TELFORD VICE, Centurion
STEPHEN Cook has bided his time for years, so he did not struggle to find the patience required to score a century on debut in the fourth test against England at Centurion on Friday.
In fact, without Cook’s 115 and Hashim Amla’s 109, SA would have been much worse off than the 329/5 they reached at stumps on the first day.
Cook became the sixth South African and the 100th player overall to reach three figures at the first attempt. He and his father, Jimmy, are now the sixth father-and-son combination to play test cricket for SA.
Amla’s dismissal after tea was the start of a slide that also claimed AB de Villiers, Cook and JP Duminy for the addition of only 36 runs.
Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock cleaned up some of the mess in their unbroken stand of 56, but the home side will ask themselves how they lost their way after the centurions put on 202 for the second wicket.
Having signed off as SA’s captain with a double century at Newlands, Amla delivered another masterclass that made the fact that he has scored 64 runs in his other four innings in the series seem a vicious lie.
He was dropped on five when wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow dived across Alastair Cook at first slip, but in the kind of fluent form he was in on Friday, Amla’s dismissal then would have been a travesty.
However, the hero of Friday’s matinee feature was Cook, whose nerve held through so many moments that might have sunk someone who was not playing 166th first-class match.
“This one will be etched in my mind,” Cook said.
His vigil was underway even before play, when the marketing detritus that sullies modern cricket had been cleared away by 10.28am – two minutes before the official start time.
And there Cook stood, ready to face against James Anderson and hoping not to continue the family tradition of getting out first ball, as Jimmy had done against India at Kingsmead in November 1992.
“Another two minutes wasn’t going to make any difference,” Cook said.
When Anderson finally bowled, he served up a buffet ball, over-pitched and on leg-stump, that Cook promptly spanked to the midwicket fence as if he had been doing so all his life.
Inside the first hour, Dean Elgar was bizarrely caught at short leg by James Taylor off Moeen Ali. Elgar had played his stroke firmly and Taylor did not so much take the catch as ensure the ball did not escape his crotch, where it had lodged. You might call it a bit of ball-by-ball-by-balls cricket.
Cue Cook and Amla spending more than three-and-a-half hours together, a period of dominance interrupted only by Cook being dropped on 47 by Bairstow off Stuart Broad. What the hell: this innings was written in the stars.
“The last time we batted together we were 19 years old,” Cook said.
Cook reached 50 with a cover drive off Broad. An almost begrudged raising of his bat was all he offered in celebration.
“I tried to stay within myself; I’m generally not an emotional fella,” he said. “Yes, it’s about making your debut. But it’s also about performing.”
And how, and despite many more distractions.
When Cook was 89 not out Amla reached his century, and when Cook was on 97 Amla dragged a delivery from Ben Stokes onto his stumps.
That brought De Villiers to the crease. He was carried there by the cheers of a home crowd acknowledging him as a test captain for the first time.
But Broad brought forth an ugly stab from De Villiers that flew to Joe Root at second slip – gone second ball for a duck.
Cook was 98 not out when that happened, and he hadn’t added to his score when he survived a review for lbw against Stokes.
He rapped Stokes’ next ball through midwicket, ran one and turned for a second … And suddenly test cricket’s fourth-oldest centurion was beaming his biggest smile at all who could see him.
Well done, son. Not a chip off the old block, after all.