Former Portsmouth batsman set for Test match debut

Stephen Cook, front left, with his Portsmouth team-mates in 2001
Stephen Cook, front left, with his Portsmouth team-mates in 2001
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Stephen Cook is set to make his long-awaited Test debut – 15 years after lighting up the Southern Electric Premier League with Portsmouth.

The 33-year-old has been called up by his native South Africa to open the batting in the fourth Test against England in Pretoria tomorrow.

With the tourists having already wrapped up the series 2-0, the Proteas have turned to Cook for some inspiration at Centurion.

He is expected to replace Stiaan van Zyl, who has been struggling for form, and partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order.

And he has the backing of his old club.

Chris Moon, a former Portsmouth team-mate and retired secretary of the seafront outfit, said: ‘He is a smashing lad.

‘We always remember how unbelievably polite he was while he was with us.

‘He played for us when he was just 18 and his record was unbelievable for someone so young.

‘They should have picked him years ago.

‘It is slightly unfair to call him up now, when they are struggling, because he is better than that.

‘But it is great he has got his opportunity at long last and I would love him to do extremely well.

‘If we were 2-1 down, maybe I’d be hoping he gets a duck!

‘But bearing in mind the state of the series, I would wish him the best of luck.

‘Hopefully he goes out there and gets a couple of hundreds.’

As an 18-year-old, the opening batsman struck 739 runs in 13 appearances for the St Helen’s Ground outfit.

He notched two centuries – including a stunning 163 against Old Basing – during a memorable summer in which he averaged 73.90 with the bat.

Since then Cook, who is the son of former Hampshire coach and South Africa batsman Jimmy, has forged a fine professional career.

The 33-year-old has racked up 165 first-class appearances, scoring 11,427 runs at a superb average of 41.10.

With 35 centuries, including a career-best 390, it is surprising South Africa have not turned to the Johannesburg-born right-hander before now.

But he has finally got his chance.

And is set to face a rampant England in fine form after two centuries in his past three Sunfoil Series matches with his club side, the Lions.