If he showed a glimpse of his class in the first innings, Alastair Cook proved it today with an innings of remarkable composure, restraint and maturity to give England a genuine chance of forcing the most unlikely of victories on the final day. First came Marcus Trescothick as England’s fresh-faced left-handed opener. Then Andrew Strauss, albeit in fortuitous selectorial circumstances. England have unearthed a third who, on the basis of one innings at Nagpur, could be better than both.
The prophets of doom, myself included, predicted nothing less than a 3-0 drubbing by India before the Test started; Michael Vaughan’s wonky knee, Trescothick’s undisclosed problems and a swathe of injuries afflicted England. Not even the most optimistic observer could have forseen the situation England find themselves in after four days.
He joins Andrew Strauss, with whom he opened in this Test, to make a fifty and a hundred on debut. Michael Clarke was the last to do it for Australia; Virender Sehwag for India; Scott Styris for New Zealand and Dwayne Smith for the West Indies. In fact, Smith’s highest score since that hundred against South Africa is 42. Against the might of Bangladesh. So it’s not a certainty that debutant centurions should forge a successful Test career but – and I’m willing to eat my hat, if I have one left, should this not be true – Cook showed he has more than enough ability and determination to succeed at Test level.
Against a true master of legspin, Anil Kumble, he was calm and in control, deftly back-cutting and waiting for a bad ball. Against Kumble’s partner in crime, Harbhajan Singh, he was flustered but was patient enough, and disconcertingly mature, to realise that eventually a bad ball would come. Singh, like his team-mates, didn’t have a day to remember – nor was lady luck smiling on them, or even grimacing. However this was Cook’s first outing at this level, and he coped with absolutely everything. Strauss’s debut against the West Indies in 2004 was one to remember, undoubtedly, but Cook’s magical knock today was technically superior and all the more astonishing given his late arrival; it was made in the second innings, too.
If England win this Test – and there’s an awful lot more work to do – it must surely be regarded as one of the best in recent times, given their pre-series disasters. If anything, it proves one thing: never write a team off, and left-handers have a bloody easy time of it