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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 10:28 GMT
Cook comes to boil
By Gavin Brown

To many, Alastair Cook's sudden arrival on the Test match stage will have been as abrupt as it has been successful.

Alastair Cook
Cook's potential was recognised at an early age

England's top order is firmly established and seemed unlikely to be infiltrated by a 21-year-old who was half-a-world away on the A-tour of the West Indies days before the first Test.

It took a knee injury to captain Michael Vaughan and the departure of Marcus Trescothick from India for personal reasons to earn Cook an emergency call-up.

He justified his advance billing with 60 on day one of the first Test in Nagpur but bettered that with a maiden Test century to set up the opening draw.

Cook's emergence had long been expected by those within the game.

Frank Hayes, one of only 15 other men to score a century on their England Test debut, was given an early illustration of the young opener's talent.

Hayes, the director of cricket at Oakham School recalled: "Four or so years ago, he played for Bedford School against Oakham.

"Derek Randall [the Bedford coach] said, 'Can you have a look at this guy?' Well, he got 200 that day so we had a good look at him!

I've been in the game for some time and he's the best young prospect I have seen
Frank Hayes

"He got 200 not out and I don't think he hit the ball into the air until he was about 183.

"We were a good side and he hit the good balls for four - no fuss, lovely timing and a very, very good technique.

"He was very, very impressive and I have been watching his progress ever since.

"I've been in the game for some time and he's the best young prospect I have seen."

Cook's potential, nurtured by former England batsman Randall, continued to be realised as he progressed through the youth ranks.

In 2000 he represented England at the Under-15 World Cup and, aged just 15, made his second XI debut for Essex.

He left Bedford School in 2002, having broken all batting records and made 19 centuries, and just a year later hit a half century on his first-class debut against Leicestershire.

He followed that up in the winter with back-to-back unbeaten centuries as he captained England to the semi-finals of the Under-19 World Cup.

WG Grace v Australia, 1880
KS Ranjitsinhji v Aus, 1896
PF Warner v S Africa, 1899
RE Foster v Australia, 1903
G Gunn v Australia, 1907
Nawab of Pataudi v Aus, 1932
BH Valentine v India, 1933
PA Gibb v S Africa, 1938
SC Griffith v W Indies, 1948
PBH May v S Africa, 1951
CA Milton v N Zealand, 1958
JH Hampshire v W Indies, 1969
FC Hayes v W Indies 1973
GJ Thorpe v Australia 1993
AJ Strauss v N Zealand 2004
AN Cook v India 2006
By then former Essex captains Keith Fletcher and Graham Gooch had joined his list of admirers, but Hayes says the attention was unlikely to fluster the level-headed young batsman.

"He has impressed a lot of people," he acknowledged.

"He has a very good temperament and listens to what people say and on that particular day against us his temperament could be considered serene.

"We had a chat afterwards and he is a very nice guy and a bright boy as well."

After a winter fine-tuning his game at the ECB National Academy, Cook confirmed his status as a future Test batsman last summer, racking up 1,249 runs at an average of 48.03.

He capped off a fine season with a double century in the two-day tour match against Australia at Chelmsford.

That form earned him a call-up as cover for Vaughan on England's pre-Christmas tour of Pakistan, and when the captain's knee again gave way in India, Cook was the obvious choice to step in.

Frank Hayes playing for England against West Indies in 1973
Hayes hit a century on his Test debut but failed to build on it
Despite his late call-up, he arrived in Nagpur with fresh runs under his belt - 101 for England A in Antigua two weeks ago.

But it is his latest century that has propelled him into the public spotlight.

After the way he adapted to the conditions in India - his watchful first innings was an example to some more experienced, yet impatient team-mates - it would be a surprise if Cook does not also take fame in his stride.

Hayes exploded onto the Test arena with an unbeaten 106 against West Indies at The Oval in 1973 but struggled in just eight more Tests.

He admits announcing your arrival in such carefree fashion can leave you a marked man.

"When it happens for you, you just do it," he admitted.

"But I suppose it builds you up and people are really going to look out for you afterwards and they start to analyse your game.

"The pressure probably increases, but I'm sure Alastair can cope with that."

Cook century puts England on top
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