Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad turn up at the end of the party
Cook is only second touring batsman to score a century at the five major Aussie grounds
England’s Alastair Cook enjoyed a century on his second day of the fourth Ashes Test match. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters
If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, wait 10 minutes. Or so the saying goes. Because on the second day of the fourth Test this appeared to be bunkum, with six and a half hours of punishing 35-degree sun beating down on the cricket and turning the MCG into an oven.
Only the hardiest of the 67,882 supporters who came through the turnstiles for this festive furnace can have spent all three sessions sitting out in the open. Ice-creams melted in minutes, the factor 50 was non-negotiable and for once the watery mid-strength beer must have seemed the decent option. In short, it was bloomin’ boiling.
Out in the middle the AC was very much switched on for England, however. Alastair Cook, the opener who likes it hot and famously never sweats, had come into the Test match as one of the misfiring senior pros held accountable for the loss of the Ashes. But he walked off at the close with century No32 stashed away, becoming only the second touring batsman after Sunil Gavaskar to bring up three figures at the five major Australian grounds.
As he pulled a Steve Smith long hop to the rope in the final over of the evening session to begin a reserved celebration, it was not only a moment of catharsis for Cook but the end to arguably the best day on tour for Joe Root’s side. From staring at Australia’s 260 for three in the morning, with Steve Smith well set on 76, the bowlers managed to induce a collapse of seven for 67 before finishing up 192 for two and only 135 in arrears.
The urn may have gone but three such sessions of English dominance suggest that the current side are sticking together far better than four years ago and can avoid the disintegration of that generation’s epoch-ending whitewash. Cook and Stuart Broad, who earlier picked up four wickets, have admittedly turned up at the end of the party clutching slabs of tinnies under their arms but for the sake of Root’s infant reign, it was still a case of better late than never.
In ending a run of 35 Ashes innings without three figures and exceeding the meagre 83 runs he had made in the series to date in one innings, Cook also played with a fluency not seen for some time. This was the fastest of the left-hander’s five Ashes centuries, striking the ball through the V more often than in any innings during the past five years, with sweet straight drives and balls flicked through mid-wicket when previously they had been aimed behind square.
There are some caveats that must be mentioned. The absence of Mitchell Starc because of a heel injury has resulted in a drop in intensity from the Australian attack – something further exacerbated by an all-day struggle with illness from Pat Cummins – while the slow drop-in pitch, one that caused three Australian batsmen to drag the ball on to their stumps earlier, allowed Cook to get on the front foot more often without the threat of a searing short ball.
There was also a brush with disaster along the way, when on 66 he was put down by a tumbling Steve Smith at first slip. The Australian captain had just that second moved Tim Paine up to the stumps to pop an extra consideration into Cook’s mind, only to be unsighted by the wicketkeeper’s knee and left fumbling the ball twice when Mitchell Marsh teased a rare edge.
However, none of this should detract from what was a fine display from Cook as he moved up to eighth on the all-time list of Test runs, cracking his 15th four in the final over to prompt a hug with Root before the usual look-to-the-sky and tug-at-the-earlobe salute.
Like Steve Waugh’s last-ball century in Sydney 15 years ago, this was a case of silencing some swirling chatter about his future. Although having turned just 33 on Christmas Day, questions were being asked as to his ongoing hunger, given the miles already on the clock of a 151-cap career that now has taken him past Wally Hammond’s English record of 33 consecutive Ashes Tests.
Cook has maintained throughout this chastening tour that for all the peripheral noise, only he truly knows how much is left in the tank. When the left-hander is slotting punched drives down the ground like long pots on a snooker table, there may well be a bit still to come.