There was a classic Bob Willis moment during the third Test when Charles Colvile asked the lugubrious pundit about South Africa’s then opening batsman.
“Well you know my opinion on Stiaan Van Zyl, Charles,” responded Bob – because having repeatedly voiced that opinion throughout the series, he no longer needed to state it explicitly. After a pause to let the implied criticism sink in with the audience, he followed up with: “He can’t bat.”
So blunt, so needless, so perfectly, wonderfully Bob Willis. And as ever, the effect was magnified by his unhurried delivery and a general demeanour that gave the impression he was personally insulted Van Zyl had had the temerity to accept an offer to play Test cricket.
We commented earlier today that middle-order batsmen are ten a penny. Good openers are not, as England have been proving for the last couple of years.
With the Van Zyl experiment a failure, South Africa have now been reduced to picking the man widely accepted to be the best opening batsman in the country. It’s a strange thing to be reduced to, but it’s largely an age thing. At 33, Stephen Cook isn’t a long-term solution, However, on this evidence he will at least buy them some time.
Stephen Cook is of course the son of Stephen Cook, who thoughtfully planned ahead and ensured he made use of the name Jimmy from an early age to avoid confusion. Those of a certain age will remember Jimmy Cook as being a guy who was generally at the top of the county batting averages each season.
Stephen isn’t that good, but he didn’t make a duck on Test debut, like his dad did. He’s also better than Stiaan Van Zyl, which is the main thing.