Glutton for punishment... Cook shows appetite of old

'Never write off a champion' - Hussey (1:53)

Mike Hussey sings the praises of Alastair Cook after his record-breaking innings in Melbourne (1:53)

When Brian Keenan, the Irish writer, was finally released after four-and-a-half years as a hostage in Beirut, he famously said he was going to celebrate by "making love to every woman in the world".

Alastair Cook must know that feeling. Well, maybe not exactly that feeling. But if you substitute Keenan's lust for Cook's desire for runs, you probably get the picture.

Cook has, over recent times, become familiar with a sense of famine, drought and frustration when it has come to his Test career. And, having gone 10 Test innings without reaching 40, having reached 50 once in 14 innings and made one century in his last 27, the hunger had grown to a ravenous extent.

That famine is over. Here he gorged and feasted until the runs were stuck in his teeth and dribbling down his chin. He will be belching and sweating them for days.

In the course of this innings - an innings that could yet see him become the first man to carry his bat for England in a Test since Mike Atherton did so against New Zealand in February 1997 - he passed numerous milestones. The highest score by an overseas player at the MCG (surpassing Viv Richards): check. A fifth double-century (of England players only Wally Hammond, with seven, has more): check. A rise into the top six run-scorers in Test cricket: check. In this innings alone he went past Mahela Jayawardene, Shiv Chanderpaul and Brian Lara on that list.

If he plays for another 18 months - and really, why wouldn't he? - it is likely only Sachin Tendulkar will remain ahead of him. He has been on the pitch for every over of this match to date - that's all 263 of them - and was still running threes deep into the final session. He wasn't going to let a scrap go to waste.

More importantly, he has given his side an excellent chance of avoiding the whitewash that, at lunch on the first day, had loomed into view. He might even have given them an outside chance of forcing a win though, on a slow pitch that looks as if it will not break up, that may prove tough. More than that, he has given England's long-suffering supporters some reward for their time and expense (or for staying up all night) and, yes, he has probably extended his own career.

Cook was, he admits, in danger of being dropped. This is his 149th match in succession (and 151st in all), closing in on Allan Border's record of 153 consecutive caps. But, as he put it, he "hadn't delivered" of late. And the doubts that always linger in the shadows were beginning to gather and circle.

"I've always felt as though I have the backing of the selectors," Cook said. "But you've still got to deliver the goods and I hadn't done that on this tour.

"Could I have been dropped? I don't know. They would have been entitled to drop me, just because I literally hadn't scored a run since Edgbaston.

"Did I doubt myself? 100%. I've doubted myself for 12 years. I'll probably continue to doubt myself. The longer it [the poor run] goes, the harder it gets. It's not much fun when you don't know where your next run is coming from.

"But that's why I'm proud now. That century was one of my more emotional ones from where I have been on this tour. It meant a lot and I'm quite proud to back it up again today."

"I did have nothing to lose. You have less to lose when your highest score has been 30. So yes, I played a bit more positively"

Of course, the caveats that applied to the praise of Cook on day two, apply on day three. This pitch is slow and this attack, without Mitchell Starc, is significantly impoverished. He was dropped twice - though both chances were fiendishly tough - and, for most of the first half of the innings, Pat Cummins was under the weather and below his best. The Ashes have gone, too, and with them just a fraction of the intensity of the Australia performance. As Cook put it: "It's a shame this innings has come three or four weeks too late. I'll have to live with that for a long time. It's very frustrating."

But only three men in either innings have reached 30. And only one other has reached 80. It would be churlish in the extreme to begrudge Cook the praise and respect his achievements deserve. The debate over whether he is a great player will probably last forever - it's true he doesn't look like one for extended periods of time - but that record (no regular opening batsman has scored more runs in the history of Test cricket) demands respect.

And, if he might well be the least naturally talented of the top 10 Test run-scorers (in terms of his range of stroke or the ease with which the game seems to come to him, anyway; there's plenty of talent in his mental strength, his resilience and his determination), isn't there something quite incredible and demanding of respect about the way in which he has achieved so much with so little?

In some ways this was a most untypical Cook innings. While a couple of his previous Test double-centuries have been notable for the lack of attractive or even especially memorable strokes - the epic against India at Edgbaston is a case in point - this one contained some lovely batting. The lofted drive over the head of Nathan Lyon, a shot Cook played a bit in India in 2012 but one that he had mainly reserved for white-ball cricket, was especially pleasing, while the stroke that brought up his 200 - a straight drive back past the bowler (the luckless, flightless Jackson Bird) was a thing of beauty. And you don't say that about Cook very often. If he has made a more attractive Test century, it is hard to recall it. "Most of my runs are pretty ugly runs," he said. "It's quite hard work."

He put this performance down to a sense of freedom gained from an understanding that, as Bob Dylan once sang, "when you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose".

"I did have nothing to lose," Cook said. "You have less to lose when your highest score has been 30. If you keep doing the same stuff… So yes, I played a bit more positively.

"You get a few times in your career where you get into a bit of rhythm at the crease where time flies by. On this tour, batting for half an hour has felt like two hours. For some reason, the last 10 hours have gone quickly."

It may be relevant that he was given free-flowing support by Stuart Broad, too. With the Australia bowlers seemingly overly fixated on the short-ball approach to Broad, he was given an opportunity to premediate his strokes. He was a bit lucky, for sure, but he also hit a few sweetly. It was the first time he had been involved in a century partnership since July 2013, a year before he was hit in the face by a bouncer from Varun Aaron - and only his second half-century since then. It may well prove to have been the stand that took the game out of reach of Australia. Cook and Broad came together with England just 46 ahead; by the time they were parted that lead was 146. And the fact it barely took 20 overs served to irritate and dispirit the Australia attack a little more.

They may face more work on the fourth morning, even with just one wicket standing. There is a case, at least, for batting on not just for the extra runs but the chance to force Australia's bowlers into another morning of warm-ups and another session where they have to pull on their bowling boots. It might, too, disturb the preparation of Australia's openers just a little, if they are forced to field for a few minutes in the morning. They won't relish it, that is for sure.

They won't relish seeing more of Cook, either. One innings doesn't save his series or prove that he can still prosper in tough circumstances and on quicker pitches. But it does suggest his hunger for the game remains undimmed. England would be delighted to see more of such gluttony in the months ahead.