A young boy gets on a motorbike for the first time. The instructions are given to him. He looks on quietly. People expect him to struggle. Instead he takes to it fairly well. Muddy dirt tracks are handled with ease. He jumps off little ramps and holds on. He mostly works out the brakes and how to turn and tries, but fails, to pull off a wheelie. Eventually he stops, and the next boy gets on. A boy who has ridden a motorbike for years: yet he makes a simple mistake and rides straight into a BBQ.
Alastair Cook’s first ball catches him by surprise. He has more Test hundreds than any other England batsman but he reacts late to the movement into him and an inside edge ends up at backward square leg. It is not a stunning show of confidence as he wanders to the other end confused.
Mohammed Shami’s first ball is a length ball, India’s No. 11 rocked forward and defends with the sort of certainty a man with a Test Average of 3.33 really shouldn’t have. He’s not overawed by his first moment in England. He’s not overawed by facing Stuart Broad. He’s not even overawed by the sudden collapse that has led to him being in. He’s just playing a forward defensive shot.
Cook handles the next few balls fine. A yorker is dug out. He pushes to the legside looking for runs. He is handling the pitch with no demons like it’s a pitch with no demons. The ball is not swinging or seaming.
Shami also handles his first few balls well. They bowl short, and he defends well and misses when trying to attack. He cracks one to point. And turns a ball into the leg side to get off the mark.
Shami’s first boundary is a heave over the legside against a confused James Anderson. Shami is full of confidence having survived for a while and is now flexing a bit of muscle. He also whips a ball off his pads so well that he beats a man in the deep. He smacks Moeen Ali long and deep with a dance down the pitch. He cracks a short ball to the point boundary and no fielders move. And then to finally get to his 50 he hits a Test bowler with 358 Test wickets over the sightscreen.
Cook gets a ball on his hip and turns it to the rope.
Shami’s innings is not all grace and beauty. He tries to upper cut one to third man. He mistimes one so badly he can’t even find a fielder. Almost loses his off stump. Almost loses his toe. And is actually caught behind, despite the fact England didn’t hear it. It was a quality innings for a No. 11, but not a quality innings.
Cook’s innings isn’t quality.
Cook faces nine of his ten balls from Shami, including the last one. Getting bowled around your legs can look unlucky. Bowlers don’t plan for it very often. And even when they do, it rarely works. This is the sort of ball that Cook could have literally flicked to the leg side with a blindfold on, handcuffed upside down in a tank of water. Now his head leads away from the ball, his body tumbles after it.
Cook has never been pretty, but now he’s ungainly and needlessly mobile. He can’t stand up properly and exposes the leg stump. The ball flicks his pads and instead of rolling away safely for a leg bye it slams into legs tump. Cook has lost his way so much he can almost see the ball hitting the stumps.
Mohammed Shami had made a 50 before today, for Bengal U-22s four years ago. Alastair Cook has made 35 fifties at Test Level. Not forgetting 19 fifties in ODIs. There are also a few hundreds. And he once made 294. But Cook hasn’t scored more than 51 in his last five Tests.
Today the bunny with no batting pedigree scored more runs than the man with 8,130 runs.
Today two men batted: one with little expectation or hope, the other with fear and uncertainty. One made an unbeaten. The other hit the BBQ.