Sadly, I am old enough to recall vividly the highest Test match score on the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The large honour board bears the name of Robert Maskew Cowper, who batted for an eternity in February 1966 to score 307.

Cowper was a tall, handsome left-hander whose physique and lineage equipped him to also play against the All Blacks for Victoria before he concentrated on cricket.

As a left-handed kid, in an era when teachers still studiously and unsuccessfully tried to make us conform to right-handedness, Cowper was my first cricketing hero. None ever really replaces the very first subject of a cricket fan's adoration.

Cowper's epic innings occupied more than 12 hours. He came in on the evening of Saturday, February 12, 1966 when Australia still possessed a derivative of English currency, pounds shillings and pence.

This reflected our British origins and the European discovery by James Cook. When Cowper departed on the February 16 the nation had adopted decimal currency, disparaged by my Mum as a sign of creeping Americanisation. Britain announced its withdrawal from East of Suez the following year.

Alastair Cook salutes the MCG crowd after reaching double century

We had already joined the Americans in Vietnam. Cowper's long innings coincided with the end of an era. White Australia and Aboriginal invisibility were both being cast into the dustbin of history. Cowper's punishment of our former colonial masters perhaps epitomised the dawn of a new geo-strategic era. Though the Barmy Army rejoices in reminding us of 'our gracious Queen' in their ditties, Australia's transformation into an American ally and Asian nation was gathering pace and irreversible momentum.

Cowper was much on my mind yesterday as another, former captain, Cook, rediscovered Australia.

Alastair Cook played the innings of a lifetime to salvage his Test career and the honour of his nation. The large crowds saw the immovable Cook of 2010-11 return in all his majesty.

This was his fifth Test double century and, in personal terms, the most vital and satisfying.

He defied time, tide and the pundits.

And in negotiating the path from cricket's Gethsemane to the peak of Olympus, he eclipsed the great Wally Hammond as the highest scoring English player on this ground.

Eight runs later the great Isaac Vivian Richards drifted into Cook's wake as the highest scoring visiting batsman at this venue.

Other legendary names, while not erased from the record books, were relegated down history's batting order.

Alastair Cook celebrates with Jackson Bird in background

He passed Mahela Jayawardene's career aggregate late on Wednesday evening. Yesterday, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara were surpassed.

At his best Cook has always possessed extraordinary powers of concentration. But he has rarely set the pulses of crowds racing.

Yet a glance at his wagon wheel for this innings revealed that his prolific flicks off the pads and crisp square cuts were embellished by a hitherto rare profligacy though the covers.

Some of his straight drives were simply sublime. The shape has returned to his batting and he is playing later, with eyes over the ball.

Having written him off after Perth I am reluctant to underestimate Cook ever again. He failed to surpass Cowper's 307 today, but not on account of personal fallibility, but because he needed James Anderson to achieve uncharacteristic longevity at the crease.

Anderson wasn't up to the task, falling on the first ball of the day and leaving Cook unbeaten at the other end.

Had Cook been able to achieve the milestone, a little part of me would have died.

Inside every cricket fan lurks the heart of child. That is especially the case among those of us who write about the game, which we have never outgrown. I will grieve for Bob Cowper and the years that have elapsed since I worshipped him. But if one's cherished memories were to have been be trashed, then there would have been no more admirable man in the global game to be forgiven for such sacrilege.

When the majestic Indian number three Rahul Dravid retired, former England player Ed Smith wrote eloquently that the game had lost its last link back to the era of the great craftsmen, who animated the rich poetic heart of the game.

As I watched Cook restrained in celebration and so manifestly captain of his soul, looking like an RAF recruiting poster before the Battle of Britain, I was for once, not so sure Smith was correct.

Over the past two days we have seen another 'timeless champion of steel and dignity' craft an innings for the ages. It was a privilege to behold.

External Link: Fourth Ashes Test, Australia v England scoreboard

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