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Friday, 17 February 2012

The Accumulator Returns

Alastair Cook has expanded his comfort zone. Despite an up and down relationship, he has now taken the one day game by the collar and made it his own. Not in the style of a Sehwag or a Warner, but with his characteristic powers of application and concentration. Cook, the tireless accumulator of runs in test match cricket, undoubtedly the best of the present era, has now turned it on in the 50 over format. 

English selectors memorably excluded Cook from the World Cup 2011 squad, despite his unbelievable exploits Down Under in the preceding Ashes test series. After a mixed showing in the tournament, the selectors reinstated Cook back into the ODI team, and as the skipper this time. This certainly was a strange decision at the time, particularly in the context of his World Cup exclusion and the justifications offered, his relatively low strike rate and inability to play the big shots. The obvious intention of Alastair Cook's reinstatement as skipper of the ODI team was to provide him a grooming platform as the potential successor to Andrew Strauss. And Cook has not disappointed.

At age 27, Cook has played only 43 ODIs so far, having led England in 20 of these. To put this in some context, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who are considered upcoming Indian talent, have each played more than 70 ODIs already. Cook avergages just over 41 runs per innings in ODIs, with a strike rate of 80 runs per 100 balls faced, having produced 14 innings of 50 plus runs in his 43 outings. Notably, his average when batting as the skipper is above 55 runs, with a strike rate of 92. He has scored 3 out of his 4 one-day centuries as England captain. In the two recent, rather convincing, ODI victories over Pakistan, Cook led from the front, completely turning around England's dismal tour of the UAE. He is now the only England captain to have scored back to back centuries in the ODI format. Strong evidence that he enjoys the added responsibility of leading the side. 

Worth a mention here that the legend Sir Ian "Beefy" Botham had excluded Alastair Cook, the skipper, from his prefered eleven for the one dayers, while tweeting on the last day of the test series when Pakistan completed the England whitewash.

What stands out is Cook's ability to apply himself to the task. He has shown yet again that not being the quintessential elegant left handed batsman does not get in the way of being most effective. He works on his technique to minimize the risks in the context of the conditions and the attack. He plays within his limitations, works on his scoring shots, rotates the strike and does not miss many scoring opportunities. His ability to play long innings is already legendary. Make no mistake, this determined cricketer will sunset many a record before he calls it a day.   
He chose to drive away from the Church in a farm tractor with his new bride, but that's Alastair Cook for you. Not flamboyant, but effective! 

Friday, 3 February 2012

England Gain Early Edge in Dubai

The champions have fought back like ferocious cornered lions this morning at Dubai. At the time of writing they have Pakistan reeling at 44 for 7.

The fourth innings victory target of 145 at Abu Dhabi presented England a fair opportunity to square the series. However disaster struck as they folded up for 72, surrendering the series 2-0. Strauss and his team made no excuses, although it was just the last session that lost them the game, one in which they had dominated all the preceding sessions.

Today England have turned up strong and committed, out to prove their status and their ability to win in sub-continental conditions. The seamers, Anderson and Broad, have bowled with aggression and discipline, giving Pakistan no room for error.

The Dubai pitch is flat, as it was in the first match of the series. This surface has runs to offer. Pakistan will no doubt hope and expect their bowlers to get them back into this game. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman have troubled England so far in the series. With the DRS and accurate spin bowling, England will need to do better, no doubt. But I suspect England have turned the corner!

Speculation is fraught with danger, but the first session here has been match defining in my view. England are in the driver's seat and this match can only have one result from here.

Of interest might be whether England can return Pakistan the favour, and bundle them out for a double digit total after lunch. I expect the England first innings to have a few big individual scores and partnerships. The retained batting order has the opportunity to prove itself, particularly Strauss, Pieterson and Morgan. So it's all worth looking forward to. If Pakistan can work their way back from here, it will be quite a feat to savour, but don't expect England to let go their grip on this game easily.

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