The England captain has been phenomenal in his first series as full-time leader, and his batting has put him into the road to greatness.
There was much brouhaha before this series kicked off. Former cricketers proclaimed, in unison, that England would be demolished in India. Michael Vaughan predicted a 0-4 pasting for Alastair Cook’s team due to their ineptitude against top-class spin, while the current crop of Indian cricketers made no bones while asserting that they would like to settle scores with the visitors for India's 0-4 drubbing in England last year. Graeme Swann added fuel to the fire by saying that India's spin attack was ordinary and would not pose any threat to England batsmen.
This was the first Test series for England after Andrew Strauss stood down as a captain and retired from international cricket. Kevin Pietersen was making a comeback to the Test side after the 'text messages' saga which saw him axed from the team following Headingly Test. England had conceded their No. 1 Test ranking to South Africa after they lost at home 0-2.
England's record in India is far from enviable - they won their last Test series here in 1984-85 - and looking at all these factors everyone expected them to cave in meekly. Among all the hoopla, one man remained composed and unperturbed - Cook. He has a special bond with India. He made his Test debut here at of 21 when he replaced Marcus Trescothick, who flew to England just before the start of the three-match series due to 'depression', and looked at ease in scoring 60 and an unbeaten 104 in a draw. Since then he has become a vital cog of England's Test side.
Playing your first Test series as a full-time captain in India isn't a choice most captains would wish for but Cook has shown steely temperament - both as a captain and batsman - to put England in a situation where they could think of giving the Indians a taste of their own medicine. The beginning of the Test series wasn't ideal for England. In the first Test in Ahmedabad, they were shot out for 191 in the first innings in reply to India's mammoth score of 521 for 8 and looked doomed. But Cook led from the front and compiled a marathon 176 in the second innings to show his team how to tame India’s rampaging spinners. He combined with Matt Prior (91) to restore some pride for his country.
Though England lost the Test, Cook's piece de resistance turned his team's fortunes. They took a lot of heart from their skipper's indefatigable tenacity and valor.
They roared back in Mumbai by routing India by 10 wickets. On a dustbowl, Monty Panesar was drafted into the team and snapped up a ten-wicket haul to outclass India’s spinners. Pietersen made an audacious 186 and Cook a steely 122. While Pietersen and Panesar walked away with laurels, Cook, who laid the foundation for the victory, preferred to remain behind curtains and let his team-mates revel in the glory.
On Thursday, during day two of the third Test in Kolkata, he went a step further and recorded a historic 23rd century to put his team in a commendable position. It was an archetypical Cook innings. Playing spin with soft hands and working it around with consummate ease. He cut and drove Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan at will when they were even fractionally short or over-pitched. He picked the length with clinical acumen and chose the right balls to attack. He was a reservoir of patience in the first phase of his innings - 18 off 50 balls – and fluent in the latter half. Barring one blip, when Cheteshwar Pujara spilled a low catch at 17, Cook’ s innings was chanceless. Two stand-out shots were a straight six off R Ashiwn and a gorgeous cover-drive off Ishant after he reached his century.
Cook has already established himself as one of the most successful batsmen England have produced. To achieve what Cook has at such a young age is quite incredible. At his age, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara had 14 and 10 Test centuries to their credit. Only Sachin Tendulkar had score more centuries (27) at Cook's age.
Cook's career has been a roller-coaster ride which has been exhilarating highs and abysmal lows. After a superb start to his Test career - seven centuries in 24 Tests - Cook went through rough weather when runs dried up. In 2008, he didn’t score a century in 12 Tests and his career hit rock bottom when he had a miserable home series against Pakistan in 2010-11. He had a torrid time against Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and could only muster 167 runs in four matches at 23.85. There were calls to remove him from the team and find a more competent partner for Strauss.
But Cook turned the corner by whipping up a double-century against Australia in Brisbane in the first Test of the 2010-11 Ashes. He larruped two more centuries, along with two half-centuries, to rattle up 766 runs in the series. It helped England win the Ashes in Australia after 25 years and vindicated his class as a long-term prospect. Since then, there's no been looking back for the left-hander who embraces grit over grace.
Cook likes to take up new challenges as they get the best out of him. The responsibility of captaincy has enhanced his game and maturity manifold in both formats of the game. He was left out of the ODI team in 2010 and was labeled a 'plodder' by Michael Atherton but since becoming the captain of the ODI team he has fine-tuned his game amazingly to emerge as England's most successful ODI player in the last one-and-a-half years.
His ability to adapt himself according to the format and conditions has brought him immense success and applause. With form, fitness and age at his side, Cook is bound to break and establish many records in the years to come. His talent and temperament are well-ratified and will stand him in good stead. His best years are certainly ahead of him as it's an axiom that most batsmen reach the pinnacle of their skills between 29 and 33. By the look of things, he looks the most likely candidate to surpass Tendulkar's record of most runs and centuries in Test cricket.
During his superlative innings, Cook set a few records:
1 - Most centuries by an England batsman in Test cricket – 23 - going past Wally Hammond, Geoffery Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and Pietersen.
2 - Youngest batsman to reach the 7000-run mark in Tests - at 27 years and 347 days. He beat Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 28 years and 193 days.
3 – Fastest in terms of days to reach 7000 runs - only 2482 days. Pietersen took 2571 days.
4 – Most runs by an England captain in a series in India - 494. Ted Dexter, currently in India, made 409 runs during the 1961-62 series.
5- The first captain to score five centuries in his first five matches as captain.