Sunday 25 February 2018 / 03:06 AM


Reporting live from the Gabba, ANGE LOWTHER dissects the biggest talking point from the press box on the opening day of the first Ashes Test.

Alastair Cook’s form was in question heading into the Ashes series in Brisbane, striking selection fears into the hearts of the Barmy Army and perhaps even Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss and coach Trevor Bayliss.

On Day 1 of the Ashes Series at the Gabba, those fears were confirmed.

Alastair Cook, a revered opening batsman with more than 11,000 runs from 147 Tests to his name, positions himself comfortably on a beautifully curated pitch maintained by renowned curator Kevin Mitchell.

Adjacent to fellow opener Mark Stoneman, Cook faces a length ball outside off-stump from a laser-focused Mitchell Starc in the first ball of the series.

Starc, drinking in the words given to him in an impromptu tactical phone call by Mitchell Johnson this morning, begins to swing the ball. Alastair, no runs.

It’s the last ball of the first over and it’s evident Cook is looking to score. He uses the front foot beautifully to hit the ball to deep backward point towards Usman Khawaja for two runs.

After Mark Stoneman fails to score in the second over to Josh Hazelwood, Cook lines up his bat once again, ready to face a fired-up Starc.

It takes just four balls for Starc to bring the former English Captain to a standstill – an out-swinging length ball flashes in front of Cook and he can’t resist the chance to score. It’s an edge that falls straight into the hands of Peter Handscomb in the slips.

The Aussies rejoice! 1/2 in the third over, and they know they’ve got the Poms under the pump – as they have so many times on Day 1 at the Gabba in previous Ashes visits – with inexperienced pair Stoneman and James Vince at the crease.

Rewind three months and Cook’s luck was looking up as he scored a double century against the West Indies at Edgbaston, but either side of that mammoth knock the 32-year-old had only managed to score 76 runs in six innings against South Africa and the Windies.

His arrival in Australia continued to highlight his form struggles.

The left-hander made his first tour appearance on November 5 in Perth against a Western Australian XI and was dismissed second ball.

With redemption needed, Cook played in a pink-ball practice game against a Cricket Australia XI in Adelaide a week later but fell for just 15 runs.

Cook walked off the Gabba despondently, perhaps doubting the reasons for his selection, perhaps contemplating a long and unsuccessful Australian summer of cricket – especially when his form has been questioned by his own media and fans since September.

Perhaps it was his long history of Test and Ashes experience, his status as former captain and his perseverance that cemented the selectors’ faith and made him an ideal candidate for this campaign.

One must question whether the fact that touring nations haven’t won a Test in Brisbane in 31 years is playing on any of the England players’ minds – especially Cook’s, potentially plagued by fears of losing once again on the hallowed Gabba turf.

Cricket fans are aware Cook has always harnessed a lot of talent. He scored 766 runs against Australia in a series win for the English in Australia six years ago – including a match-saving 235 not out at the Gabba – but has failed to deliver such a performance since.

In 2012 at 27 years of age, he became captain, playing a record 59 Tests as skipper before stepping down in 2016.

Now, at 32 years of age, he holds some of the highest English honors, including an MBE and a CBE for his services to cricket.

All in all, the thing to admire about Cook is that he knew within himself when it was time to give up the captaincy and hand it to his deserving successor, Joe Root.

Despite his terrifyingly early dismissal at the Gabba today, it would be a shame to see Cook call time on his career should he perform unfavorably for the rest of the series, especially when Australia still have players being selected for Test sides at 35.

Let’s hope for England’s sake he can stand the test of time – or at least find form for the remainder of what should make for an interesting series.

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Ange Lowther

Based in Brisbane, Ange has come on board with Commentary Box Sports as a cricket reporter and features writer.

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