Birmingham - The plan seemed a good one on paper: Stephen
Cook would spend a few months getting usefully to grips with English
conditions, in a quest to regain his opening spot in the Proteas’ Test team.
South Africa tackle England in four Tests for the Basil
D’Oliveira Trophy from early July - the host nation are the current holders -
and there is great uncertainty over the berth as more established (and
encouragingly bang-in-form) Dean Elgar’s partner at the top of the order.
Cook, renowned more for his strength on very different,
Highveld-type pitches, laboured on the last tour of New Zealand, scoring only
17 runs from four innings before being debatably dropped for the non-specialist
debutant Theunis de Bruyn - a move that bore no immediate fruit itself - for
the third and final match of the series a little fortuitously edged 1-0.
But some purists still argued, after the dust settled on
that tour, that Cook’s experience should not too lightly be jettisoned for the
longer and tougher assignment in England.
He did make a century on debut against the same foes at
Centurion in January 2016, although his 11-Test career thus far has been marked
by decidedly patchy performances; he is vulnerable early on against the
swinging ball on pitches suited to canny seam bowlers.
So the 34-year-old having a solid stint with Durham - his
first in the county game - appeared a logical, beneficial move for the conscientious,
Johannesburg-born cricketer, possibly paving the way for a new nod from the
Only his efforts in the especially educative four-day fare
have been unflattering, to put it reasonably kindly.
By the completion of the latest round of Championship
matches on Monday, Cook had played five games in the extended format and, in 10
innings, only managed 176 runs at an average of 17.
That is the kind of return that will not be making Linda
Zondi’s national selection panel feel any more comfortable about Cook being a
renewed solution to the problem spot.
The batsman registered 16 and 42 in the latest outing, a
two-wicket home defeat to Northamptonshire at the Riverside Ground, where
veteran compatriot Rory Kleinveldt snared him the first knock.
Before that, his scores had been five and two against
Glamorgan, 45 and nought against Sussex, 64 and nought against Gloucestershire,
and two and nought against Nottinghamshire.
In fairness, Cook has been more successful in the One-Day
Cup, where he has compiled 274 runs at almost 46, including a century.
But it would seem as if, broadly speaking, he has done his
SA recall chances more harm than good in recent weeks ...
*Rob Houwing is
attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: