Proteas

Cook’s Test comeback hopes teeter

Stephen Cook (Getty Images)
Stephen Cook (Getty Images)

Birmingham - The plan seemed a good one on paper: Stephen Cook would spend a few months getting usefully to grips with English conditions, in a quest to regain his opening spot in the Proteas’ Test team.

South Africa tackle England in four Tests for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy from early July - the host nation are the current holders - and there is great uncertainty over the berth as more established (and encouragingly bang-in-form) Dean Elgar’s partner at the top of the order.

Cook, renowned more for his strength on very different, Highveld-type pitches, laboured on the last tour of New Zealand, scoring only 17 runs from four innings before being debatably dropped for the non-specialist debutant Theunis de Bruyn - a move that bore no immediate fruit itself - for the third and final match of the series a little fortuitously edged 1-0.

But some purists still argued, after the dust settled on that tour, that Cook’s experience should not too lightly be jettisoned for the longer and tougher assignment in England.

He did make a century on debut against the same foes at Centurion in January 2016, although his 11-Test career thus far has been marked by decidedly patchy performances; he is vulnerable early on against the swinging ball on pitches suited to canny seam bowlers.

So the 34-year-old having a solid stint with Durham - his first in the county game - appeared a logical, beneficial move for the conscientious, Johannesburg-born cricketer, possibly paving the way for a new nod from the Proteas.

Only his efforts in the especially educative four-day fare have been unflattering, to put it reasonably kindly.

By the completion of the latest round of Championship matches on Monday, Cook had played five games in the extended format and, in 10 innings, only managed 176 runs at an average of 17.

That is the kind of return that will not be making Linda Zondi’s national selection panel feel any more comfortable about Cook being a renewed solution to the problem spot.

The batsman registered 16 and 42 in the latest outing, a two-wicket home defeat to Northamptonshire at the Riverside Ground, where veteran compatriot Rory Kleinveldt snared him the first knock.

Before that, his scores had been five and two against Glamorgan, 45 and nought against Sussex, 64 and nought against Gloucestershire, and two and nought against Nottinghamshire.

In fairness, Cook has been more successful in the One-Day Cup, where he has compiled 274 runs at almost 46, including a century.

But it would seem as if, broadly speaking, he has done his SA recall chances more harm than good in recent weeks ...

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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