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Cook returns to Nagpur

Cook in Nagpur in 2006
Cook in Nagpur in 2006

By in December

For Alastair Cook there can have been few better times to revisit the scene of his debut, Nagpur, where in the midst of an England opening crisis, the then 21-year-old was parachuted in from a Lions tour in the Caribbean to promptly make 60 and 104 not out.

Six-and-a-half years and 86 Test matches later and Cook returns to Nagpur with the chance to become the first England captain in 27 years to leave India with a series victory and on a run of three consecutive centuries which has made him the top ranked opener in the world and with a chance of becoming the first English batsman in nine years to top the rankings overall.

A casual observer might assume that things have been plain sailing in the intervening years for the Essex left-hander, but for the youngest man to 7,000 Test runs it hasn't all been plain sailing.

It seems aeons ago that his place in the team was under considerable threat ahead of the third Test against Pakistan in 2010, when a scratchy century at the Oval afforded Cook a reprise.

His international form has been relentless since. In his 28 Tests since, the former Bedford School man has made 2,865 runs at 66.62, compared to a career average of 50.02, and compiled almost half (11 of 23) of his record number of centuries for England.

Perhaps as surprising for those who watched Cook carefully compile his first century at a strike-rate of 42 per 100 balls back in 2006 has been his recent taking to the ODI game.

After being controversially brought in as captain despite not being involved for the 2011 ICC World Cup campaign, Cook has proved his doubters wrong in the shorter format, becoming England's most consistent player and a genuinely destructive opener in the format.

At just 27, the former chorister has it all at his feet; records he has long threatened to challenge are starting to fall and regardless of whether England hold onto their series lead in India, achieving two Test wins in a country where his countrymen have a history of failure will remain a stunning achievement.

The absence of Andrew Strauss has barely been felt and Cook has benefitted from the successful return of Kevin Pietersen and from fellow Nagpur 2006 debutant Monty Panesar's reemergence.

He is facing the captaincy challenge head-on, and the sight of a batsman who has often been accused of heavy footwork dancing down the pitch and dispatching a pair of sixes down the ground in his third Test innings of 190 illustrated his dedication to continued improvement.

The road back to Nagpur has been long and sometimes turbulent, but Cook is returning to a richly deserved fanfare.

You can see Alastair Cook's debut bat on display in the MCC Museum - part of the famous Lord's Tour.

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