If, as seems universally accepted, eggs is indeed eggs, then the only other certainty in an increasingly troubled world is that Alastair Cook will eviscerate every English batting record, apart possibly from the highest individual score. His technique, concentration and stamina are monumental; his ability to eliminate risk is awesome. Even Stuart Broad said he had to smile from the dressing room as he watched Cook elaborately leave a loose ball outside the off stump. He was on 290 at the time: dispiriting for bowlers, remarked Broad. You don’t say…
The first time I became aware of Cook’s prodigious performances was in 2005 when he won the Cricket Writers’ Young Player of the Year award. He had scored a good double hundred for Essex against the touring Australians, and I turned to my neighbour at the awards dinner, who happened to be one Michael Brearley, and asked what Cook was like. Brearley’s expression left nothing to question: Cook was clearly, in his view, the real deal. And yet, and yet. Will children still unborn one day turn to us and say, did you see Alastair Cook bat? Just as we might find some rheumy octogenarian and say, so what was it like, watching Bradman bat? I wonder …
In retrospect it’s a good thing that Graham Gooch’s 333, against India back in 1990, wasn’t eclipsed. Gooch is a great and — because he’s so understated — sometimes underrated figure. He is a ’tache-tastic and unfashionable hero who has done so much for Essex, England, Cook himself and of course the hair-plugs industry. And how many other great English figures have worn a moustache with such distinction? Clement Attlee, Terry-Thomas, the Beatles (briefly). It’s not a long list.
But gosh this England cricket team is scarily good. The bowling can best be described as ‘robust’, in the post-riots policing sense of the word, meaning relentlessly brutal. But the feebleness of the Indian team is still baffling. Maybe they just don’t like playing in jumpers. There’s poor Rahul Dravid, statistically the best catcher in Test history, spilling a couple of dobblers in the slips, but togged out as if he was setting off on a trans-polar expedition, so he could barely move.
After some lightish duties in the UAE and Sri Lanka this winter, England have some routine work at home against the West Indies, before a proper heavyweight contest against South Africa. But because of the blasted Olympics, that’s only a three-Test series: first and second in the world and just a best of three. Whoever thought that up should find themselves on the wrong side of a bit of gang culture.
Or possibly of a Martin Johnson rollicking. After England’s rugby battering ram had failed to breach the Welsh lines at the weekend, the Sky reporter, showing a disregard for his own safety that should have earned him a place in the squad, asked Johnson what he’d said in the dressing room. Was it a hairdryer, or something more reflective? There was a long, long pause. ‘You had to be there,’ said Johnson, and turned away. Well, I wouldn’t like to be Toby Flood, or those substantial units Mike Tindall, Matt Banahan or Shontayne Hape, with Jonno on my case.
First thoughts as the Premier League swaggers into a new season: Rooney’s new thatch is worth every penny he spent on it; teams like Stoke and West Brom, who you might not bother to watch at the local rec, will be very difficult to beat; Manchester City should win the title; it’s going to be another long hard winter for Arsenal; and Sky have a real find in their new expert Gary Neville. You realise what a torrid time any slackers in the Manchester United dressing room would have had when he was skipper. Come to think of it, he once favoured a ’tache too.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.