IN the film 36 Hours, a US Army Major, played by James Garner, is deceived into believing he has suffered amnesia and World War II has ended, in the hope of persuading him to reveal vital secrets.
As far as Australian cricket is concerned, the 36 hours spent at the crease by Alastair Cook in this Test series are best forgotten, too. They have not exactly been the difference between the sides — the gulf in class is too great to be attributed to one player — but they have been the most crucial factor in retaining the Ashes and, in all likelihood, delivering the series to England.
That happy event should take place sometime soon, after England’s first innings all but took the fifth Test away from Australia. On Thursday morning, the tourists closed in on a mammoth score of 600 plus, Cook having already contributed 189 to what has become another momentous Test occasion for English cricket. Cook, the man the Australians saw as England’s batting weak link, has on this tour established figures that will withstand scrutiny in comparison to the batsmen of any Ashes age, past or future.
His total runs for the series are 766 at an average of 127,6. Only Wally Hammond has been more prolific in an Ashes series, and Cook has been in for 36 hours and 11 minutes. He has made a double century, two further centuries and two half-centuries in seven innings and has struck 81 boundaries, almost 30 more than his nearest team-mate Jonathan Trott and 15 more than any Australian.
Cook has become the embodiment of everything that English cricket has got right on this tour, the faith that the selectors have shown in him, amid ordinary form and so many doubts, serving to highlight the mistakes of the past when promising players were picked and discarded at the first hint of frailty.
Had Mark Ramprakash, for instance, received similar support would his Test career have developed differently, too? We will never know — Cook seems stronger than Ramprakash mentally, but the attitudes of the England management may explain the differing nature of both men – but without doubt stable preparations for the Ashes defence have hugely benefited Andrew Strauss’s squad.
Ian Bell is another to enjoy unqualified support, and even Paul Collingwood was given one last chance in Sydney, although it proved his Test swansong, announcing his retirement from the long form of the game, after another batting failure.
England’s mission is still to be completed but, after wicket-keeper Matt Prior surged to another century, ably supported in a 102 partnership by Tim Bresnan, it became as good as impossible for Australia save the series. At the very least they will need to bat through day five to even draw — and still lose the series 2-1 — and as they only made it through day one because a third of the play was lost to rain, it is going to be a tall order to avoid a third Test defeat this winter, particularly on a deteriorating pitch.
It was noticeable that only Mike Hussey of the Australian players seemed to offer genuine acknowledgement of the centuries of both Cook and Bell, perhaps because he is the only member of the home side operating with a clear conscience.
A composite selection of Australian and English players from this series would see Hussey in for Collingwood and ten Englishmen. Even Prior has shaded opposite number Brad Haddin, with his performance in Sydney. As the reality of a series defeat begins to dawn, there is increasing rancour between the players, typified by two unedifying moments in Wednesday’s play.
The first concerned Australian opener Phil Hughes, who claimed a catch at short leg when Cook was on 99. The Essex man did not move, but Australians celebrated, and the umpires had little choice but to send the decision upstairs. Replays showed the ball had pitched several inches before Hughes’s grasping hands and Sir Ian Botham led the condemnation in the commentary box.
Nobody will ever know for sure whether Hughes was merely uncertain or opportunistic, but as Cook could see the ball had bounced, it would require a very trusting nature to afford the Australian the benefit of the doubt.
The same goes for Haddin, touted as a future Australian captain. He looked to know the truth, too, yet still ran to join the party. On a day that brought out the common decency in most folk, most of the crowd wearing pink in support of the breast cancer charity founded by Glenn McGrath and his late wife
Jane, it was disappointing to see cricket’s dark arts practiced so readily.
England did not make a big deal of it, but within the confines of their dressing. — DailyMail.