Joe Root’s latest star turn as England captain grabbed the headlines on a landmark day for Test cricket in this country. Yet the innings played by Alastair Cook might prove to be more significant when it comes to this winter’s Ashes series in Australia.
Root rewrote the England record books by posting a 50-plus score in his 11th successive Test, beating the mark of John Edrich, who managed the feat in 10 straight matches between 1969 and 1971.
Indeed, Root’s 13th Test century is yet another sign that the captaincy has done nothing to dampen his hunger for runs.
However, Cook, unburdened of that same responsibility after giving up the job at the start of this year, was the man who lit up the opening day of this first pink-ball Test in the UK by reaching the close unbeaten on 153.
Cook and Root’s 248-run third-wicket stand, broken when the latter was bowled by Kemar Roach as darkness descended on Birmingham just before 8.30pm, has seemingly put this match out of West Indies’ reach.
England’s total of 348 for three at stumps has surely put them in a match-winning position at the start of this three-Test series.
But it is the challenge to come in Australia this winter that is the bigger picture here for the hosts.
So, Cook’s first Test century since giving up the captaincy is significant.
This was also the first time he had reached three figures for England in 17 innings stretching back to the opening Test against India at Rajkot back in November.
Despite two half-centuries that set up wins against South Africa at Lord’s and The Oval this summer, the confidence gained from reaching a hundred — and this was Cook’s 31st in Tests — is of infinite value.
That is even more the case given the instability at the top of England’s order so close to an Ashes tour.
Mark Stoneman cannot be judged on one Test innings. However, the Surrey opener’s failure on debut, bowled for eight by Roach in the third over, continued the sorry run of form for Cook’s partners at the top of the order that has seen 11 men before Stoneman fail to nail down that position since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.
Tom Westley, playing in just his third Test, also disappointed when he, too, fell for eight to leave England on 39 for two at the start of their first innings.
Those top-order concerns, though, can be papered over as long as Cook is in good form. It may have been seven years since his prolific Ashes tour of 2010-11, when he plundered 766 runs to help England land their first Test series win in Australia for 24 years.
Yet the Essex opener is a man Australia fear and they will know that they cannot allow him to have a good series if they are to fully expose England’s top-order fragility, especially with Root in such fine touch as well.
Cook was moved to remark that Root was touched by “genius” after his latest century, adding: “If he’s not the best England player I’ve played with he’s right up there — I think he is. His game is phenomenal and he’s just churning out runs. He’s a genius.”
However, the genius of Cook is that he is still so hungry for runs 11 years into his international career.
Giving up the captaincy has surely extended his shelf life as a Test player and, at 32, he might have many more years at the top.
Despite his experience, Cook did admit that the change in routine that comes with day-night cricket did make life harder.
“I was yawning at 9pm because it was past my bedtime,” he joked.
“It was slightly unusual because you’re programmed to play in white kit starting at 11am with a red ball.
“It’s what we’ve done for all our careers. Suddenly changing it takes a little bit of time.”