150 Test matches, 11712 runs, 31 Test hundreds, a highest score of 294.
Those aren't numbers to be scoffed at. Only 13 players in the history of Test cricket have scored more than 10,000 runs and Alastair Cook, England's steady, calm and composed presence at the top of the order, is ninth in that list.
Earlier this year, there were debates raging on about Cook being a strong contender to take over Sachin Tendulkar’s record of most Test hundreds. It is December now and that debate seems to be the last thing on Cook's mind as his form has taken a turn for the worst.
Forget getting to 52 Test hundreds, adding one more to his present 31 looks rather unlikely given the manner in which Cook has been playing in the ongoing Ashes series.
His scores in the series — 2, 7, 37, 16, 7 and 14 — do not make for pleasant viewing but more than the sheer lack of runs, it is the manner in which the former England captain has been sorely exposed that puts doubts regarding his future in the game.
Cook is an old-school opener with a sturdy defence, impeccable judgement outside off-stump and relies on playing the ball late and with soft hands. But the very same technique that has helped in his massive rise from a young, 21 year old to a run-churning machine, is proving to be his nemesis in recent times.
Cook loves to hang back onto his back foot and plays late from the crease. This makes him a strong player off the back foot and the opener has a scything cut and pull shot to back up this theory. On the other hand, he is hesitant to move forward but his brilliant shot selection means that more often than not he gets away by ignoring the really full balls or drilling them with a still head through the cover regions.
But what has put him in a spot of bother in the Ashes tour thus far is his inability to commit himself to either the front or the back foot. The length which the Australian bowlers have bowled to him has been near-perfect in this regard. They have channeled in on a good length and seamed the ball into or away from him, catching him in no-man's land while on the move.
At Brisbane, in the first innings of the first Test, Mitchell Starc kept it full and peppered Cook on the stumps before landing it on a good length area and seaming it a touch away. The southpaw played a meek looking push and edged to the cordon.
Nathan Lyon also exploited this weakness of the left-hander by pushing the ball fuller and getting it to slide into him.
Starc then once again confirmed that Cook's Ashes was going from worse to worst when he landed a fullish ball on the stumps in the first innings at Perth to trap him in front. Josh Hazlewood's return catch — off another fuller length ball — to send back Cook on Sunday further backs up the theory that the left-hander is enduring a torrid time with those kind of deliveries.
Cook’s frailties against pace has been fairly obvious in recent times. A rampant Ryan Harris had cleaned him up with a spectacular delivery a few years ago, and even then, Cook’s reluctance to commit to the front foot was a point of discussion.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 17, 2017
Although he scored a massive double-hundred this year in Tests (against the West Indies at home in England's first day-night Test), Cook’s year has been less than average.
In 10 Tests, he has managed 655 runs at an average of 34.47 with the double-hundred being his only score above 88 — one of his only two half-centuries — in the whole year.
He has cut a forlorn figure ever since setting foot on Australian soil. The usually ball-consuming opener faced a total of just 30 balls — across two warm-up games — heading into the first Ashes Test. He was dismissed for a two-ball duck in his first knock Down Under. An interesting point to note was that of his last six dismissals prior to the start of the Ashes, four were caught behind the stumps.
Cook has never been a prolific run-scorer in Australia, omitting his outstanding series in 2010-11. The first time he toured the country — in 2006 — he averaged a meagre 27.60, and in 2013-14, he struggled to get anything going in his favour and returned with an average below the 30s yet again. Although the dip seems similar this time around too, it is the lack of intent behind his batting that is worrying.
“The manner in which he got out in the first innings is a huge cause for concern. It’s a technique he fights with on a daily basis. The way he walks off the field, the way he walks to training, I don’t see a bounce in his step. I just don’t see it”, Kevin Pietersen, his former teammate turned commentator, had said during one of his commentary stints this week.
Ashes Test series losses have often been a signing off point for several big cricketers, and given the manner in which Cook has come a cropper in this series, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to seem him hang up his boots if he cannot turn around his fortunes in the next two Tests. At the moment, Cook’s lack of confidence seems to be overshadowing his hunger for runs. Lyon might be smiling if that materialises given that he commented on “ending the careers” of certain England players prior to the series.