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Slim pickings allow Cook to feast at cricket's top table

There was understandable elation among England cricket supporters yesterday when Alastair Cook surged to another Test hundred at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

At just 27, the captain with a voracious appetitite for runs and a Boycott-style relish for occupation of the crease, passed such illustrious names as Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey, Kevin Pietersen and Boycott by posting his 23rd hundred and seems destined to enter the pantheon of the greats.

There is no doubt that the Essex opener's temperament, technical expertise and strength of will have come to fruition in the last couple of years, during which period he has gorged on attacks all over the globe. Nor should one question the potential for Cook to maintain the standards he has set until he is 33 or 34. In that light, it is not unreasonable to imagine that he will manage two or three tons a year, which would take him up to between 35 and 40. Another 22 will take him past South Africa's Jacques Kallis and while it might be asking a lot for him to catch up with Sachin Tendulkar – who has 51 at the moment – the Englishman is tearing up the record books with an impressive single-mindedness.

Sometimes, captaincy can be a burden, but it seems to have brought out the best in the man who succeeded Andrew Strauss.

None the less, some of the praise emanating from the England camp in recent times has been ever-so-slightly hyperbolic. Yes, Cook has been groomed for stardom since he was a teenager. Yes, he has few weaknesses and his game is particularly suited to the Test stage. And, of course, he can always retort that he can only square up to the rivals pitted against him.

But, hang on a minute, let's also bear in mind that he is performing at a period in the sport's history when there has never been such a dearth of genuine, world-class bowlers in the enemy corner across the globe. Boycott, by comparison, accrued his centuries against such fearsome opponents as the West Indian merchants of menace, such as Michael Holding, Wes Hall and Andy Roberts, and the Australian larrikins, Dennis Lillee and Geoff Thomson.

In more recent seasons, Pietersen, whatever many of us might think about his apparently effortless capacity for transforming any minor spat into a full-blown diplomatic incident, had to grapple with Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan, a triumvirate who have either all retired or were well past their best by the time that Cook arrived on the scene.

This isn't to disparage the recent exploits of Cook and his compatriots, who have every chance of regaining the world No.1 position by the end of the next Ashes summer. But the reality is that India, for instance, have one of the most toothless, insipid attacks one can ever remember, while the Australians are so desperate to find good enough bowlers for their trip to Blighty in 2013 that Warne has contemplated making an international comeback.

Elsewhere, the South Africans currently have the best pace line-up in the ICC firmament, but even they were flayed to all corners of Oz by Ed Cowan, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey in the recent series, which the Proteas fortuitously won 1-0. As for the rest, there are scant signs of a new Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram shining for Pakistan, let alone another Murali lighting up the Sri Lankan cause.

In short, it has become a batsman's game and Cook is one of those feasting on the largesse.

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