TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
On April 20, 1989, Jimmy Cook walked out with Peter Roebuck to open the batting for Somerset against Hampshire in Southampton.
It was Cook’s 150th first-class match but his first outside of South Africa and Zimbabwe, a nod to the realities of apartheid – which among its many deprivations denied millions of his compatriots the chance to play abroad.
Cook’s son, Stephen, doesn’t have to factor an evil regime into his bid to keep playing at the highest level.
But he does have other problems. Like scoring only 17 runs in four innings in South Africa’s test series in New Zealand last month, which led to him being dropped.
Now Cook junior is following in his father’s footsteps in what has become a bid to save his career.
“I’ve got great memories of touring with my old man when he played for Somerset,” Stephen Cook said.
“That idea of having my family on the road and doing the same thing 28 years down the line is very appealling.”
So he agreed to play for Durham in the first half of this English summer, mostly to try and help the troubled county – which needed a R65.3-million bailout from the England Cricket Board to avoid being out into administration – win promotion.
But the relationship between Cook and Durham is significantly more symbiotic than when it was envisaged.
The county needs him to score plenty of runs, and he needs to score those runs to settle the doubts the selectors must have about keeping him in the mix for South Africa’s test series in England in July and August.
Cook, who travelled to England on Saturday, could get his chance to start doing so in Durham’s match against Nottinghamshire at Chester-le-Street on Friday.
Among his examples is Chris Rogers, the opening batsman who in addition to playing for Western Australia from November 1998 represented Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire from 2004 to 2008 before making his test debut at the age of 30.
“A guy like Chris Rogers also made his debut later in life, and he also went and played county cricket and made a successful comeback against England,” Cook said.
“There’s definitely reference points that I can use.”
Rogers’ debut, against India in Perth in January 2008, was his only test until July 2013 – when he returned for the Ashes in England and scored two half-centuries and a century.
Between his first and second bites at the test cherry Rogers played for Derbyshire and Middlesex.
He played the last of his 25 tests, in which he averaged 42.87 and scored five centuries, in August 2015 and turned out for Somerset in 2016.
Cook made his test debut at 33 against England in Centurion in January 2016, and scored 115 – the first of his three centuries in 19 innings.
His father was 35 when he went to play for Somerset and 39 when he made his test debut against India at Kingsmead in November 1992.
Despite that, Jimmy wasn’t even the oldest member of South Africa’s team.
Omar Henry, aged 40 years and 295 days, was and he remains among only 13 men who have made their test debut after 40.
Cricket has changed in the ensuing years but runs are still the only currency that matters for batsmen is still in place.
“I’ve had my opportunities to score runs,” Stephen Cook said.
“If they decide that’s it and they’re moving on I’ll be sad and disappointed.
“But I’d love the challenge of going to Lord’s and playing against England.
“I’d love to be given one more opportunity.”
Cook has never played a first-class match in England.
But he has 40 more caps than his father owned when he walked out with Roebuck.
How many of those Cook will yet earn will be for South Africa depends on how he fares for Durham in the next few weeks.
Jimmy scored 85 that day in Southampton and rattled up 79 and 91 in subsequent games before making 156 in his seventh innings for Somerset.
Stephen will hope that apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.