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Ambrose spots chinks in Cook's technique.

Summary: Former West Indian pacer believes England opener a strong LBW candidate

By Jonathan Liew, The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2017

Edgbaston: To be fair, Sir Curtly Ambrose called it. The great West Indian fast bowler was a guest on Test Match Special in the afternoon, and confidently stated that he had spotted a flaw in Cook's technique that he would have looked to exploit. "He's a wonderful player," Sir Curtly explained, "but I believe he's a strong LBW candidate. Force him on the back foot, no width, and then slip in the quicker one, full and straight."

A short time later, Cook was duly trapped LBW by a straight one, from the off-spin of Roston Chase. Unfortunately for the West Indies, by that stage he had already scored 243 runs and gone a long way to putting England 1-0 up in the series. While we are clutching at straws, you could point out that it is now the third time he has been dismissed in Test matches between 235 and 263. Cook's inability to get out of the nervous mid-200s is becoming a serious mental block.

Still, even if we could identify a small weakness there - and you can bet the Australians will be rubbing their hands in anticipation - you would back Cook to fix it. You would back Cook in most situations, really. On a strangely flaccid day of Test cricket in Birmingham, when most of his partners seemed to give away their wickets almost out of sympathy, Cook was merciless. Before play on Friday morning, Cook was interviewed by Ian Ward on Sky Sports. "How greedy are you feeling?" Ward asked him.

Cook smiled, blushed, deflected the question, mumbled something about wanting to get "as many runs as you can".

Of course, Cook knew the real answer, and Ward knew he knew, and so did we. But somehow, he could still not put words to the sensation. Perhaps, Cook fears that if we could glimpse how murderously, brutally, ruthlessly bloodthirsty he feels about run-scoring, it would terrify us.

"You know that reflex most people have when they are in a situation - a party, perhaps, or an official function - where there is free food available? Sure, we will have a little, and then maybe a little more. But, at some point, the social reflex kicks in, telling us: "Best stop now, otherwise we might look terribly piggish."

When there are runs available, Cook has no shame. He has no off switch. He simply eats, and eats. And here, the West Indies and their limited attack were simply devoured. Those who witnessed Cook's innings with their own eyes will be able to load it with caveats. This is a historically weak West Indies side, who bowled loosely and fielded abominably.

Even Cook's 200 owed itself to an elementary misfield on the boundary. Time and again, the West Indies fed his favourite shots: the pull, the clip off his legs, the flay through point. Had they ever seen this man bat before? On 230, he top-edged a pull that would probably have fallen into the hands of a fielder more often than not.

And you could argue that it was he, rather than his batting partners, who should have looked to raise the tempo as England pushed for a declaration on Friday evening. But caveats, schmaveats. Why do openers open? Some, like Graeme Smith and Dean Elgar, relish the blood and guts, the thrill of the battle. Some, like Virender Sehwag or Sanath Jayasuriya, bat for the sheer haptic pleasure of it: the feel of bat and ball, the sound of scurrying fielders. For Cook, it is a game of numbers, not words.

To him, a run is a run is a run. A brilliant shot for no runs is of no value. And 243 runs against a second-rate Test attack with a decaying pink ball on a helpful surface is ... to be honest, he stopped reading after the number 243. Rarely is it pretty to watch. The aesthete in us would take a Sehwag blitz over a Cook grind any day of the week.

But the other side of the argument is that by consuming time as well as runs, forcing the opposition to exhaustion, Cook's epics actually have a greater influence on the course of a match than lightning, run-a-ball momentum-shifters. Compare the respective yields of Cook's three Ashes centuries in 2010-11 against Michael Vaughan's eight years earlier.

There will always be the familiar criticisms. He still does not win enough matches on his own. His century conversion rate in the last few years has been well below what it was. He is not very exciting to watch. But what he does, he does better than anyone else. And there is no way England can win the Ashes without him.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 19, 2017
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