Australia are 1-nil down in the Ashes, yet have come out in this Test and posted a score of 566.
They cannot lose from here, but a win is not yet guaranteed.
English captain Alastair Cook strides to the wicket.
Before this series began, he was under immense pressure.
His ego and a faulty ECB allowed him to hang on too long to the ODI captaincy prior to a disastrous World Cup. England didn’t even make the final 8. Cook’s false ambitions must take some of the blame.
His starring role in the Kevin Pietersen train wreck, added to a recent 2 year stretch without a Test hundred, plus coming from the “right kind of family” all conspired to have the general public offside.
A natural leader of men he is not. Neither exhilarating nor an educated risk taker.
His bat was no longer doing any talking.
Or had we missed something?
Here, when his team needed him the most, he dug in.
Six wickets fell around him. Cook would be the seventh.
But that event would not occur until he had posted 96 and lasted into the 79th over.
Another 100 flew by without his name attached to it, but he had done his job as an opener.
That his side folded for 103 in the 4th innings made it all irrelevant.
And hereby lies the problem with Alastair Cook in recent years.
Whatever he does that is good is largely irrelevant. The side no longer needs him, his runs or his captaincy. It has moved on, and not because England has won back the Ashes.
In the 2014 English summer, Cook averaged less than 20 when Sri Lanka finally won a series in the UK. The images of James Anderson crying after simultaneously loosing the series by being the last man out, combined with him winning Man of the Series still linger.
It was also where Cook bottomed out.
From here on end, his performance with the bat rose, and quite sharply.
Against India, he averaged 49.66. He passed 50 in 3 out of 7 innings.
Against the West indies, it was 53.60. He passed 50 in 3 out of 6 innings.
Against New Zealand, it was 77.25. He passed 50 in 4 out of 4 innings.
Against those numbers, it is hard to fault his batting. However, it is easy to fault his captaincy.
England only won one of those 3 series above.
They have also just won the Ashes back. But it is neither due to Cook’s batting or his captaincy.
With one dead rubber to go, Cook averages 31.85. He has passed 50 only once from 7 attempts in the series. Apart from his 96 in a match where England lost by 405 runs, his batting has been mediocre at best.
It is also a long bow to draw to say his captaincy had much to do in regards to England winning back the Ashes.
He didn’t drop Joe Root at Cardiff, allowing him to make a match winning hundred.
His bowling didn’t skittle Australia for 136 at Birmingham. Every single wicket in their first innings fell either LBW, bowled or caught in the cordon.
That had nothing to do with Cook’s captaincy. Placing Joe Root at short 3rd slip with a helmet on doesn’t count.
That wasn’t leadership or tactics. It was simply a stupid statement.
He had little to do with Finn being selected to play and taking a 6-fer in the 2nd innings to wrap up the match. If it wasn’t for Anderson getting injured, he probably wouldn’t have bowled Finn for 21 overs.
Cook had absolutely nothing to do with Broad’s 8/15 at Trent Bridge.
All in all, a mountain of evidence suggests that although Cook was a deserved starter for this Ashes campaign, England would have won it without him if they had to.
He hasn’t had to juggle bowlers or be imaginative in the field. He hasn’t contributed with the bat. Between both teams, there are 8 players with a better series batting average than Cook.
I predicted before this Ashes that it would be the last for both captains.
Clarke has already given us half of that prophecy.
Cook should leave the Test arena an Ashes hero and complete it.
Who wouldn’t want to retire as a winning Ashes captain?
For if he doesn’t, it is highly likely that the false noise about his lack of recent runs, average captaincy and even worse people leadership will drown out the aura he currently has a grasp on.