Friday, 3 November 2006

Phlegmatic Cook can be a huge star

Most Australians won’t need much reminding who Alastair Cook is. In a warm-up game last summer, Cook blazed a remarkable double century for Essex against the tourists, alerting Australians and Englishmen alike to a prodigious talent. Those in the know, however, would not have been too surprised: he has progressed seamlessly through age-group cricket and has long seemed destined for international stardom.

Yet, though that phenomenal innings suggested otherwise, Cook will not be doing much blazing in Australia. He will play with a straight bat, remain remarkably unfazed by any sledging and not seek to engage in scoring shots unless he is totally at ease; indeed, Cook’s strike-rate in Test Match cricket is a distinctly un-21st century 44. If a bowler is foolish enough to pitch the ball on his legs Cook, as he does, will, inevitably, flick it away in the classiest of manners.

There have very seldom been better 21-year-old batsmen than Cook. Unexpectedly handed a debut in India last winter, he responded by scoring a hundred; he added two more - 105 and 127 - against Pakistan over the summer. Yet, despite an outstanding average of 54 from nine Tests against sub-continental sides, lingering doubts remain over his ability to handle Shane Warne; he has a tendency to push too hard at the ball and get caught around the bat. He has doubtless been using his extra time at home to work on this slight technical glitch.

Australian supporters may view Cook as Ian Bell 2005 Mark 2. But, with far more experience at Test level than Bell then, and an admirably phlegmatic temperament, that would be wishful thinking indeed.

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