CAPTAIN Alastair Cook believes England’s historic back-to-back Test wins in India are reward for a year of hard work and willingness to learn.
Yesterday’s seven-wicket victory at Eden Gardens put England 2-1 up with just one match to play and on course for a first series success in India in almost 28 years.
The sustained wicket-taking spells of spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann and reverse-swing seamers James Anderson and Steven Finn are continued evidence of the skills England’s bowlers have developed specifically to prosper in Asia.
But Cook’s three successive hundreds, culminating in an English record-breaking 23rd, and significant first-innings runs from the top six in this third Test are a world away from the hapless performances against Pakistan spin with which England began the year in the United Arab Emirates.
The first step, according to Cook, was to recognise that there was a problem and then start doing something about it.
Amid the euphoria of the latest victory, albeit achieved after a last-minute wobble when England lost their first three wickets for eight in pursuit of just 41, Cook acknowledged they have trodden a difficult path in the past 12 months.
“We’ve had a tough 2012,” he said, “but the way we’ve managed to quickly rectify a few of our problems is a credit to our coaching staff and the leadership of [coach] Andy Flower. The first thing was a realisation of a problem, playing against spin.
“It probably wasn’t as big as everyone made out but all of us, as a batting unit, had to have a look at our technique against spin and work out a method which suited each of us individually. We worked our socks off trying to improve our technique. Although we didn’t get immediate results, we are now starting to.”
Cook’s first assignment as permanent Test captain after the surprise retirement of Andrew Strauss last summer will, at worst, be a drawn series.
And he has every reason to hope for better with a win or draw in the final Test in Nagpur.
Cook added: “The way everyone has stuck together under a new captain, I can’t praise them enough. It’s been a lot of hard work. What we’ve done really is taken what we’ve been doing in the nets out into the middle and started to perform close to our potential. That’s why we’ve won these last couple of games.”
It all clicked in the 10-wicket win in the second Test in Mumbai and then, in Kolkata, apart from one dodgy session on Saturday and yesterday’s stumble, England barely put a foot wrong.
“In this game our bowlers have been outstanding,” Cook said. “To restrict them to 300 in the first innings on that wicket was a great effort. Then yesterday, when they were 80 for nought, to put in a session like we did in the afternoon to take six-for was highly-skilled bowling. With Swanny at one end, getting [Virender] Sehwag straightaway and then reverse-swing from Jimmy and Finny, it was exceptional.
“It’s a credit to their fitness and their heart that, even when it gets tough, they keep running in for me.”
That does not mean Cook will ask for any less in Nagpur. “I firmly believed we were doing the right things in preparation and these results have proved we are,” he said, “but it doesn’t stop now. We’ve got to keep doing this, to go again in Nagpur. We’ve got to keep putting our hands up at the right time.”
Cook has underpinned the last two victories himself. He described his dismissal for 190 on Friday, run out backing up when he did not ground his bat and instead allowed a throw through to hit the wickets, as a “brain-fade”.
He could have no other reason for self-reproach and many for satisfaction, but it does not appear in Cook’s nature to indulge in the latter.
Having been dropped at slip on 17, he added: “I obviously got a little bit of luck early on but we said, on that wicket, that if we could bat as long as we could, we’d put ourselves in a great position. Luckily, I was the one to go on and score a big hundred.”
There was classic understatement, too, in his reaction to becoming England’s most prolific centurion of all time.
He said: “To score 23 hundreds was obviously a very good moment for me. I wouldn’t have known what the record was when I first started. It’s gone really well, the batting on this tour, I hope I can do it one more time.”