When the Boxing Day Test, one of cricket’s timeless traditions, begins in Durban on Saturday it is highly likely that there will be a Steven and a Cook involved – but the names won’t belong to the same person.
Alastair Cook will lead England for the first of four Tests against the Proteas and it seems likely Steven Finn has bowled himself into contention for a place in the visitors XI during the warm-up game against SA A in Pietermaritzburg on the weekend.
But there was one wicket that Finn failed to pick up during the tune-up, in fact none of England’s bowler could account for one Stephen Cook – a man who must be wondering what he needs to do to earn a call-up to the national side.
His unbeaten 53 off 170 balls, as the wickets tumbled around him, and the fact that he passed 11 000 First Class runs during the knock, led to a number of people on social media asking the same question. What more does he have to do to earn a call-up to the Test outfit?
As it stands the selectors are adamant that the pairing of Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl will continue in their role as the opening pair. For Elgar, the transition to opening the batting in the wake of the retirement of Graeme Smith has been relatively seamless.
Not so much for Van Zyl who is still grappling with the role after it was decided that the middle order batsman would be moulded into an opener in the wake of Alviro Petersen’s swansong at the beginning of the year.
Granted it’s only been six innings that the two have opened in Tests and the selectors have remained adamant that they will give Van Zyl ample opportunity to grow into the role but it does beg the question why they are sticking with two left-handers.
In years gone by South Africa’s opening pair was a combination of a left and right-hander with the pairing of Herschelle Gibbs and Smith the most recognised. But Smith has also had Boeta Dippenaar, AB de Villiers, Neil McKenzie and Petersen as company when facing the new ball.
In fact, Smith’s alliance with McKenzie yielded an average of 66.56 in their 27 innings together while the duo of Gibbs and Smith averaged 56.28, De Villiers and Smith 54.86 and until his retirement Smith and Petersen maintained a healthy 54.21 in their 14 innings together.
Which is where right-hander Cook, who was the highest run-getter in last season’s four day competition with a haul of 889 at a healthy 63.50, comes into the equation.
The only mitigating factor is the fact that he is now 33-years-old. But as Australia’s Michael Hussey showed when making his debut at the age of 30 with a little over 15 000 First Class runs to his name, age is just a number.