At the end of the first day of the third Test being played between India and England at Southampton, the first thing I did was to check Alistair Cook’s 2014 average prior to, and after, today’s innings. Thanks to a popular cricket website’s statistical tools, I was easily able to filter out his performances in 2014. Before Southampton, Cook played 5 Test matches in 2014, one against the Aussies, and two each against Sri Lanka and India. He averaged 7.00 against Australia with consistent scores of 7 in each of his two innings, fared marginally better against the Lankans with an average of 19.50 and slumped further against the Indians with an average of 12.33. His cumulative average for the year, in 5 Tests, stood at a lowly 14.33. Cook seemed quite keen to maintain this average when, while on 15, he edged debutante Pankaj Singh’s delivery towards Jadeja for what was a regulation slip catch. Sir Jadeja made a hash of it, and in the process, may have influenced not one, but two careers.
The knives have been out for Cook for quite a while now, as evident from the grilling he was subject to at the hands of Mike Atherton during the post match conference at Lord’s. Atherton threw quite a few difficult questions at Cook, including the future of Matt Prior and Cook’s continuation as captain. While the former seems to have been addressed, with Prior making way for Jos Buttler, Cook continued to hold on by the skin of his teeth. Today, at the median point of the Test series, Cook was walking on hot coals. A failure here, on a relatively benign pitch, would have increased the clamor for his sacking, and with confidence at an all-time low, the probability of his performance being upped in the remaining five innings seemed questionable. The miss by Jadeja, with Cook on 15, resurrected his captaincy life-span to some extent, as he went on to make 95, pushing up his 2014 average to 22.40. The innings wasn’t pretty by any stretch of imagination, but he survived, and the 80 additional runs gifted to him will surely do his confidence and his career a world of good.
Casting an eye at the other end of the spectrum, debutante Pankaj Singh came into this Test after a frustrating wait during which he has captured 300 First Class wickets. Back in 2012, in an interview, he even lamented what more he needed to do to get selected for tests. Even today, he got a chance because Ishant Sharma, the hero at Lord’s, was out due to an ankle injury. Not the best reason to get your first Test cap, but given his wait, Pankaj would have taken it. After two overs, his figures read 2-1-1-0. After the first ball of his third over, his figures should have read: 2.1-1-1-1; amazing figures for a debutante, something which could have set him up for the rest of this innings, and perhaps kick-started his career. His wry smile at the spilled chance did not mask his disappointment, but he sent down his remaining overs during the day at a run rate of 3.5, while the overall England run rate was a little above 2.5.
England have had the better of the opening day, having trudged to 247 for the loss of only two wickets. Cricketing action over the next few days and the remaining series may well render this note irrelevant. Cook’s 95 may just be a blip on the horizon, and his form can slump again; Pankaj can come back strongly to pick wickets in this innings and the next, cementing his place in the Indian line-up. However, should nature take its course more on lines of the earlier described scenarios, one may have to pause and consider the implications of today’s drop, which might end up shaping two careers, albeit in opposite directions.