IT MAY be an honour that places him among the most distinguished cricketers of all time but England captain Alastair Cook insists winning his 100th cap in Perth will be meaningless if he does not keep one hand on the Ashes.
Cook, 28, was last night poised to become only the 11th Englishman to amass a century of Test appearances and the youngest man ever to reach that milestone, beating Indian master Sachin Tendulkar by 146 days.
His elation has been diluted, however, by the dire circumstances of the occasion. Failure to avoid a third successive defeat to Australia in a match that was due to start early this morning will see him become only the third England skipper in 30 years to relinquish the urn, after David Gower and Andrew Flintoff.
Despite comfortably winning a third successive Ashes series earlier this year on home turf, few expect England to overturn a 2-0 deficit following consecutive dismal displays in Brisbane and Adelaide. No English side has accomplished that in an Ashes series, and the scale of the task was not lost on Cook.
“The 100th Test is of little relevance now. In the big picture it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It has been a challenging few weeks and it’s ‘do or die’ now. I think it’s fair to call this my greatest challenge.”
Cook’s achievement is even more remarkable given that Tendulkar, the only other man to become a centurion in his 20s, began his Test career aged 16 – five years earlier than the Essex opening batsman.
“It’s a huge honour for me to join the 100 club, one I never thought I’d get to when I started playing,” he added. “It is a special day, and it would make it even more special if we can produce a performance we are capable of.”
In a quirk symptomatic of Australia’s refusal to give England an inch in this series, Cook’s opposite number Michael Clarke is also making his 100th Test appearance at the WACA.
Yet with a first Ashes triumph for seven years – and the end of Australia’s longest drought in the series for 31 years – suddenly within touching distance, Clarke is putting personal sentiment to one side.
“In regards to being your 100th Test, it’s not a focus at all,” said Clarke. “It’s fantastic that I’ve been able to play 99 Tests for my country and it’s something that I’m proud of. But it’s about having the a chance to win the Ashes and continue to perform like we have in first two Tests.”