This Cook’s tour dragged England back from the brink

The SJA Sportsman of the Year award can go to an outstanding member of an outstanding team, and by any measure, says IAN COLE, England opener Alastair Cook has enjoyed an outstanding year

This time 12 months ago, Alastair Cook’s international career was at a crossroads. His seat on the plane carrying the England team to defend the Ashes in Australia had been secured only by a century in the Oval Test of the home series against Pakistan.

"Strokebound" Alastair Cook with another cut shot to the boundary for England

The Australian bowlers, according to Cook’s critics, were salivating at the prospect of finding such an easy prey at the top of England’s order.

The left-handed opener’s game was in disarray, it seemed. He wasn’t moving his feet, he was falling away towards the off side, he was dabbling unconvincingly outside off stump. That’s what they said.

Fast forward the clock and Cook can look back on a year in which he scored 1,504 Test runs – more than any other batsman in the world.

He was man-of-the series as Andrew Strauss’s team won 3-1 in Australia to retain the Ashes in a away series for the first time in 24 years. His series aggregate of 766 has been bettered by only one Englishman, Wally Hammond, in 1929.

He made his mark on the series in the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane with a ten-and-a-half hour innings of 235 not out, securing a draw for England after Strauss had been out to the third ball of the match, and England fans had been left fearing “here we go again”, again.

When Cook was out for 148 after an hour of the second Test in Adelaide, Cook had been on the field for all but 11 overs of the series.

By the end of 2011, Cook was not only regarded as England's premier Test batsman, but had also successfully taken on the captaincy of the one-day side

Concentration was Cook’s key word right through the year as he amassed 390 runs in three matches against Sri Lanka and 348 in four against India, highlight of which was a 13-hour epic of 294 in the third Test at Edgbaston.

No man can ever have looked so disconsolate as he trudged from the field that day, but Cook yearned for the extra six runs and a triple hundred which would have put him in sight of Graham Gooch’s record 333 against India. Gooch, batting coach for both England and Cook’s county Essex, is credited with the successful fine tuning of Cook’s technique in the Chelmsford nets.

Even that innings of 294 – as England beat India 4-0 to reach No1 in the world rankings for the first time – did not entirely satisfy Cook’s critics, who pointed to periods of play in which he appeared strokebound. For years England have longed for an accumulator at the top of the order who can bat all day and beyond and at last he has arrived in the shape of Alastair Cook.

The former St Paul’s Cathedral chorister has been a godsend to English cricket in Ashes-winning 2011 and would be a worthy recipient of your votes for the Sportsman of the Year award.