TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
STEPHEN Cook has left the building, the city, the province, the country and the hemisphere, and he has done so with the dignity that comes from living life almost too decently for his own good.
That quality was as evident when he ran onto the field wearing a non-player’s bib after being dropped for the third test against New Zealand in Hamilton last month as it has been when he has taken guard.
Cook couldn’t complain about being axed, and he didn’t. Seventeen runs in four innings is not what opening batsmen are supposed to be made of, even if they have scored three centuries in 19 innings.
He has, then, gone quietly and is almost 14 000 kilometres away from his Johannesburg home in Durham, with whom he will spend the first half of the English summer.
Success there could be his ticket back into South Africa’s team for their test series against England in July and August. It’s a plan bespoke for a comeback, surely …
“It’s well-documented that I haven’t scored many runs in my last few innings and should I do well in those conditions it would probably help my cause,” Cook said before leaving for England.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact that, in international cricket, a couple of low scores and you are under pressure. I’d be sticking my head under a rock if I didn’t think so.
“But if I went to Durham with sole aim of, ‘Me, me, me’ I’d be letting myself down horribly. I committed myself to Durham to try and help them get promoted. If I can do that I’m sure my own cause will be served anyway.”
There’s altruism in that, but also first-hand experience.
“Whenever I tried to to force my way into the test team, when I thought, ‘I just need to get a hundred here’, inevitably I’d get nothing. But if I said, ‘I’m just going to play for the Lions and try and get us a win’, the runs flowed.”
Flowed? This is Stephen Cook we’re talking about, a batsman who at the crease has the look of a crab in desperate need of a chiropractor.
“I’m probably the guy who takes the mickey out of the way I bat the most,” he said. “I’ve never been insulted by the comments about it.
“When I’m scoring runs the opinion out there is, ‘He has his own technique and he really makes it work for him; he’s difficult to bowl at because he plays a bit unconventionally’.
“When it doesn’t go well I look ‘scratchy and non-confident’. It’s a fine line.
“In New Zealand I looked horribly out of form but I didn’t feel that way. I felt way more out of form in Australia.”
That was in November, when Cook ended a streak of five innings without reaching 50 by scoring 104 in Adelaide.
“In New Zealand I felt that if I could just get past that new ball I could get a hundred. But I got out to that new ball.”
And then he was left out.
“I didn’t see it coming. I thought I was going to get the third test to try and make amends.
“You always think you’re one innings away, and I had that picture of Adelaide in my mind.
“If I did it there under massive pressure why couldn’t I do it again?
“But I don’t believe that’s necessarily the end. I think I have a value to add beyond the runs I score. I believe in a mix of characters in a team, and I’d like to think that, since I started playing for South Africa, that’s coincided with the resurgence of the team.
“Hopefully I bring a good calmness and experience to the team – even though it’s not test experience it’s knowledge and a life spent in the game.”
But runs help, like they did when Cook scored 115 on debut against England in Centurion in January 2016.
“I know from being given one opportunity in my first test and scoring a hundred and from being on my last chance in Adelaide and getting a hundred, you always feel like it’s potentially there.”
It’s there alright, in the building Cook has left. And it’ll be there when and if he returns.