The only sting in the tail from a win that saw Joe Root dominate with the bat, scoring 325 runs across two innings – including a career-best 254 – and Chris Woakes continue his golden summer with seven wickets, came with the injury to the all-rounder Ben Stokes that is likely to rule him out of the next instalment.
Stokes limped off the field midway through his sixth over owing to a problem in his right calf muscle and will have a scan on Tuesday that will determine whether his participation in this international summer, which runs up until the one-off Twenty20 at Old Trafford on 7 September, is over.
Cook conceded losing Stokes would represent a blow for England, with the player having just returned after surgery to his left knee at the end of May, but reflected with pride on the lessons his side learned from their 75-run defeat in the first Test at Lord’s – including an improved showing against the leg-spin of Yasir Shah.
“I still think we have a couple more years to go in terms of the experience in our batting lineup,” said the England captain, who scored 105 and an unbeaten 76 with the bat. “We want to get to No1 in the world and there are still areas to work on. I think we have to develop a bit more consistency.”
On the injury to Stokes, he said: “He plays on the edge and gives an edge to our side. He does not take a backward step with the bat, ball or in the field, and he drags people with him. So if he misses the next Test, he’s a big loss.”
Asked if he and Root, who has quickly justified his move up to No3 at the start of the series, felt the pressure of responsibility, Cook, who scored 105 and 76 not out in his two innings here, added: “That’s one of the things that comes with being a senior player. For years I was a junior and got carried along; now is the time to lead from the front. Some people call it pressure, some call it responsibility. But there is a lot of talent in the batting.”
If the injury to Stokes proves to be season-ending, comfort comes in the form of another all-rounder in Woakes, who after looking like his Test career may not happen following a disappointing winter tour to South Africa now has 26 Test wickets at 13.84 runs apiece this summer, including 18 in the current series, and made 58 with the bat in the first innings as an overly-qualified nightwatchman.
Cook said: “When we left South Africa we had a bit of doubt but in the back of my mind I saw a guy who averaged 25 with the ball in first-class cricket and who when you face in the nets, you know he can bowl. Whether it’s just a bit more belief or luck, but he came into the side on the back of a nine-wicket haul. We are now seeing what he can do and I love watching a guy develop as an international cricketer.”
Cook faced criticism on the third day for not enforcing the follow-on, despite a 391-run first innings lead, but was relaxed in the aftermath of the win, saying: “I was surprised the decision made such a big impact – everyone seemed to be sniffing a day off. For me it was a no-brainer: give the bowlers a rest and come back hard. But when I was batting under floodlights [on the third evening], I thought it might be nice to be bowling.”
Key to England’s victory was how they played Yasir, who struggled to follow up his 10-wicket haul from Lord’s and returned match figures of one for 266 as Cook and Root in particular showed the virtue of playing him with a straighter bat. Misbah-ul-Haq suggested that coming down from the success of that first Test win played a part in the leg-spinner’s struggle and he hopes the break before the third Test at Edgbaston gives him time to reflect.
The captain said: “England played him well, especially on the first and second day, when there wasn’t much help for him. He couldn’t really bowl with control and also when the two good players [Cook and Root] faced him on the first day, that helped them to handle him.
“Maybe it was a bit of tiredness, I don’t know, but I think there was a big difference. He is a strong character and before the next Test he will analyse what went wrong and come back.”
On the defeat overall, Misbah added: “Clearly I think England played really well, the toss was vital on this pitch but the way they batted – Cook and Root – almost took the game away from us. Our batting was a big disappointment. That was a good pitch but the scores, 198 and 234, you can’t take that. On a pitch like that you can still score 350-plus, even if batting second or fourth.”
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