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Cook & Root's excellent pink ball adventure

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Alastair_Cook_England_cricketIt was a leveller, they said. The pink ball. Day-Night Test. It was West Indies’ only chance against this England leviathan, or so it seemed. The Windies boasted of a more than decent pace attack with Kemar Roach, Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins and Alzarri Joseph.

But alas, Gabriel did not play as he was not fully recovered from injury. As Alastair Cook, that old warhorse, and young Mark Stoneman took guard, one sensed the excitement in the air. 

It was amplified when Kemar Roach delivered a spectacular delivery that seamed away a touch to dislodge Stoneman’s stumps. It was the ideal start for the visitors and when England’s latest experiment at no.3, Tom Westley, was trapped in front by Miguel Cummins, it almost seemed like they were on top. 

 

But enter Joe Root, that monster who creates music between bat and ball when they meet, and there was no looking back. In the company of a steady Alastair Cook, Root flourished, as did the partnership. 

 

Root creamed the drives and Cook used his flawless leg glance, and the duo dominated proceedings. Not for once did Root or Cook seem overwhelmed by the pink ball or the unusually large crowd at Edgbaston.

Nudge, steer, work, drive and repeat was all they did. 

And it worked. The Windies bowlers were all over the place, lacking patience and erring in their lines. Alzarri Joseph was being treated with absolute disdain by Cook and Root while Holder looked a shadow of his usual, disciplined line and length bowling. 

It was as though Cook had travelled back four years. He seemed like his younger self, rocking back to cut, flicking anything on his pads with flamboyance and driving with such sweet timing that even Root’s elegant drives seemed overshadowed. 

Nothing to detract from the new skipper, though. He was in his zone, compiling an England record 11th consecutive Test half-century (de Villiers holds the World record with 12). He was classy with his glances and flicks and rarely looked troubled by the lacklustre bowling on display. 

 

As the day progressed, Cook was slowly eating his way to a Tendulkar-sized mountain of runs while Joe Root, arguably the best among the modern ‘Fab Four’, looked in ominous nick. But one could not be blamed for thinking Root might play an awful stroke before getting to his hundred. 

 

After all, of his streak of ten consecutive half-centuries, only two had been converted into hundreds. If anything holds him back in the Fab Four it is his awful conversion rate (31.89%) as against the other three who have their percentages over 40. But this time he ensured it wouldn't drag back his percentage and completed his 13th Test ton. 

Cook, meanwhile, was in his groove, hardly perturbed by the Windies bowlers who bizarrely preferred to bowl at his strength, the leg stump line. The former skipper barely missed out on any scoring opportunity and soon compiled his 31st Test century. It was his first century of the year and all signs point to Cook returning to his 'rack up runs whatever be the situation’ mood. 

The partnership had also crossed 200 by now. It was the pair’s first 200+ stand in Tests in 43 stands together. The previous highest was 185 vs Pakistan in Manchester a year back. 

A trademark of the partnership was the manner in which Cook smashed his cut and pulls while Root nailed the drives and flicks. 

 

It was as though the Windies bowlers had nowhere to bowl to. Root, once a predominantly backfoot player, had transformed his game on the front foot and once again added some feathers to his driving caps with some majestically timed shots. 

 

Cook, on the other hand, was unforgiving against anything short as he has been all through his career. He has 700 runs more than the next competitor in cut shots through his career. Since 2015, he had taken a special liking to the short balls and has scored at more than a run a ball off bouncers and the trend continued at Edgbaston. 

Not for once did it seem like England were new to pink ball cricket. Not for once did the West Indies show that they had seen the pink ball before. It was a complete mismatch and it kept ballooning as the partnership flourished. 

Although the seamers did raise questions as the night sky loomed, Holder’s weird call to operate with part-time spin just when the pacers were finding their groove helped England with proceedings. 

The gargantuan stand eventually ended when Kemar Roach returned to clean up Joe Root for 136. By then, England had Windies on the mat and the 248 run stand had established their authority in the game. 

Cook and Malan then raised another 150+ stand and the opener cracked his fourth double hundred, but it was his association with Root that paved the way for England's terrific first day with the pink cherry.

 

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