Australia knows only too well how big a thorn England captain Alastair Cook may be in the upcoming Ashes series.
The left-handed opener was the leading run-scorer in the most recent series between the two teams in Australia in 2010-11, compiling a Bradmanesque 766 runs at 127.6.
In a series that saw England triumph down under for the first-time in 24 years, Cook won the match-of-the match awards in the first and final Tests with scores of 235 not out and 189 on the way to being named man-of-the-series.
Heading into this series he averages 65.1 against Australia from ten Tests.
Cook is a throwback to openers of old, an accumulator of runs rather than the now obligatory dasher that populate so many top-order Test batting line-ups nowadays.
Technically correct and upright at the crease, Cook is a fine exponent of the pull shot, a major weapon in any opener’s arsenal.
During the last Ashes series when he surpassed 5000 Test runs at the MCG, he became the second youngest batsmen, after Sachin Tendulkar, to reach the landmark at 26 years and ten days.
At present, he is actually on track to surpass Tendulkar in some other statistical categories before his Test career is over – most runs and most centuries – should he opt to play into his late 30s.
Cook will turn 29 on Christmas day and has now notched up 92 Tests (the same number, by coincidence, as his Australian counterpart Michael Clarke)
To date, he has amassed 7524 runs at 49.2 with 25 centuries – the last of those against New Zealand earlier this week.
After his first 92 Tests, Tendulkar has scored 7752 runs and made 28 centuries.
It is a tall-order to predict that Tendulkar’s two Test benchmarks will fall to Cook but time is on his side.
Over his 23-year Test career, Tendulkar has played 198 matches at the rate of 8.5 per year.
Cook’s 92 Tests have come at a rate of 12.8 per year, given England’s far more frequent Test schedule.
By Christmas Day – Cook’s birthday – should he continue to average his career-rate of 81.8 runs per Test he will take his career aggregate to 8096 runs from seven Tests against Australia in that time.
By that stage he would be sitting on 99 Test appearances.
If England continues to play 12.8 Tests per year, Cook could play 200 before he is 37, barring injury or a substantial loss of form.
As an opener, he has the best possible chance of batting twice in a match.
He has batted 163 times in his 92 Tests while at the same point of his career Tendulkar had been at the crease on 147 occasions.
Tendulkar is currently 40 with the end nigh after 15,837 runs and 51 centuries.
Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey retired at age 37, Rahul Dravid at 39, and Jacques Kallis will turn 38 in October.
Kallis is the nearest current-day player to Tendulkar in both aggregate (13,128) and centuries (44) but time is likely to elude him in his pursuit of both landmarks.
Regardless of how close he gets to Tendulkar’s benchmarks Cook is assured of ending his career as England’s most prolific batsman.
His 25 centuries is already an England record.
He sits three clear of Wally Hammond, Geoff Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and 32-year-old Kevin Pietersen.
Cook currently sits in seventh spot in England’s list of all-time Test run scorers, just 1376 runs behind the number one, Graham Gooch (8900).
His move to the captaincy has seen him replicate Clarke with a marked upturn in his performance at the crease since taking the helm.
In 11 Tests in charge he has averaged 69 and scored seven centuries.
Interestingly, he and Clarke have opposing records when it comes to Test averages both home and away.
Cook averages 55.8 away and just 45.3 on home soil while Clarke’s average on the road is 42.0 and at home 64.9.
Both men will be looking to lift their respective deficiencies in the forthcoming series.
Cook will be the key wicket that Australia will be hunting this northern summer.
He has shown a distinct liking, and capability, for occupying the crease for many hours – his Test best is a knock of 294 against India, one of seven scores over 150.
Removing him early with the new ball will be a major challenge for Australia’s pace battery.
Failure to do so could prove fatal.
They need only think back two-and-a-half years to be reminded of the potency of Cook’s bat