Stephen Cook has always been among the most prolific run-scorers in South African domestic cricket but now, in his mid-thirties, he has made the step up to international level and prospered, his century in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth this week being his third in seven matches for the Proteas and taking him past 500 Test runs.
The son of former Transvaal great Jimmy, he was brought up at the Wanderers surrounded by arguably the greatest team to have been assembled in the local game.
But despite breaking Daryll Cullinan’s record for the highest score in South Africa during his epic 390 for the Highveld Lions against the Eastern Cape Warriors in East London in 2009 and making regular first-class runs, successive national selection panels unfairly cast him as someone who probably would not be able to make the step up to the next level.
But the doom and gloom of the 2015-16 season saw the new convenor of selectors, Linda Zondi, finally give in and call up Cook as the specialist opening batsman the Proteas so badly needed.
He famously made a century in his first outing, against England in Centurion and, although his ideosyncratic technique is still being questioned in some quarters, Cook is feeling comfortable at Test level.
“Test cricket has been everything I expected and so much more, made even better by the road I travelled. Thank goodness I persevered because a lot of players do well at domestic level without getting the rewards.
“Shutting out the noise, whether it be from the opposition or those outside, is always the challenge.
It takes a thick skin, which I think I’ve developed through the years at first-class level. I’m not blind to the comments, but if you’re in the public arena then you have to accept both the congratulations and the criticism,” Cook said.
But being a perfectionist, Cook wants to improve further.
“I’m never satisfied and I want to continue my good form. I want to keep pushing on and play Test cricket for as long as possible, for a long period of time and enjoy more victories like today,” the 34-year- old said after being named Man-of- the-Match in South Africa’s 206-run win in Port Elizabeth.
A batsman with a solid defence, a gritty player typical of the classical opener, Cook does have a different technique that is based on a movement to outside off stump, but it is a method that has served him well in scoring over 12 000 first-class runs at an average of over 41.
Last year Cook joined a top-class trio of batsmen who have scored 10 000 domestic first-class A Section runs – Graeme Pollock (12 409), Peter Kirsten (11 835) and his own father, Jimmy (11 307).
Although he is not as elegant a driver of the ball as those three, Cook junior has developed into a highly-effective batsman and a mainstay of the Proteas team as they look to return to the pinnacle of world cricket.
The challenges of the swinging ball obviously lie ahead in New Zealand and England, but on the basis of the evidence at hand, Cook has the tenacity and skill to continue prospering.