Magellan Ashes 2017-18
Modest Cook his own kind of 'talent': Gower
England's redoubtable opener might not be Lara, but he nonetheless possesses characteristics that make him a great batsman
1 January 2018, 03:17 PM AEST
Phew! A draw! Judging by Joe Root's remarks at the end of the game it would have had to have been a timeless Test to get a result and who knows how many Steven Smith would have made had not the allotted five days expired.
I have written enough about Smith over the series so time to focus on the remarkable comeback of Alastair Cook. He is an extraordinary character, as is Australia's captain, each in their own slightly different ways.
Cook's own remarks after his record-breaking feat were self-effacing and modest with an air of embarrassment that in the course of his marathon knock he had quietly slipped past Brian Lara's tally of Test match runs. Don't get me wrong, by the way, I am not saying that Smith in those respects is that much different but I suspect that his life away from cricket is not quite the same as Cook's.
Lara, of course, was a genius and I remember, for once vividly, his 277 in January 1993 at the SCG. I was almost at the end of my career, with, as it turned out, one Test summer at home left for me, and working for Channel 9 so had a very good view of Brian as he stroked all-comers to all parts of the SCG, leaving nobody in any doubt as to his talent or future prospects. It was an absolute joy to watch.
If you said to Alastair after his unbeaten 244 that at least bits of it were a joy to watch he would most likely smile and acknowledge that his batting is more relentless than beautiful. You can only admire him for it.
I wish, in hindsight, that I had had more of that rugged determination to give nothing away and have been able to bat with that same relentlessness. But only a little! I'm afraid that was not me and I actually quite enjoyed being me and achieving what I did and in the way that I did it, admittedly at the cost of sheer productiveness. I couldn't bring myself, for instance, to do a Ken Barrington, who was assistant manager on my early tours and who had in his own career abandoned the free-flowing approach of his early years to adopt a more pragmatic approach and finished up averaging 58.67 in his 82 Tests.
Alastair has no such qualms and his batting leads one to consider the basic question, what is talent? Some would start with what are described as the god given – or 'natural', if you're not religious – attributes of hand eye co-ordination, style, the ability to play an array of eye-catching and pleasing shots, all the things that make a Lara look obviously special. They are all lovely in their own way but the one thing that makes anyone a better player than the next man is the mental strength, the concentration, to maximise that natural ability. Both Cook and Lara have and had to have that to make them the players they are and were, albeit with very different styles.
Your talent as a batsman then becomes the sum of those parts and up to a point you can judge those talents by the resultant figures so that Cook, with 11,956 runs in 151 Tests and as an English opening batsman with all that that entails averaging 46.52, is a great player.
After that one can become more subjective and say that Lara, for his artistry, style, match-winning abilities, was a greater player and that if you had to choose between watching one or the other, you would quite easily opt to watch Lara ahead of Cook.
Again, if you asked Alastair he would say straight away that he would do the same. He is famously down to earth about his batting and known for enjoying the rather different life of a sheep farmer helping out with the lambing as much as he does piling up runs for England. He is also a good shot, where no doubt the hand-eye gift and that same determination come to the fore again, and loves a drop of good red wine. So at least we have that in common!
I played with another determined compiler of runs, Geoffrey Boycott, yet another sort of character altogether. He spent all his playing career, from the moment he first walked into the nets at Headingley, trying to prove himself as better than the next man, and is still doing that now as a commentator. Some called him selfish, whereas Geoffrey himself would understandably prefer single-minded. There were bits of both!
I have got to know him reasonably well over the years and we understand (it's not hard) that we are each very different in many ways but a strong mutual respect exists. He used to say to me often (because Geoffrey does not believe that anything is worth saying only once!) that “If we had my brain and your ability we'd be one helluva player”. He had a point but I'd still rather be me and have to live with not having ground out a few (a lot, GB would say) more runs. I'd rather have my core and have been able to add bits of Geoffrey, bits of Alastair, bits of Brian, bits of Barry Richards, bits of Graeme Pollock (my early hero) bits of Viv Richards and bits of many more fabulous players too.
At the end of it all one is what one is and it was a joy to see that Alastair Cook, having only days earlier being forced to defend himself in that same modest way of his against rumours that his career was fading fast, was able to let his bat do the talking at the MCG. To be honest, his bat often speaks better than he does and again he would not mind me saying that.
So, one Test to go and there is still a chance that the scoreline could match my prediction of 3-1 Australia. For that to happen, England might well decide that Mason Crane's leg breaks are worth a go at the SCG. If that is the case I will be fascinated to see how he goes though one should temper expectations given that two months of net bowling and drinks carrying is not the best preparation for a Sydney Test.
Nor, by the way, would it mean the end of Moeen Ali, even if he does sit out the fifth Test. He has been an integral part of England's successes over the last couple of years and one poor tour does not make him a lesser player.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, drawn. Scorecard
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21