetty