His name is Alastair Cook and he is an addict. For those connected with England cricket it is the healthiest of addictions, for Cook's only vice is batting. In three Tests in India he has fed the habit for 1,565 minutes, 1,164 balls and 548 runs. Cook's Pataudi Trophy does not have the same ring as Botham's Ashes but if England go on to win this series it will be associated with Cook every bit as much the 1981 victory over Australia was with Sir Ian Botham.
The scale of Cook's batting is unmatched. Since his Test debut on 1 March 2006, he has scored more runs, made more centuries and faced more balls than anybody else. Since the start of the decade he tops all those charts as well. In the 2010s he has faced 7,045 deliveries in Test cricket – over 1,750 more than anyone else and over 3,300 more than any other opener. This is partly because England have played more Tests than anyone else but it also testifies to the attitude Cook learned from his mentor, Graham Gooch. Like another man with the initials GG, Gordon Gekko, Gooch will tell you that greed is good.
Cook has been positively gluttonous this winter. No England captain has had such an influence over a Test series since 1990, when Gooch scored an astonishing 752 runs in three Tests at home to India. The VHS of that series was entitled Gooch's Indian Summer; the DVD of this might be called Cook's Indian Winter. Cook already has the record for Test centuries by an England batsman and it seems inevitable that he will take Gooch's record for the most Test runs for England. Cook has 7,103 and needs a further 1,798 to overtake Gooch; he is well on course to do it before his 30th birthday. He is not just going to beat every major England batting record, he is probably going to increase them by 50%. Even Sachin Tendulkar's records of 51 Test hundreds and 15,643 runs are not safe.
Cook's ascent to the cusp of greatness is somehow both pre-ordained yet a little surprising. He has been marked for the top since scoring a double century against Australia in 2005, when he was 20, yet until this series he was recognised as an extremely good player who had enjoyed one famous purple patch in 2010-11.
At times he can look technically vulnerable, especially when his head falls over to the off side, but he more than compensates for that with an abnormal mental strength. There is a compelling logic to Cook's batting and his temperament allows him to recognise that modest spells are part of the job description for an opener, especially an England opener.
Few other players could follow scores of 1, 2 and 5 with 294, as Cook did in 2011. Just as his body is famously free of perspiration, so his mind is free of panic and extraneous thoughts. He has the innocent face of a choirboy and looks almost gauche at times, yet when it comes to batting he is as merciless as a mafioso.
If Cook is surely the best opener in the world right now, it is not so easy to judge him in a historical context. All modern batsmen have to put up with the accusation that they never played on uncovered pitches, or against West Indies' four horsemen of the apocalypse, or in the golden age of fast bowling around the world in the 1990s. Yet Cook is so resourceful that he would surely have found a way to score runs in any era. For now he is, depending on your viewpoint, England's best opener since Gooch, Geoff Boycott or perhaps even Sir Len Hutton. His average as an opener (49.80, a fraction down on his career average of 50.02) is England's highest since Dennis Amiss in the 1970s.
Cook already has a career's worth of achievements, yet his best years should be to come. He has improved enormously in the last two years and continues to meticulously add layers to his game, from an improved range of sweeps to elegant lofted drives for six off the spinners.
Gooch, the main reference point for Cook's career, did not peak until his mid-30s, and no Test batsman, not even Tendulkar, has scored so many runs before their 28th birthday.
Many of the great openers were still getting to know their off stump at a similar age. Boycott, Gooch and Hutton had not even scored 2,500 Test runs; Jack Hobbs, England's greatest opener, had not reached 1,000. It is the same around the world: on their 28th birthdays Sunil Gavaskar and Gordon Greenidge had 2,776 and 1,641 Test runs respectively. Matthew Hayden, the most productive opener of the modern era, had scored just 261 runs at an average of 22. Cook has scored 27 times as many runs.
The most important aspect of Cook's future should be how he handles the twin pressures of captaincy and batting. In recent times Michael Vaughan has been the only significant exception to a pattern of England captains starting very strongly with the bat, when they are empowered rather than embattled, before their form fades away.
Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and Andrew Strauss all had their most productive series leading the side in their first series as captain; Nasser Hussain's average of 62 in his first full series was the best of his tenure. If anyone can buck that trend, it is Cook. Just as legends like Botham wrote their own scripts, so Cook draws his own gradients. For now, they are going in only one direction.
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image: © JJ Hall