After precisely one Test match, we’d seen all the shots (and non-shots) we were ever going to see from Alastair Cook.
You know them all, but let’s list them anyway. Maybe in 20 years time you’ll revisit this article having forgotten one of them.
- The leave
- The forward defensive
- The back foot defensive
- The clip off the legs
- The cut
- The pull/hook
- The drive (but only under very special circumstances)
This list goes some way towards explaining the relentless brilliance of Cook at his best. His was a brain uncluttered by options. Whereas an expansive batsman like Jos Buttler can at times seem paralysed by the avalanche of decisions he must make, Cook’s decisions pretty much made themselves. His was a method built for an autopilot.
Let’s grasp the videogame controller and play as Cook for a few minutes to see just how much he managed to streamline batting.
Full and wide of off stump. The leave.
Full and at the stumps. The forward defensive.
Full and anywhere around leg stump. The clip off the legs.
Short and wide. The cut.
Short and straight. The back foot defensive if it’s going to clip the bails, the pull if it’s slightly higher, the hook if it’s higher still, or you might duck if you feel it’s time to play it safe.
And honestly, that’s pretty much it. There were only two times Cook went beyond this. (1) When he had 150 and the ball was doing nothing, when he might treat himself to that punchy drive that was basically just a forward defensive with the brakes off. (2) When he tried to become a limited-overs cricketer and developed a very hideous slog to cow corner.
You can argue that this made him a predictable batsman, but there were plenty of times when what people predicted was a massive hundred.