SK Elite: When Alastair Cook led England's monumental surge in Brisbane
Trips to Australia are often greeted with trepidation in England cricket circles. Often, memories of chastening defeats and snarling fast bowlers reverberate inside. However, there have also been intermittent moments of euphoria emanating from successful tours down under. After all, conquests of the old enemy at their home guarantee immortality.
Alastair Cook reached the pinnacle of modern-day Ashes glory during the 2010/11 series in Australia. The stoic opener amassed a whopping 766 runs from five Tests at an astounding average of 127.66 with three centuries and two fifties. Undoubtedly, his marathon knock in the opening Test in Brisbane was not only the best performance of that particular summer but also the cornerstone of his legacy in the game.
Cook's unbeaten 235 in the second-innings came at a time when his team were staring at the prospect of certain defeat. With the help of fellow centurions Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott, the left-hander overturned a 221-run deficit and propelled England to an all-time record of the highest average of runs per wicket in an innings. Buoyed by their resistance inside Australia's fortress, the visitors rode on the unexpected draw to subsequently pull off an iconic 3-1 series victory.
Facing a stern challenge at the hands of a hungry Australian unit in the upcoming edition of the Ashes, Joe Root and his troops will do well to seek inspiration from Cook's series-defining knock seven years ago. Let us relive the southpaw's monumental effort at the Gabba.
Hussey and Haddin leave England on the mat
After winning a handy toss, England let slip the advantage by plummeting to 260 on the first day. Aside from Cook and Ian Bell, none of their batsmen managed to come to terms with the fresh surface. With his tight line and stifling pace, Peter Siddle was the wrecker-in-chief. His six-wicket haul included a stunning hat-trick which drew raucous cheers from the partisan crowd.
When the hosts slipped to 143/5, it appeared as if the tourists had stormed back into the contest. However, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin resuscitated the Australian innings by hammering fluent centuries. The seasoned left-hander fell just five runs short of what could have been a splendid double century. Nevertheless, his partnership with the wicket-keeper batsman had enabled the home team to gain a 221-run lead.
Cook's defiance jolts Australia
Armed with a substantial lead, the Australians began to smell blood. Apart from the in-form Siddle, skipper Ricky Ponting also had the pace of Mitchell Johnson and accuracy of Ben Hilfenhaus at his disposal. All-rounder Shane Watson could also chip in whenever needed. The packed arena expected the bowlers to be all over England. Little did they know about what was to follow.
Showing scant hesitation of their team's dire situation in the game, Cook and Strauss absorbed pressure splendidly to turn the tables on Australia. Both openers punished any semblance of width from the pacers. Leaving on length with complete authority, they forced the bowlers to veer into their strong zones. In what had been a game of attrition, the duo batted serenely and planted seeds of doubt into their opponents' minds.
By the time occasional off-spinner Marcus North got rid of Strauss, England had cut down their deficit to a mere 33 runs. After his skipper had departed for 110, Cook continued his defiance and soon crossed the three-figure mark. With a reliable Trott for company, the southpaw began to grind the Australian bowlers into submission.
Visitors amass record total
While he was happy to play the seamers off the back foot, Cook constantly stepped down to Xavier Doherty's non-threatening spin. The left-armer had no answer to the England's most adept batsman against the turning ball (or lack thereof, in this instance). The opener chugged on merrily even as the Australian bowlers started to wilt under the sapping heat.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Trott was getting in on the act too. With the two openers establishing a solid platform for his operate on, the right-hander looked to accumulate runs in his usual unassuming manner. Discerning from the ease with which the England batsmen were handling his bowlers, captain Ponting ran out of ideas.
Cook brought up a painstakingly compiled double century during the opening session of the final day. Trott followed suit by reaching a landmark of his own. His century completed a troika of sublime knocks which deflated Australia's spirits. At an imposing 517/1, the visitors finally relented and declared their innings. Their average of 517 runs per wicket obliterated the previous mark of 442 set by South Africa against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1999.
Even though the Australian top-order negated a tricky period of play to hold fort, England had emerged from the match with renewed self-belief. Riding on the momentum generated by the unforeseen stalemate, they went on to retain the Ashes with an emphatic 3-1 series victory.
While England had triumphed down under for the first time since 1986/87, the series also saw Australia suffer the ignominy of as many as three innings defeats. Although all the hype and hoopla surrounded those three matches, Strauss and his men knew that Cook's defiance in Brisbane had helped set the stage for a rare period of dominance.
Brief Scores: England - 260 (Ian Bell 76, Alastair Cook 67, Peter Siddle 6/54) & 517/1 declared (Cook 235*, Jonathan Trott 135*, Andrew Strauss 110) drew with Australia - 481 (Michael Hussey 195, Brad Haddin 136, Steven Finn 6/125) & 107/1 (Ricky Ponting 51*)