Alastair Cook is the runaway winner of this week’s award. The England captain broke all kinds of records during his innings of 190 in the third Test in Kolkata - including one unwanted one when he was run-out for the first time in his career - and set up his side’s emphatic seven-wicket win.
It was one of the most pleasing of his recent Test centuries - the one in Ahmedabad was in a losing cause and the one in Mumbai was overshadowed by Kevin Pietersen - in spite of the fact that he was dropped on 17 by Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip.
During the course of his innings, he became the youngest player in the history of Test cricket to reach 7000 runs, breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record, as well as breaking the England record for the number of Test centuries, surpassing Kevin Pietersen, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott, who all have 22. He has now scored a century in all five of his Tests as England captain, and has the highest series runs tally of an England captain in India.
All of which is quite an achievement for someone who former England captain Nasser Hussain admitted recently that he didn’t rate when he first saw him play. Writing in the Daily Mail, Hussain recalled his first thoughts upon seeing Cook: “All I saw was a left-hander whose head fell over when he played his shots and was full of nudges and nurdles,” he said.
Fortunately for Cook, Essex and England, Essex coach at the time Keith Fletcher thought differently and confidently told Hussain that “this lad will be one of the greats.” Fletcher, and subsequently Graham Gooch, who succeeded him as Essex coach, have played a key role in nurturing Cook during his career as he embarked on his path to greatness. Indeed, it was Gooch who worked tirelessly with Cook during his 2010 form slump, from which he has emerged a more-rounded and more versatile player.
As Hussain asserted, Cook, at first glance, appears to have a poor technique and was originally limited in his strokeplay to nudges and the occasional cut shot. Steadily, though, he has worked on his game, overcoming shortcomings outside the off-stump, and improving on his previously ungainly sweep and stiff-looking cover drive.
The increasing array of scoring shots now at Cook’s disposal have inevitably made him a more fluent player and he now has no difficulty in playing at the tempo required for One-Day International cricket and will surely soon reappear in England’s Twenty20 plans - as is his stated aim. These improvements would, in all likelihood, not have been possible were it not for the amount of time that he spent in county cricket playing for Essex during his absence from England’s limited-overs teams, working under the guidance of Gooch; or without his ever-present undoubted excellent temperament and willingness to learn.
A player’s temperament was something that former England coach Duncan Fletcher always placed great importance on when assessing a young player, and is likely to have played a role in Cook’s elevation, at a relatively young age, to the England team six and a half years ago in Nagpur.
Fletcher, now coach of India, has only been able watch - helplessly - over the past few days as his former star player has rewritten the record books.
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