n Sunday Times
TELFORD VICE, Adelaide Oval
OFF the field Stephen Cook is a man of impeccable manners, effortless understatement and English country house elegance, all of which were useless to him on the field on Saturday.
What Cook needed was balls – his own and as many as he could soak into his soul in the cause of keeping South Africa in the hunt to win a third test that will not be drawn.
Happily, Cook proved himself to be not just a pretty face. The kid’s got big ones, Jimmy. But you knew that already.
Cook’s undefeated 81, as butt ugly a solid gold innings as any yet played, was the fist inside the boxing glove South Africa will need to wield skillfully on Sunday if they are to become the first side to inflict a 3-0 hiding on Australia at home.
“‘Cookie’ is just one of those hard-working cricketers, sort of old school,” Neil McKenzie, South Africa’s batting coach, said.
“He does it his way and he doesn’t always look pretty. But he’s got a method that works for him.
“Mentally he’s right up there with some of the toughest guys who are playing cricket at this stage.
“He’s endured a lot of noise about his technique and about how he goes about things but I’m very happy for him.”
Cook, accompanied by Quinton de Kock, resumed on Sunday with South Africa four wickets away from the end of their second innings and 70 runs ahead.
That means the classy Vernon Philander, the ambitious Kagiso Rabada and the outrageous Tabraiz Shamsi are still in the hut. There are runs to be had from that little lot, but the fact that their potential contribution has to be factored in tells us how far South Africa are from emerging from the woods.
Would that they could all bat like Cook, whose inner upper lip remained remarkably stiff as he nudged and nurdled runs into the scorebook and squirted others off the edge, and refused to get out with the kind of defiance that had kept Fidel Castro alive for all those years.
For two hours another bearded wonder helped Cook remind all which team had dominated the first two tests.
But Hashim Amla wasn’t in it for the long haul. He fell, as he has done every time he has batted in the series, to the metronomic Josh Hazlewood for 45.
JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma were made of less stern stuff, and were dismissed 59 runs apart.
Du Plessis, according to the Sydney Morning Herald central to the “ball-sweetening debate”, entered to a crash of boos – like he did in the first innings, when he scored 118 not out.
“That’s pretty bad manners where we come from,” McKenzie said.
That brought us to Cook and De Kock, the profane and the sacred. It is Sunday, after all.
And, as McKenzie said, “We’re not on the plane yet.”
Where we come from that sounds like a wing and a prayer.