You’d be hard pressed to find an Aussie who likes Alastair Cook. Some will still hold a grudge after 2010/11, some will be largely non-committal on the topic and some might even respect him. But you suspect there is nobody who would admit to actually liking him. He is just so bland, so dull. Far more would admit to liking someone like Joe Root, because even though he has done far more damage to Australia in recent Ashes Tests, at least he seems to have a personality. Even Bell appears more human than his taciturn captain.
But nobody, in this part of the world anyway, would have a bad thing to say about his innings in Abu Dhabi. Or at least none should anyway. There already have been complaints that Cook batted too long, and too slowly, and in the end this, as well as the always amusing gamesmanship that comes from the opposition in such scenarios, cost England a famous Test victory. And honestly, there probably is something to that argument. If Cook had batted with a bit more aggression England undoubtedly would have been better positioned to press home the advantage on the fifth day. But more likely things would have gone completely tits up instead.
The obvious comparison is easy to find. When Australia last went to the UAE in October last year they were facing a similar heavy first innings deficit in the first Test, 454 (compared to England’s 523 runs, with the difference likely being on account of the fact that Australia weren’t fielding Ian Bell in their slips cordon). Yet in return Australia could only last 103 overs, a total not far shy of the number Cook faced himself in this Test, and were bundled out for 303. Unsurprisingly they lost the Test. In the second Test it was even worse, chasing 570 runs in the first innings Australia lasted just 67.2 overs and scored 261 runs. And were hammered again.
The Kiwis, a few months later, were an exact mirror. In the first Test Pakistan pilled on 566 runs, and in return New Zealand managed to survive 87.3 overs and score 262 runs. The moral here seems to be a pretty simple one: concede a massive first innings total in the UAE and bat like rubbish in return and you will get annihilated. England have managed to buck this trend by not batting like a bunch of brainless idiots intent on either winning the Test by the end of the fourth day or dying trying. The Kiwis, after that first Test, learned that lesson pretty quickly. Twelve months on we’re not sure if Australia have learnt anything. Other than not to trust Glenn Maxwell.
After their respective first Tests, England are now far better positioned than either Australia or New Zealand were to achieve what nobody else has ever managed to do: beat Pakistan in the UAE. Admittedly there’s still a long way to go, and they might want to ensure they win the next two tosses to mitigate the impact a returning Yasir Shah will have. But right now England are still in this series. They might even consider themselves slightly on top given the abject way Pakistan collapsed all over the place on the fifth day.
And all of this is owed to Cook for batting for such a long period of time and simply refusing to give his wicket away chasing a result that was never there. The only way England could have won this game, after Pakistan’s first innings, was late on the fifth day. Until then the most likely result was first a Pakistan victory and then, by the fourth day, a draw. Other players also obviously had an impact on the course of the Test, but it was Cook who ensured England were still in a position to contest it by the fifth day.
What is the point of all this? Just to point out that as of right now, England are a better Test team than Australia. You might think the Ashes proved that, but the Ashes was a pile of crap that proved nothing other than the fact contemporary cricket administrators are far more interested in generating positive results for the home side then they are in promoting competitive games of cricket. It’s this result in the UAE that proved England are a better team, because Australia would never have been able to contest a Test match like this. Simply because they don’t have a player who is capable of doing what Cook did. As much as it disgusts us to admit it, not even Steven Peter Devereux Smith is quite yet capable of innings of such resilience.
And now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to take a long bath in a tub of acetone.