England takes control thanks to Alastair Cook’s 244 not out
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Alastair Cook produced a master-class in concentration by scoring an unbeaten double century on Thursday to put his team in complete control of the fourth Ashes test against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Already England’s greatest run-scorer, the 33-year-old opener stonewalled Australia’s bowling attack for more than 10 + hours, eclipsing a stack of historical batting records along the way as the tourists piled on 491 for nine at stumps on day three, a lead of 164 over Australia with one first-innings wicket still in hand.
”It was obviously a tough day. I thought our bowlers bowled well but Alastair Cook was simply brilliant,” Australia coach Darren Lehmann said. ”He just batted a very long time and he was certainly more aggressive than he was in the other tests.
”He played brilliantly and showed some of the younger guys how sometimes you’ve just got to tough it out.”
Cook raised his arms in triumph after he became the first Englishman since Wally Hammond to score a double hundred at the MCG (in 1928) and his 244 not out is now the highest score made by any player against Australia in Melbourne, breaking the 208 Viv Richards made for the West Indies in 1984.
Resuming on 104 after reaching his hundred in the last over on Wednesday, Cook also overtook Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara to move into outright sixth place among test cricket’s all-time leading scorers while posting the fifth double ton of his career and his highest score against Australia.
”I was probably more emotional getting a hundred last night,” Cook said. ”Today was really just about backing it up and getting a really big one for the team and I’m really pleased I did that.”
The left-handed reached his 200 after tea when he drove Jackson Bird straight down the ground for four. He was dropped twice by the Australian captain Steve Smith, on 66 then again on 153, but hardly played another false shot during a marathon innings.
By the time stumps were drawn, Cook had batted a total of 634 minutes, faced 409 balls and struck 27 boundaries. He walked off to a standing ovation and the roars of the Barmy Army – England’s travelling supporters – with his team in a great position to salvage a consolation win after losing the first three matches in the five-test series to surrender the Ashes.
Despite scoring 243 against the West Indies in August, speculation about Cook’s future in the team had been growing after he managed a meagre total of just 83 runs from the first three tests and he admitted he was down on confidence.
”It’s just a shame it’s three matches too late but I have to live with that,” Cook said. ”There are always doubts. I’ve had them ever since I started playing.
”I always thought I had the backing of the selectors but you never know. You still have to score runs and I hadn’t done that this tour.”
Cook was well supported by England’s lower order, which had also struggled in the previous matches, when he needed their help most.
Stuart Broad made a swashbuckling 56 batting at 10, and was at the non-striker’s end when Cook passed the major his milestones, while Chris Woakes (26), Jonny Bairstow (22) and Moeen Ali (20) all made important contributions.
England captain Joe Root chipped in with a patient 61 but threw his wicket away before lunch when he holed out at deep square leg but it mattered little as the tourists turned the tables and all but ended Australia’s hopes of a series sweep.
The Australians struggled in the absence of key strike bowler Mitchell Starc, who was ruled out of the match with a right foot injury. His replacement Bird failed to take any wickets while pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins and spinner Nathan Lyon captured three wickets each after toiling hard.
”We certainly didn’t go into the game looking that far ahead,” Lehmann said. ”Those things are nice if they go that way but the goal is win the Ashes.
”Full credit to England, we’ve just been outplayed by a better side at the moment.”