Both Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke will reach 100 test caps on Friday at Perth – the first time two captains have ever achieved the feat in the same game. In a game such as cricket that is so driven by stats and numbers, reaching 100 test appearances is seen as a great achievement even in the modern era of over scheduling.
For England fans, Cook’s story is now a familiar one, flown in from an A tour in the West Indies to open the batting in Nagpur in 2006. Cook responded with a sign of things to come, making a well composed 60 and then a magnificent unbeaten century in the second innings. It has been a feature of Cook’s career to date that he has taken to any task with the upmost ease and little fuss. Due to the amount of cricket Cook has played and his appetite for a big score he has broken numerous records along the way – becoming the youngest batsmen to 7,000 test runs and the youngest to reach 100 caps. If his form and fitness continue then he will reach the 200 test mark before his 36th birthday and will have smashed every England test batting record. He has already scored 25 test hundreds on five different continents and against all test playing countries (except Zimbabwe, who he has never played).
There are many innings’ that could be declared his finest – his match saving double century in Brisbane, his colossal 295 against India or his defiant hundred in Perth on the ill-fated 2006/7 Ashes tour. I however, believe his greatest innings is one of his more recent. Thrust into the captaincy earlier than expected in late 2012, Cook had to lead a new look team who were low on confidence after a thrashing by South Africa into a four match series in India. It was seen as the final frontier for the so called ‘golden generation’ of England players and after humiliation in Ahmedabad it seemed like the same old story for the tourists. * The second test at Mumbai is often rememebered for Pietersen’s brilliant attacking 186 and the 19 wickets shared between Panesar and Swann, however I think it was Cook’s assured 122 at the top of the order that set the tone for the remainder of the series. He showed his newly inherited team that he had what it took to lead them – even in the toughest of conditions.
Cook has now played 98 consecutive tests for England and this is testament not only to his class and unrelenting form but also his status within the England team. Even during a lean patch in early 2010, England never seriously considered dropping him for the ashes – by that point they had invested too much in him and already had him earmarked as captain.
Clarke too has been groomed for the captaincy since his introduction into the test team in 2004. It was clear then that his quick footwork would make him one of the great players of spin of the modern age and that he had the resilience to lead the side in the future. During the 2005 Ashes series Clarke often looked a little out of place but he was only 24 and he has clearly developed into a much better player than the one who was bamboozled by a Steve Harmison slower ball at Edgbaston. Just as Cook has played many match and series defining innings so has Clarke. But it is during the last 3 years where he has really flourished – I was there for his first match as captain at the SCG in 2011 and it was clear that the new look younger Aussie team were more behind their captain than they had been with Ponting at Melbourne. Clarke has become a leader and symbol for the new breed of Aussie cricketers – brought up on success after success in the nineties but angered by losing three consecutive Ashes series. He has brought them kicking and screaming into pole position in the current Ashes series and although his back is failing him, his technique and eye are as good as ever.
These two giants of the modern game have had great careers but due to their resilience and strong leadership (as well as a packed schedule) I believe their best may still be to come. From an English point of view, it would be nice if Cook proved me right this week in Perth….
*Cook also scored a second innings hundred in this test.